Monday, November 21, 2011

Lead, Kindly Light

In posting this hymn on Saturday, I meant to honor my dear friend, mentor, and teacher, who loved it so well. Carl loved this hymn because his life's burning desire was to follow Christ no matter what. To him, "th'encircling gloom" symbolized life's trials and sorrows, of which he had his share, or more; and his faith was to follow Christ in spite of them; and his hope, that Christ would bring him safely through them.

But I hasten to add that by posting this hymn, I did not mean to endorse its content, although it's a lovely hymn, emotionally appealing, pretty music, devout-sounding words, quoted below. 

The words were written by John Henry Newman. That's John Cardinal Newman, who so famously converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. That rather puts a new slant to the words, doesn't it?  He's talking about what followers of the pope so often do:  blind obedience.  Just obey, and if you can't see the sense of it, or where you are going, or why,  your submission is all the more virtuous.  Wanting to choose or see your path is viewed as pride in this hymn.  Cardinal Newman is here speaking of his pre-Catholic days.  But now God (through the pope) will tell him where to put his foot next; mustn't inquire further, simply do as you're told.

What's the difference between surrendering all your responsibility, giving it all over to someone else in blind submission versus simply being led by Christ?  Well, it's the difference between night and day.  It's the difference between walking in the darkness and walking in the light, and that's why this hymn is full of "dark", and "night" and "encircling gloom". 

But blind obedience is no Christian virtue; it's just plain irresponsibility; it's ducking adulthood, and Christ never asked for it.  In fact, the opposite:  "I am the light of the world: whoever follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12; see also 12:46)

In Christ, we can indeed see where we are going.  We can see the whole path because He is the path.  "I am the way," says He, "and the life and the truth."  In Him, we can even see "the distant scene", which is why St. John was able to write the Apocalypse, for the distant scene, too, is Christ, the Beginning and the End of everything.  We do not walk blindly, but with clearer sight than ever before.   We understand where we're going and what is required to arrive there and why. We do not simply go by another's say-so; the Truth has been revealed to us first-hand; we can say, with Job, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees thee."  (Job 42:5)  We walk by grace and by open-eyed choice (which is to say, by faith).  As St. John declares, "the darkness is past, and the true light now shines."  (I John 2:8)   

Here are a few more wonderful things Holy Scripture has to say of light and darkness.  You can find many more like these.

Isaiah 42:16 And I will bring the blind by a way [that] they knew not [says the Lord]; I will lead them in paths [that] they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do to them, and not forsake them.

Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined.

Luke 3 1:78-79 …the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.

2 Cor. 4:6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:8  For you were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light:

I Thess. 5:5 You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.


Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is 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 shouldst 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 blest 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!

(We won't bother, here, to deal with the curious idea that human beings turn into angels upon entering heaven.)


Chris Jones said...

When you posted earlier about Lead, Kindly Light (seemingly with approval), I wondered if you knew that Newman was the author. Since you are not very sympathetic to Roman Catholicism, I did not think you would be a Newman fan. (For the record, I am not a Newman fan, either.) I am not surprised to see this post in which you distance yourself from the hymn and its author.

However, I think you are 'way too hard on Newman and his hymn in this post. There is nothing unorthodox, and nothing specifically Roman Catholic, about Lead, Kindly Light. It is a lovely and tender expression of the attitude of trust and obedience that all Christians should have about Jesus Christ.

Lead, Kindly Light is not about blind obedience, and certainly not about obedience to the Pope. You wrote: Wanting to choose or see your path is viewed as pride in this hymn. Cardinal Newman is here speaking of his pre-Catholic days. But that is not true, and it cannot be true. Newman wrote Lead, Kindly Light in 1833, when he was still an Anglican. More to the point, it was at or before the beginning of the Oxford Movement and before the developments in Newman's theological views began that led him to become a Roman Catholic. In 1833, Newman was a thorough-going Protestant who believed and publicly confessed that the Pope is the Anti-Christ. He could not have been writing from a Roman Catholic perspective in 1833. If there are theological problems in the hymn they come from the Calvinism of Newman's youth, not the Catholicism of his maturity.

Lead, Kindly Light is a beloved hymn in the Anglican Church and remains in Anglican hymnals to this day.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Chris, I didn't know those details, so thank you for the correction.

But if the hymn is referring to blind obedience to anyone, as it certainly seems to be, then that, of course, is indeed unorthodox, whether it comes from Catholic or Calvinistic influence.

Obedience to Christ is supposed to be total, but not blind.