You In Your Small Corner

It is Christmas Eve and I don’t know why this old song should come to mind. Perhaps it was the collision of many thoughts, the Credit Crunch, the coming recession and seeing the many candles that are part of the scenery at Christmas time.

I believe this old poem points us to missing components of our age.

The full text is as follows, though when we sang it in school as children we were never taught more than the first verse

Jesus bids us shine
With a pure, clear light,
Like a little candle
Burning in the night.
In this world of darkness
So let us shine-
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine,
First of all for Him;
Well He sees and knows it,
If our light grows dim.
He looks down from Heaven
To see us shine-
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.

Jesus bids us shine,
Then, for all around;
Many kinds of darkness
In the world are found-
Sin and want and sorrow;
So we must shine-
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.

I remember when it was fashionable in Christian circles to define this poem as being about relationships, or the lack of them. “You in your small corner” was taken to mean separation and the isolation some Christians choose and which at one time was encouraged. This then gave the writers something to rage about as they called believers to Christian unity and come out of their “small corners”.

Of course it is not about relationships, its aim was far higher and far nobler. Now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet I can know that it was written at the end of the American Civil War by Susan B Warner, and published in the children’s magazine ‘The Little Corporal’ in 1868.

The song/poem was using a military metaphor to teach children to make a difference in their world by the quality of the lives they would live.

I am not aware, now that this song is no longer taught to children, that they are taught to reach for such high goals and ideals. Where now are children called to join the fight against injustice and to shine as a light in the world, after first of all shining for Jesus?

The reason it came to my mind as a song for our time is that I was remembering the closing refrain of each verse, “You in your small corner and I in mine.” It seems to be to be a call to contentment. Contentment seems an alien thing now, and not often encouraged in adults or children.

Some children will grow to have positions that will be highly visible while others will feel their efforts will be hardly notices – their small corner. In fact no matter how highly acclaimed any person’s light will be, in the context of history and of the size of the human race it is still one person’s small corner.

And what of the matter of money and material possessions? This call to contentment with the path our Jesus has set for us must include those things too. Just the thing to remember at Christmas time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *