Saturday, December 06, 2008

Lead, Kindly Light – An Advent Reflection

Two themes often seem to be associated with Advent – ‘waiting’ and ‘journeying.’ For me, the last few weeks have seen the two drawn together: intersecting, interpenetrating, paralleling, combining. It has been a time when I spent many hours driving from one hospital to another, visiting people connected in some way with the fellowship I serve as minister. There was Ernest*, quietly waiting to die, who greeted me with a smile and said, ‘will you say a prayer for me?’ – I was glad (in the right way) when I received the news that his wait was over. There is Florrie*, frustrated by a broken hip, waiting for the intensive physiotherapy that will enable her to resume her independence and return home. There is Jim*, medically confused, with his wife Vera* waiting anxiously for the day his mind clears enough for him to resume domestic life. Waiting and travelling - journeys that must be taken but which, mysteriously, depend on being still, on waiting.

My own, physical, journeys around the hospitals have been long, and most have been on dreicht days: mizzle and mist, half-hearted fog, encroaching darkness ahead of dusk - an encircling gloom. One day as the mist closed in, and spray spattered the windscreen, I followed a car whose driver had deemed it unnecessary to turn on the vehicle’s lights. I found the words of the old Henry Newman hymn coming into my mind:

Lead, kindly light, amidst 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 no ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me.

What might a kindly light be like, I wondered? Not the stark brightness of halogen fog lights, that’s for sure, nor yet the shimmering brightness of distant stars on a clear winter’s night. A kindly light seems to me to be an Advent light – perhaps a torch (as in the battery powered things we have nowadays) or a lantern (as in a Davy lamp) – something that gives enough light to take the next step but requires the traveller to be patient, to ‘wait and see’ what will come next. This is the light my hospitalised people need (needed) for their journeys… Ernest, as he made the last journey into the mystery of death; Florrie as she literally travels, step by painful step, the journey to independence; Jim and Vera as they wait for light in the mists of medical confusion. And it is the light I need as I walk with them.

John 1:5 says ‘The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.’ (NIVi) How can darkness understand a kindly light? The brash brightness of a searchlight can be understood, as it endeavours to displace the darkness. But the kindly light is something different; quietly and resolutely it enters the darkness, confusing it with its vulnerability and smallness – how easily a candle could be snuffed out, how feeble its flame. How crazy the God who enters the world as a child, through the waiting of gestation, through the pain and travail of human birth, to share our vulnerability and to walk, a step at a time, a journey that offers hope for our own.

Lead, kindly light,

In the waiting and watching;

In the walking and wondering;

In life, in death;

In joy, in sorrow;

In health and in illness;

In sunshine and shadow;

Lead us on -

Lead us home,

Through Christ, our Lord. Amen

* Names have been changed


jim Gordon said...

What a good post, Catriona. A Christmas Pastoral. Thanks.

Also gave me a wonderful image of a driver praying'keep thou my feet' - that would be the right for the accelerator and the left for clutch / brake? A Fib poem lurks in there - go for it!

Catriona said...

Hmm, OK (distraction tactic from sermon writing!)

Right -
One step
On my way,
Of the journey on;
Kindly light, leading me forward.
The light shines in the darkness: unextinguishable!

jim Gordon said...

Use it as tomorrow's benediction!!!