“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 out 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.
This is the opening of a poem called ‘God Knows’ written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins. A British poet and academic in the field of sociology.
It is most famous for being read to a listening nation via King George VI’s Christmas message on the 25th December 1939.
At the beginning of September 1939, Hitler’s invasion of Poland was the portent for the black clouds of war that would roll over Europe and release their slow thunder for six long years. Three months in, Britain was shaken by the loss of great warships and many of its Asian holdings. With America yet to enter the war, Britain stood nervously at the gate of 1940 and peered out into that darkness of the new year, completely blind to what would lie ahead.
We now stand at the gateway to a new year; and maybe the world is a little affeared of what may, or may not, come to be within its compass. None of us know exactly how the Corona virus will course its path across the coming times; we too now look out into the unknown. If those anxious souls huddling around their radios on Christmas day 1939 had been told of their coming travails, and that they would be with them for several years; would they have been overcome in the face of that knowledge? The future is dependant, to some degree, on what we do today of course, but does our ignorance of precisely how the future is to manifest, protect us from, possibly truths we may struggle to bear. Who among us would want the responsibility of knowing the date of our last day incarnate? What is also true however, should a weather forecaster have knowledge of an approaching hurricane, would we not be better served having information of the potential storm ahead, so we could accept the truth of the reality to come, and make provisions to our best abilities? Burying our head in the sand because we did not want to hear the bad news, is not the best preparation for a passing hurricane I would suggest; we may end up with our pants down (or up, depending on leg position!).
So we can plan ahead, we can also reflect back as we do here today; learning from those who have been before, experiencing similar trepidations that we now face. Both good pursuits, but all we have true dominion over of course is how we act today. For we are only ever actually alive in this moment.
So what did the peoples back at the outbreak of the second world war have if they didn’t have the knowledge of what was to come? They had each other. This may seem a little trite to some, and maybe all of us in our more self indulged moments. We surround ourselves with such ‘wonderful’ things we deem as top priority these days; glittering material possessions, stimulating pastimes and messy entertainment… things we couldn’t live without no doubt. In the heat of battle however, we may just find that true comfort and shelter comes in the form of being in the company of those who have, or are, experiencing hardships we may also know. That is why so many are finding the self isolation of the current lockdowns particularly difficult. It is such an unnatural state for people to find themselves despite its good intentions.
And by the by, I am not here to preach to anyone else, I have made more mess than most, and thankfully the majority was before the advent of camera phones.
So, the Clutter, the Rubbish, the Anxieties and Preoccupations we accumulate and we come to form dependency on in all sorts of unhealthy ways; we can live without them. Indeed we live a lot better without them. But can we be trusted to expunge these hungry and unnecessary passengers ourselves? We can, with mixed success. I would hazard a guess foreswearing intent is more regularly practised than the actual expungination (I don’t care if it’s not a word, I had to get it out of me), but still, points always for endeavour. And to be honest, sometimes you need twenty years to build up to something – I’ll get round to the procrastination later.
So, all our individual endeavours aside, I don’t know if life gets tired waiting or not, but sometimes events tear the aforementioned baggage from our wailing grip to give the process a hurry up. It is sometimes a more painful process than informed consent, but, if we had it our way, we would go to meet our maker smothered with a lifetime of the, now filthy, plasters that we ever had applied to us, still unripped from our dainty flesh. Sometimes ‘mother nature’ in her wisdom will wrench the unnecessary from us for our own good – whether it has hair follicles attached to it or not.
So when life takes from us what we have come to rely on, and our ‘normal’ lives are jolted out of their familiar rhythms; what are we left with? I would suggest very often the answer simply might be… ourselves. The one possession we truly do own, and that can never be taken away by anyone. As it was given by One who gave of their eternal self. So when all the distractions are taken away, and we are left with just – our own self; this can be harder for some than others, where there is healing to be done. When the crutch is taken from you; even if the pain is more in the mind than the leg, never the less, the crutch was always there to lean on, even if it was the one thing that stopped you from walking up straight, with your face to the horizon and not to the floor.
As those brave souls did in 1939, they felt the fear but stepped forward anyway. The first steps somewhat uncertain, as we ourselves walk through a gate of a new era; into the darkness of the unknown. But whether we find ourselves with a hand free after laying down a personal crutch, or as a world stepping forward together into unknown times; what better place to put our hand in, than the luminescent hand of our God.
Poem by Minnie Louise Haskins
God knows. His will is best.
The stretch of years which wind ahead,
So dim to our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears are premature;
All time have full provision.