Lead kindly light, lead.
Lead us to Bethlehem. And on to the stable. And on, and in. Lead kindly light, lead. Bring us to the manger. Right up to the Center of the Universe. Onto our knees.
Within that manger inside that stable in a far-off place: a baby. The baby. Our baby. Not distant—right here.
There is nothing to do here but adore. Let us adore, on our knees, open to utter reverence. Our hearts are like flowers that can’t help but unfurl for the sun. We’ve left our baggage, our shame and confusion, doubt and guilt, outside the stable door. We can let go of the worldly because here, in the presence of this baby, we are made free.
This baby doesn’t command action—no resolutions or game plans, no petitions or marches. Here, now, beside the manger, what do we hear?
He is not commanding anything.
If we silence ourselves enough, we may hear his soft, quiet breathing.
Staying silent, beside the manger, we may in fact hear something more, something all-new. If we silence ourselves, settle our minds, calm our busy-ness, we may find him sweetly calling, sweetly loving, from within our own hearts. Here, in this stable, is all we need.
From within our silence, we ask: What does a baby want? What does this baby want? What does he need? Jesus is generous in love—even as a baby—for he is born Love. Lying in the musty hay, here where we kneel, where we adore and worship, Eternal Love radiates love.
From within our silence then, can we give back the one most precious gift? The gift we bring him is love.
We’ll feed him love from the silence of our hearts, where he is growing it.
Turning toward Love, we find real freedom. We are made free—not in the sense of politics, or a slogan we can march to, but real freedom, of the heart, mind and soul; freedom from the ordinary, gray stress-filled dailiness of this world. There is more for us: God’s Kingdom, beginning and ending here, with this holy infant, one who has loved us from his first breath. This baby, brought forth in love, will go on to live in love and end his life in love.
We love because he first loved us.
We’ll stay present. Open. We are adoring, and free.
A baby! A Savior! Saving us.
Come, find a place beside the manger; come, let us adore him.
Note: The phrase “Lead kindly light, lead” is from a poem by John Henry Newman that begins:
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!
… It is a great message which is given to us—good news indeed—that the light overcomes the darkness. But to give the message we must also be the message!
– Thomas Kelly
Monday morning following the Paris attacks I take my seat across from an older man with an open face whom I’d met on this train exactly one week before. He has the look of one who’s lived a full life with its attendant ups and with lots of downs, but whose gentle spirit has persisted.
“A lot has happened since we met,” he says, shaking his head. “Terrible things.”
“Yes.” I shake my head, too, and look away, appropriate words fleeing my mind like mice before a bulldozer. No words of mine could have any significance in the face of this. “Yes.” It’s all I have.
“I can’t imagine that kind of hatred,” he says. “I’ve disliked people, I’ve been angry at them, but I can’t imagine wanting to kill like that.”
How many such conversations have taken place on trains and in bars and at kitchen tables? With children, on the way to school, to basketball games, to sleep-overs?
In this time that feels so dark, each of us is especially called to be the message of light that overcomes darkness—it’s a message not meant exclusively for times of peace and well-being, though it’s easier to believe in those times. In this particular dark period, our point in history, when some cry that religion not only has no answers but is the mechanism bringing evil to the world, we are called yet more deeply to embody that message.
People of all ages have lived through hardship, disaster, darkness, evil—Christians no less than others. Imagine how it felt to live in some regions of France or Germany or England during the World Wars when battles raged. Or how it felt to be one of the soldiers. What must it have felt like to our Jewish brothers and sisters, as they were hunted down and massacred? To Rwandans in 1994? The end of the world, it must have seemed like.
Good news? Is there really good news when evil rears its head and seems to overcome God’s kingdom? When innocents are attacked in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Sudan? Jesus’s life was not a jaunt over tranquil waters. Living in an occupied land, an enemy of the state, tortured and murdered, we know his was not a life of ease. The light of the world came among us and lived among us and is with us now. The darkness does not overcome the Light.
Thomas Kelly knew darkness. He knew the darkness of Nazi Germany; he knew personal darkness, ego-killing failure. He once experienced the massive, incomprehensible awesomeness of God. Kelly, a Quaker who had studied philosophy, was overcome by that awesome power while on his knees in the great Cologne cathedral in 1938; he likened God’s love to “flames of fire” and told a friend, “I have literally been melted down by the love of God.” From here on out, his philosophy was centered on obedience to God and love.
We become the light shining into the darkness through trust and faith and hope and yes, through consent. We don’t just carry it, we become it, as Kelly said. We can’t do it ourselves; we don’t become Christ’s light through sheer willpower and effort. We yield. We say yes. We pray. Come Lord Jesus.
How would I have responded, had I been personally impacted by the Paris atrocities? I don’t know—I’m not brave. I can only hope that someday I will be transformed enough to turn to the light, to be that light, no matter what. It may be on my deathbed.
Religion can’t be, for us, a fount for plucky platitudes that carry us along when everything goes well, or a lifeboat we leap into on choppy seas, jumping out again when we spot safer shores. We want Truth! We want Him. We have to consent to be transformed, to become the light, to stick around through thick and thin. To prefer the person of Jesus to the easy comfort of . . . well, comfort.
It isn’t a matter of believing in the Inner Light, it is a matter of yielding your lives to Him. It is a matter of daily, hourly going down into the Shekinah of the soul, in that silence, find yourselves continually recreated, and realigned and corrected again and again from warping effects of outer affairs. It is having a Center of creative power and joy and peace and creation within you.
Kelly is one who knew what he was talking about, for he yielded his life. He knew darkness, and he knew the Light. “The light for which the world longs is already shining,” he told us. And he knew.
The Paris bombings affected all of us, for we are, indeed, all one. They had a warping effect, which evil always does. To some extent, and certainly a much lesser extent, that evil touched each of us here in Denver, almost five thousand miles away from the epicenter of the attacks, as surely as it did those present. It touched a woman walking through a field in a remote region of Thailand. A boy playing a video game in Argentina. Somebody fishing out in the middle of the Atlantic. Every one of us. But when we love and pray and bring our attention to the light, when we say yes to the light, we affect all. Therefore, we have a responsibility.
He plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.
– Thomas Kelly
This window illuminated the heavy wood door of a chapel I visited while on a morning retreat a couple of weeks ago.
Light overcomes the world’s darkness again and again and again because the darkness cannot and will not overcome it.
~ ~ ~ ~
Christina Manweller publishes poetry and creative nonfiction and is blessed to work with the people of light and integrity at Creator Mundi.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
– Isaiah 9:2
Anticipation. The Light coming into the world.
Advent is the sleep before the dawn. A time of dreaming, of invitation. If our sleep is peaceful, we give thanks and open our hearts, souls and minds ever more. If our sleep is disturbed, we call, call for the Light.
Come, Lord Jesus.
The Light. Again, and to stay. To live, in us.
Come, come, Lord Jesus.
Advent: from the Latin, adventus: arriving, approaching. Our Lord draws near. Invite Him. Call Him. Come, Lord Jesus.
Advent calendars are 10% off through November 5. Use code adv10. The Standing Advent Calendar, Away in a Manger is shown above. An Advent calendar marks our way along the journey toward the light and is a traditional way for children to count the days until Christmas. Order online or visit the Creator Mundi gallery in Englewood (10-3 Monday through Thursday, and on Saturdays from November 28-December 20. Also, by appointment: 303-795-8148).
This Our Lady of Guadalupe ornament was handcrafted in rural Thailand and is available online and in the gallery.