On the afternoon of Feb. 16, 1909, a literal and figurative darkness fell upon the industrial city of Durham in northeast England. A pair of underground explosions erupted in the West Stanley Colliery coal mine. More than 100 miners died instantly. Others died after inhaling poison gas.
But about three dozen miners survived the twin blasts and located a pocket of clean air deep below the earth’s surface.
Reports of the tragedy tell of the surviving miners huddling in almost total darkness. They surely experienced an awful mixture of terror and helplessness. They were lost. They did not know if they could step left, right, up or down. Perhaps they wondered if they were taking their final breaths. Thoughts likely turned to wives, children and parents they knew would be grieving at home.
Then, from the abyss, a lone miner began humming the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light” (Hymn no. 97). Soon others joined in singing the opening verse:
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!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.
The trapped miners were, miraculously, rescued a half-day later and “Lead, Kindly Light” remains a beloved, prayerful anthem to placing one’s trust in the Lord. Written almost two centuries ago by the clergyman John Henry Newman, it has become a staple of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The hymn also doubles as timeless poetry. Any who have known loneliness, sin, pride, despair and, ultimately, Christ’s forgiving and guiding light can claim its words as their own. It reminds that, by ourselves, we are lost. But deliverance and peace come as we offer our full selves to the Lord.
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d 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.
As the Bible teaches: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Sister Jean A. Stevens, then first counselor in the Primary general presidency, testified in her April 2014 general conference talk that God accomplishes His miracles of deliverance one prayer at a time, one person at a time.
“We can trust that He will help us, not necessarily in the way we want but in the way that will best help us to grow,” she said. “Submitting our will to His may be difficult, but it is essential to becoming like Him and finding the peace He offers us.”
The scriptures, she added, are filled with accounts of those who put their trust in the Lord and who were blessed and delivered by Him.
“Think of young David, who escaped certain death at the hand of the mighty Goliath by relying on the Lord. Consider Nephi, whose pleadings to God in faith brought deliverance from his brothers who sought to take his life. Remember young Joseph Smith, who prayerfully sought the Lord’s help. He was delivered from the power of darkness and received a miraculous answer.
“Each faced real and difficult challenges. Each acted in faith and put his trust in the Lord. Each received His help.”
It’s not known if the miner who began humming “Lead, Kindly Light” was old or young, but it would not be surprising to learn he was the most junior of the stranded men. Time and time again, youth (again, think David, Nephi and Joseph Smith) have taught others, through example, to place their full trust in God.
The Old Testament’s Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego knowingly placed their lives in peril by refusing to bow down before a golden image set up by the king, Nebuchadnezzar. They knew to do so would be a sin against the true God they loved and worshipped.
The young men were told that if they did not follow the king’s order, they would be cast into a fiery furnace. “And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” the king implored.
“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand,” they answered.
Then young Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego revealed their remarkably mature understanding of what it means to trust in the Lord, saying: “But if not, ... we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou has set up.”
Those young men, said Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Seventy, knew they could trust in the Lord — even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped.
“They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgement that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.
“Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him” (April 2004 general conference).
The Durham miners of 1909 were rescued following their unified song of faith. The Lord will decide how He delivers us from our own challenges. But, as the hymn assures, better days await those who trust Him.
So long thy pow’r 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!