STLT#184, Be Ye Lamps unto Yourselves

Gentle readers, I’m in an odd place with this one.

I am certain (and am glad) there are people who draw strength and inspiration from this text, a beloved  (anonymously translated) passage from “Buddha’s Farewell Address” – a passage from the Mahaparinibbana Suttana.

I don’t. I mean, I get what it’s about – it’s all over the place, this idea that it starts within and goes outward. It’s a lot of how we understand our rather individualistic faith.

But this idea doesn’t give me strength or comfort. As an extrovert and a theist, I process externally, with others and the Divine, in order to understand myself. My comfort comes from without, not within. And knowing myself, knowing truth, knowing the divine spark – for me, anyway – is informed and revealed only through my experience with others. I know myself in relation. And when my spark goes out, when I am not confident, when I am unsure what the truth is, well, I can’t be my own lamp if my pilot light is out.

Perhaps its my mood, or the season, or the events of the past few weeks, or the weltschmerz and general malaise of the world, but I feel sadder having sung this one.

Be ye lamps unto yourselves;
be your own confidence;
hold to the truth within yourselves
as to the only lamp.

If it brings you comfort, I am glad. Not every song has to work for every person, just as not every theology has to work for every person. I am certain for those who are internal processors, or non-theists, or just of a different temperament, this one inspires deeply – hurrah for you!

It’s just not my jam.


  1. I do not enjoy the stately pacing of the music from the Sarum Antiphonal. It is lugubrious to the point of inducing sleep. The melody, however, is good, and it comes together if you rock it.


    • You’ve got a good point. What you said made me think of this line: “Sometimes our own light goes out, and has to be relighted from another lamp.” Or words to that effect. It’s in one of the readings in the back of SLT; I don’t remember which one. I think you’re saying something a little different, but I think the one I’m thinking of supports what you’re saying.

      Is “be ye lamps unto yourselves” any better because it’s plural? As in, could it mean that if my light goes out I can read some of your hymn analyses to relight it, and so on?

      I am really enjoying your comments on all these hymns, partly because you are NOT trying to be all things to all people, the way our congregations sometimes do. When you don’t like the words, or the ideas, or the music, you say so, and I like that.


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