torsdag 23 mars 2017

Lead kindly light

We all make important decisions in the course of our lives. Big ones we make not more than half a dozen or so in a lifetime. Some, such as the choice of career, are unavoidable. Others, involving some kind of change of life, a driven by an internal sense of compulsion. We feel that things cannot go on as they are.

People - family and friends - speculate about why we make these choices. Why did he chose to be a ...? Why did she marry so-and-so - such an improbable choice? Why did they get divorced or leave x for y? Why did they emigrate to…? Why did they change careers after twenty years? Why did they become a …? Or why did they stop being a …? Why did the priest lose his faith? Why did the atheist become a Christian?

I once knew a Catholic priest who became a Jew. Reflecting many years later on the conversations we had - it was in the 1950s, it was obvious that he had never believed what Catholic priests would be expected to believe. One wonders why he went through with the training and offered himself for ordination, and why those in charge ordained him?

One reason could be that one is inclined to doubt one’s own doubts and think there must be something wrong with oneself. It is the opposite of intellectual arrogance, but in its way just as damaging. So the non-believing student priest persisted with his training.

Often, decisions which seem to have been made suddenly, following a particular event, are in reality the outcome of many years of niggling pressure. Or because thoughts and concerns that were previously incoherent suddenly come into clear focus. The dam finally breaks. At other times, an alternative course of action opens up unexpectedly or is newly recognised as a possibility.

Not only do we need to pay attention to these pressures inside us; we also need to refrain from drawing conclusions about why other people have made their decisions. What appears on the surface might have been the precipitating event, but it is unlikely to be their motivation, which will be something that has been building up for a long time.

Why do I mention the subject now? I know a few people who could be on the verge of making significant and surprising decisions. I feel I might be approaching that point myself. The important thing is to take one's time, try to establish the real reasons for making the decision, and if you believe in it, pray for guidance.

A model to follow is John Henry Newman, later Cardinal Newman, who wrote the hymn "Lead kindly light" when he was ill in Sicily in 1833 and unable to leave Palermo for three weeks.

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.
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.
 In a similar vein there is the famous prayer of St Birgitta of Sweden
"Herre, visa mig din väg och gör mig villig att vandra den." 
 (Lord, show me your way and make me willing to follow it)

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