In the home of some good friends, there is displayed an old crossstitch of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins. As I have frequent occasions to stop and read it, the words have stayed with me through the years. The first stanza reads:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.

And he replied. Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!

As it turns out, those words have a rather rich history. The poem was written in 1908 by Haskins, an American lecturer at the London School of Economics, who wrote as a hobby. It was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, who showed it to her husband King George VI. He included it in his famous Christmas message broadcast in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War. After the King’s death the Queen Mother had it engraved on bronze plaques on the entrance to the King George VI Memorial Chapel, Windsor, where both are now buried. It was also read at the funeral service of the Queen Mother. Maybe some of you have found meaning in these verses as you have begun a new year or some new phase of life. I remember them as I greet the gatekeeper of every New Year, and as I grow older I remember them with less need to see into the unknown and with more confidence in the hand of God that will hold me along the way.

We need such confidence today, at the gate of a year when the burden of illness, or the decline of age, or the sudden violence of nature reminds us how fragile and fleeting our life in this world is; when our nation’s struggle with protracted war reminds us how prone we are to violence against one another; when even the religious community is divided against itself in so many distressing ways. Now, more than ever, we need to put our hand into the hand of the divine presence that shall be to us “better than light and safer than the known way.”

Perhaps this is also a good time for a personal note, I am grateful to all of you who take the time to read these “pastoral ramblings,” and the unique opportunity for reflection writing these columns affords. As together we stand “at the gate of the year,” may the months ahead bring new joy, new hope, and a new perspective on the living of our days.


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