FEB 10 FROM THE MANSE
I think I’m right in saying that on Pope Benedict’s schedule during his visit to Britain in 2010 will be the matter of the canonisation of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Generally, such an event wouldn’t draw my attention as a non-conformist non-conformist! However knowing a little bit about the Cardinal I’m aware that he wrote one of my favourite hymns, and apparently one of Queen Victoria’s too. It is said that as she great monarch lay dying at Osborne House in January 1901, members of her staff read verses of the hymn to her.
The year was 1833 and midsummer sun beat down on the stifling deck, as the boat lay becalmed not far from the coast of Sicily where Newman had embarked. He sat on deck, pining for the breeze that would carry the cargo boat on its way to Marseilles and thence home to England. He had been travelling in southern Italy when he had fallen sick with a severe viral illness. He had survived though he was still weak and longing to reach home.
But John Henry Newman had more than his physical health to concern him. He was anxious and disturbed by the direction that his thoughts and feelings were taking. He had been brought up in a wealthy evangelical Christian home and had done brilliantly at Oxford. When he was ordained, he had moved away from his roots to the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church. In June 1833 he was still struggling with his doubts. As he waited for the wind to set them on their way, he wrote the hymn “Lead kindly light” (Hymns and Psalms number 67). Newman did not write the verses as a hymn but they were set to music and became a Victorian top of the pops, appearing in Roman Catholic, Anglican and Nonconformist hymnbooks. The tune was written in 1865 by John B. Dykes. It expresses his uncertainty of the way ahead but also confirms his trust that God will show him the way forward.
Lead kindly light, amid the 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
We can all of us lose the way or follow the wrong path or take the wrong direction in life. If, however, we ask God to reveal a new way ahead in the coming year, he will and he will also accompany us on this new path to better and happier things and places. He will also give us the strength to become better people.
With every blessing,