In my teenage years I took a couple of courses at White Lodge. After that I converted to an enthusiastic form of Christianity that quickly became narrow in its outlook. That's not a surprise - a teenage convert swallows whatever preaching they are exposed to, no matter how odd or extreme or even abhorrent it may seem to the non-convert. In joy, in zeal, in the thrill of new meanings, the convert can forget to think - or even be encouraged not to think. Sadly my experience of embracing things I now regret is a common one.
To digress, by leaping forward to this morning:
I popped into the local Christian bookshop. I'm not quite sure why as there is very little there that appeals to the person I am now. But I picked up a book called "Christian Philosophy." A good title. An exciting title. I hoped the book might be as intelligently written as something by Aquinas or one of the more modern Christian philosophers and it might be a stunningly challenging read. I was quickly disappointed
The book contained nothing that I would call philosophy and nothing that any philosophy student or teacher would recognise as part of their subject of study. Instead it was a book that promised to tell us "This is what the Bible means." Worse, the author didn't start with the Bible and honestly seek to ask what the Bible is. He started with a preconception and so explained "This is what my preconceived notions say that Bible means." He had a literalist, fundamentalist preconception - so creation happened in six days and there is no evolution, homosexuality is great evil, without personal faith in Jesus you're doomed to Hell, and so on. I was the teenage convert who swallowed teaching like that. At least for a while.
Returning to the topic. I took courses at White Lodge. At the end of each course all the students gathered in "The Galilee", a chapel there, with the course tutors. Each of us received a personal blessing, a couple of paragraphs, from one of the tutors. I wish I still had those blessings but in evangelical post-conversion zeal they were destroyed. We had a service. And we sang. I have never since experienced anything so warm, so love-filled as those services.
At the close of every course at White Lodge a particular song was sung. It was written by Ronald Beesley, the founder of White Lodge, a man I never met as he died some years before I first visited. The words at that time were printed on a sheet that I'm semi-sure said "Words by Ronald Beesley and The Dalai Lama, written on the shore of Lake Galilee." We sang it to the tune of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Just in case anyone doesn't know it, here's a version from The Proms. (You do know it - even if you don't know what it is)
Those little services of blessing were a wonderful experience. Pretty much everything at White Lodge was a wonderful experience.
So why am I writing about this?
This year I've found myself singing the hymn. Regularly. As I've wandered around it has kept coming to my mind and I've started singing - sometimes out loud in the street! But all year I've been faced with a frustrating problem: I only knew the words to three-quarters of the first verse. I'd get there and be stuck, either getting annoyed or just starting again. The words have been quite prominent in my life, especially in the last six months.
Last week I asked online - there is a small facebook White Lodge group. Does anyone have the words? And yes, someone did. The words were posted within hours and then someone posted them with the original tune they were sung to. I am so thankful for those people and for those who still store the archives of White Lodge - though White Lodge itself is no more. I am so thankful that I can finally finish singing the song that I've been singing for months.
The Pilgrim Hymn of Dedication - White Lodge
Oh, teach me Lord to know Thee,
And place Thy mantle o'er me,
And guide me how to heal.
Thy footsteps I would follow,
Thro' rock or barren waste,
To dry the tears of sorrow,
Thy Kingdom here to haste.
By Galilean mountains,
By shore and quiet sea,
O'er stony paths and desert,
You paved The Way for me.
I would my Lord and Master,
A Galilean be,
To share Thy Hands in serving,
And set the prisoners free.
My life is Thine to do with
Such as Thou would'st name,
From now I am Thy servant,
Thy blessing I would claim.
To serve the need of others
As Thou hast done for me,
For all men are my brothers,
To serve eternally.