Many years ago the Rev. John Henry Newman, as he then was, expressed his strongly felt understanding of his spiritual state with the hymn/prayer beginning, ‘Lead, kindly light, amid th’ encircling gloom’. His words doubtless strike an echoing chord in many people today whether they are endeavouring to discern their vocation or seeking to grow spiritually. I’d like to reflect on the phrase above, linking it also with the words, ‘I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.’
When it comes to discerning one’s vocation, many people appear to strive for the greatest clarity possible, rather like wishing to have a clear view to the horizon in all directions, instead of the gloom to which Newman refers. Indeed, the gloom is seen as the problem; if only everything were clear then life would be so much simpler. I would like to suggest that the gloom is in fact very necessary, allowing as it does the ‘kindly light’ of God to lead us through life. When Newman wrote those words he could never have envisaged the path he would eventually tread, how different his life would have been (I suspect) if he had succeeded in having a crystal clear vision of his future. The crux of the matter is, whose will should prevail, mine or God’s? If we accept God’s will, then it also involves acceptance of the kindly light and the surrounding gloom, ‘I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me’. I am reminded also of St. John of the Cross and the dark night. He repeatedly distinguishes between our activity and our passivity, the latter allowing God to be active, whilst it is sadly the case that our own activity, or that of others, often interferes very much with God’s will. All that I have briefly laid out above can, I think, be applied also to those who are already clear about their vocation but are seeking to grow.
The light God sheds on us is kindly, full of love. A crucial aspect of our response to God’s love is to have trust, a confidence that all will be well and we do not need to see everything clearly laid out before us. A young woman’s response to a visiting angel, approximately two thousand years ago, should be seen as setting the standard for each person’s response to God, ‘let what you have said be done to me’.
I knew the members of the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham for several years before the Community itself began. It seems to me that the formation and growth of COLW is a good example of what I have outlined above, a steady following of God one step at a time always seeking his will. Certainly it is true to say in the minds of the present COLW members there was no long-term plan to establish a community.