Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’d like to share some excerpts from Secretary of Conference, The Revd. Dr. Jonathan Hustler’s September pastoral letter to presbyters, one pertinent to our current situation of lockdown and the future. He writes:
“During the months when we have been unable to sing (or at least, in my case, to do more than warble hesitatingly at a screen bearing the legend ‘You are muted. Press alt-A to unmute’), one hymn has been my particular companion. As is not unusual, it came unbidden into my mind in March and has remained there ever since. It is John Henry Newman’s ‘Lead, kindly light’. On 19 March we took the decision at Methodist
Church House to ask everyone to work from home until further notice. The evening as I left 25 Marylebone Road was cold and miserable; there was indeed an ‘encircling gloom’ and it was not just the drizzle and the crepuscular fading of the light. It was anxiety.
Newman wrote ‘Lead Kindly Light’ on his much delayed journey back to England from a tour of the Mediterranean in 1833. He came to believe that the journey home, and in particular a period of illness that he had experienced in Italy, marked a seminal moment in his spiritual development. Somehow, although very ill, he was certain that he would not die ‘for I have not sinned against the light.’ Even Newman did not know what he meant by that peculiar remark. His strong notion of providence led him to believe that there was a guiding light that he was following even in his darkest and most uncertain hours and it had not finished with him yet. The Sunday after he arrived back in England, John Keble preached a sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ and, in Newman’s view, the Oxford Movement was born. The Church of England, the Church in Britain, would never be the same again.
Without doubt, we are living in a period of transition and we long to know what awaits us at the end of the journey. It might well be that the Church in Britain will never be the same again but we don’t know what ‘not the same’ means. Having attended a couple of services over the last few weeks – masked, with no hand-shaking but multiple opportunities to sanitize, deprived of music, and conscious of the many who could not be there or who reluctantly chose not to be there – I’ve been left with a sense of the impermanence of the current arrangements. We do not want to live or to worship like this for long. Yet perhaps the peculiar nature of the current arrangements makes us more conscious of the guiding light – we in our inhibited way affirm that we are still God’s people and that God has not finished with us yet.
‘Keep thou my feet. I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.’ It is not always easy to remain content with not seeing the distant scene. We naturally want to know what church *and life will be like when we are finally free from all the COVID-19 restrictions, whenever that might be. But nobody knows the answer to those questions. We cannot see the distant scene. As Gordon Wakefield argued in his insightful little book, Kindly Light, the image is of a candle; the kindly light is not a searchlight that would reveal everything but a flame that shows us enough. Living in this way can be hard. The very phrase ‘kindly light’ is perhaps a prompt to be kind in dealing with each other when none can see the distant scene.
Without the light of ‘garish day’, it seems to me, we are called to live prayerfully and gently, with the assurance that God is with us and is giving us the light that we need. “(The Revd. Dr. Jonathan Hustler, September 2020)
Lead, kindly Light,
amid the encircling gloom,
lead thou me on;
the night if dark, and I am far from home,
lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
should’st lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
will lead me on,
o’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
the night is gone;
and with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
(John Henry Newman 1801-90)
With every blessing,
Abe Konadu-Yiadom (Presbyter)