By Celia Coates
These are such unusual times – around the world 2018 is ending with no clear way for many of us to see through the dark of the differences and frightening struggles that surround us. This week the first line of an old hymn echoed in my mind:
Lead, kindly light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead thou me on!
It was written in 1833 by an Englishman, John Henry Newman, who had a long life filled with differences and struggles, although none as globally dire as the ones around us today. He became a Catholic, and eventually a Cardinal, after years as an Anglican priest in the Church of England. It was a conversion that caused real turbulence in his Christian world.
My favorite story about this hymn is one that I heard about Gandhi. In the 1930s, one of his followers suggested that a hymn be sung at the same time every week in the ashram in India so that people around the world could join in. The hymn that Gandhi chose was this one with the words written by Cardinal Newman. Although he was a profoundly devout Hindu, Gandhi believed in tolerance and respect for other sincere beliefs. His lifework was drawing large groups together to create great change – joining people for the common purpose of fairness despite their many differences. What a welcome approach that would be for 2019!
The rest of this hymn is poetic but the words have no special resonance for me.
However, that first line leaves me with hope that the world can be led through the destructive gloom that encircles us.
May we all find and follow the “kindly light” in the year ahead.