Something About a Kindly Light
I was warmed to hear some time ago – like forty years or so – that Gandhi, the driving force behind the ending of Britain’s colonial rule of India, was a life-long Hindu, yet found something close to his heart in a hymn he often sang while studying at Oxford – “Lead, Kindly Light.” His feeling was something about the insight that the hymn expressed, that the Almighty (by whatever name one might call the Divine and Greater-than-we) who spoke the word, “Let there be Light!” was truly the Very Light of all that is. However, that power, he affirmed, was not impersonal, arbitrary, or malevolent – but instead, was kindly, loving, and blessed. How right, he thought, to pray that such a Lord should lead a person rather than make life’s travelers stumble along blindly, led only by willfulness (selfish, self-seeking, oppressive pride).
In his darkest moments of doubting the wisdom of his good intentions, Gandhi was often comforted by the prayer that he should find “one step enough for me,” instead of expecting that he’d always see the “big picture” clearly and proceed flawlessly on the right path. He taught that the humility suggested by such a phrase would save a person from anger-creating, hate-generating frustration that turned many well-intended saviors into “my way or the highway”-type ogres.
He also appreciated how good it is to be rescued from pride and seeking power, fame, and treasure, which entice a person into ways of destruction. We are converted lovingly from narrowness and strengthened in generosity, sensitivity, and altruism.
The words to whish he was referring said, “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 pray’d 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. [Text: John Henry Newman, 1801-1890]
It is interesting to note that the author of that hymn was an Anglican cleric (ordained June 13, 1824 in the Church of England) who became a Roman Catholic in 1845. His lifestyle was so modest and pious and his academic credits so impressive that he was made a Cardinal in the Church that allowed his expression of such a blessed hope.
Newman’s expressions of faith influenced Gandhi in such a way that the Protestant or Roman Catholic backgrounds of his life did not stand in the way of his treasuring the thoughts and prayers about which he wrote or sang. How significant in the upcoming seasons of Light for so many people of humble faith that we find joy in the thought that the Author of Light is indeed kindly toward us. We are encouraged therefore to bring enlightenment to others who find themselves limited by the encircling gloom, by standing for the right, defending the oppressed, providing for those in need as opportunity presents possibilities to us, and rejoicing in the warmth in which we give thanks for all we’ve ever received – more than we’d ever deserved or ever dreamed. How very kindly is the Light, indeed.
Chaplain James G. Anderson