Tag Archives: Newman

Light VI: Silent as light.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

IMGP5519 (425x640)

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee.

Walter Chalmers Smith.

John Betjeman commented on the first line of this hymn, ‘Happily wisdom isn’t the only attribute of God – clever people can be very tiresome.’ He has a point: all the apocalyptic imagery here can be off-putting. Nevertheless, I return to the last line, ‘only the splendour of light hideth Thee.’ Light pollution can be physical but also mental and spiritual.

Like Newman, we should be wary of the garish day, and join Vaughan, deciphering the glimmers in the night sky – after all, until GPS came in the stars were used for navigation, even leading the Wise Men to Jesus. If it is dark outside, may we trust with Therese and John of the Cross, who   ‘had neither guide nor light, except the one shining in my heart’, who will lead us home.


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Light V. Amid the encircling gloom.

young newman

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

It’s well known that Newman wrote these lines at a time of loneliness and crisis in his life. Perhaps, in his illness, being indeed far from his physical home, he found the dark night more frightening than usual. But he made this prayer in that moment, one we can all make our own, verse by verse.


Portrait of Newman by William Charles Ross, public domain.
William Charles RossNewman: https://archive.org/stream/newmanfran00barruoft#page/64/mode/2up

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Smiling Angel Faces

I cannot leave those angel faces without reflecting on the poet, Lemn Sissay. He was being interviewed on the radio, in the back of my ears which pricked up when he said that growing up, he thought the world smiled. People smiled at him, but he did not realise that his smile drew the smile on their faces.

He has not lost the knack:

All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

Have a look at http://lemnsissay.com/ for the rest of that poem.

His child’s smile was one of those angel faces of John Henry Newman’s Lead Kindly Light.

Two angel faces smiled on me today; not children but a woman and a man of retirement age. T was walking into town, invisible under her umbrella till she called me. She was avid for news of a neighbour in care. Her interest was a chance to consider my support for our mutual friend. We parted when she met a young friend of hers who embraced her in the street and wanted to hear all her news.

H and I shared a few minutes of family news and he invited my wife and me to join him and his wife an afternoon of tea and talk.

If we do not recognise the angel faces that smile on us every day, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror and practise that smile, ready to unleash it as a weapon of peace and love between human brothers and sisters.

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Thérèse and her Parents and Other Saints

Soon after his story of Jesus telling his disciples to be like children, Matthew makes clear that they have not understood:

Then were little children presented to him, that he should impose hands upon them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.    Matthew 19:13-14

So how do we forbid, or prevent, or hinder little children from coming to Jesus? How should we enable them to do so? Jesus warns us not to scandalise them, and to remember that

their angels  in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 18:10-11.

Teresa, Newman and Blake recall a youthful vision of glory, lost a while. Thérèse shares memories of her early days and remarks that with her character, if she had been raise by Parents lacking in virtues she would have been hindered from coming to Jesus: ‘I would have become very naughty and possibly I would have lost my soul.’ But Jesus was able to use her faults to ‘help her grow in perfection’.

Those parents are now to be officially recognised as truly virtuous when Pope Francis canonises them as Saints Louis and Zélie Martin. May the rest of us parents have the grace to help our children grow in perfection by encouraging the qualities that are the sunny side of their faults.

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Whose Angel Faces Smile?

We read Saint Teresa yesterday saying:

But even now it gives me a feeling of devotion to remember how early God granted me what I lost by my own fault.

This reminds me of Newman’s words:

And with the dawn, those Angel faces smile,

Which I have loved long since, and lost a while.

Whose were the angel faces smiling on Newman? I suggest we read in another place:

Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3.

Childhood should be time for play, for loving those angel faces which smile lovingly on us. William Blake may have seen angels in London and Sussex, but even without his eyes, we can see the messengers sent to us wherever we are; flesh and blood angels though they may be. I am not sentimental about calling children angels, for they are sent to us to call us to love and respect as God’s image. Blake saw children in London oppressed, sent up chimneys, doing dangerous work for paltry pay, and not playing. We have changed some things for the better in Britain, but our children are numbered among the least happy in the world.

How can we support children? Let us get to know our children through spending time, rather than money, with them. There are many elsewhere doing dangerous work for paltry pay, missing education, stranded from families for many reasons. Please visit http://www.streetchildafrica.org.uk/ to learn what is being done to reduce the number of children on the streets in many African cities.

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