“Lead Kindly Light..”
Posted on 09 October 2014, 8:13
All religions see us human beings as living in more than one dimension. They see us as physical beings, who are trying to earn a living, manage the difficulties of their lives, using their reason and knowledge in the process. They also show us as deeply influenced by an emotional and spiritual pull towards an invisible, wise, creative and good dimension that is somehow the source of the experiences they are now having in the physical. People meditate and pray, they put themselves in states of mind where they feel in touch with this higher dimension. All see the need in some way to put the conscious self to one side. We seek to be ‘enlightened’. For some, enlightenment consists in completely transcending personality, and in union with the Creative Principle, the Absolute.
If you would like to read a discussion of enlightenment in Hinduism and Buddhism and the possible pitfalls one might meet on the way, here is an interesting discussion.
But I want here to focus from the point of Christianity. “Have you seen the light?” asks the evangelist. What light could that be? My thoughts go to a hymn that I like to sing to myself, or even better have others around me singing, Cardinal Newman’s hymn:
“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst 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 prayed 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!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!”
When we go deeper within ourselves, we do become conscious of peace, aware of a Presence, a Presence that we can question, receive answers from, receive inspiration from, a Presence that I would prefer not to name.
I think that to those who are open to it, it is always the same experience. Some describe that Presence as “Jesus” but that word suggests a physical man. If we were to name it, then perhaps talk of Spirit that was in Jesus, and potentially to be discovered in us all. Elijah called it, “The still small voice.” In that Presence, the clamour of material desires and needs fades, in that Presence there can be healing of body or spirit, in that Presence the wells of creativity are opened, revealing new ways of approaching problems, inspiring all forms of artistic and mental endeavour, including new dimensions of science. With one’s heart and mind focused in this way, many things are possible, and indeed the “Kindly Light” can illuminate us in this way.. as well as leading us in the paths of love.
But there has to be a balance. In that discussion on Enlightenment in the realm of Hinduism and Buddism some people were deplored for believing they that have achieved “satori”, “union with the absolute”, when they lacked humility and were not much use to anyone. Perhaps similarly we know a Christian who has been “saved”, and thus is unteachable, unreachable.
“Genius,” said Thomas Edison, “is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. Our physical lives include in their purposes the gathering of knowledge and emotional maturity from experience. We learn from experience what does and does not make for love; from experience we learn the heights and depths of all religions and cultures: this is part of how we grow into maturity.
The word, Enlightenment, is also used in another context: and can it be separated from the religious use of the term? Here is a definition of this other use: “The Enlightenment has been defined in many different ways, but at its broadest was a philosophical, intellectual and cultural movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It stressed reason, logic, criticism and freedom of thought over dogma, blind faith and superstition. Logic wasn’t a new invention, having been used by the ancient Greeks, but it was now included in a worldview which argued that empirical observation and the examination of human life could reveal the truth behind human society and self, as well as the universe.”
I often hark back to Lawrence LeShan’s Alternate Realities. He makes the point that Reality as a whole can be seen in four modes. Each mode is entirely valid and is essential. Each mode seems to contradict the other three. But, he implies, if we can’t live with these apparent contradictions then we are condemned to live in error.
Firstly, there is what he calls the Clairvoyant mode, where we are one with all that is. It is in this mode that we are enlightened, in one sense. It is in this mode that we sing, “Lead Kindly Light.” That is one mode of Enlightenment. And we can think of many spiritual leaders and poets who are seen as very much enlightened, in this mode.
Secondly, there is the “archetypal” mode. This is the mode in which we try to picture and describe the invisible. When we talk of a “Kindly light” we do not necessarily refer to any literal light either in this dimension or in the afterlife, even though people experiencing Near Death Experiences do report “Beings of Light”. It is a kind of poetry describing the sudden awareness of another dimension to the sudden illumination from a light. For many Christians, the communion bread is a kind of expression for the spiritual food that comes from the spiritual dimension. Trouble and superstition come when we confuse these metaphors so essential to our thinking with the third mode of viewing reality, namely the Sensory-Physical Mode, which has already been described.
It is my opinion that Catholic theology sometimes confuses these modes. The Host, the Bread, which in the archetypal mode signifies in metaphorical language “spiritual food perceived in the Clairvoyant mode”, is understood as belonging to the Sensory-Physical mode. It is then not so much a poetical metaphor for spiritual food, as concretely, see-and touchwise, the actual Body of Christ. In my view the expression, “The Body of Christ” belongs to the poetical Archetypal mode. This mode is entirely valid, and expresses fundamental truth. But it is not the same as the Sensory-Physical, nor is it the same as the Clairvoyant.
LeShan adds a fourth mode, the Transpsychic: it is the mode of Prayer. It assumes that we are separate and also connected.
Of course there is fact only one Reality, one All in All, indivisible. But such is the way we human beings think, we are compelled to view this All in All from four apparently mutually contradictory viewpoints, which viewpoints we may not confuse.
“We who live by sound and symbol,
we who learn from sight and word,
find these married in the person
of the one we call our Lord.
Taking bread to be his body,
taking wine to be his blood,
he let thought take flesh in action,
he let faith take root in food.
Not just once with special people,
not just hidden deep in time,
but wherever Christ is followed,
earthly fare becomes sublime.
Though to sound this seems a mystery,
though to sense it seems absurd,
yet in faith, which seems like folly,
we meet Jesus Christ our Lord.
God, our Maker, send your Spirit
to pervade the bread we break.
Let it bring the life we long for
and the love which we forsake.
Bind us closer to each other,
both forgiving and forgiven;
give us grace in this and all things
to discern the hand of heaven.
© WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow G51 3UU, Scotland.
Tune Suo Gan, Welsh trad. Black 54
Please do no use without permission.
Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His forthcoming book, Into the Wider Dream will be published Winter/Spring 2015 by White Crow Books.