Lighthouse Trails has known for several years that Calvin College is a contemplative-promoting institution, but it looks like that influence has seeped into a ministry of Calvin College, Hymnary.org, an online resource that provides the lyrics and information for thousands of hymns. A Lighthouse Trails reader brought to our attention this week that on the hymn page for a hymn written in 1862 by Joseph H. Gilmore, Hymnary.org wrote an introduction paragraph on Lectio Divina. While there is nothing in Gilmore’s hymn, He Leadeth Me, or in his biographical information, to suggest that this hymn has anything to do with contemplative prayer or that Gilmore wanted the words of the hymn repeated over and over for the intent of getting singers of the hymn to enter some sort meditative state, Calvin College and Hymnary.org have taken the liberty of tying the hymn to the contemplative practice of Lectio Divina. On the “Leaders Notes” on the He Leadeth Me page at Hymnary.org, it states:
Lectio Devina (sic) is a common devotional practice in which one spends a significant amount of time reflecting and meditating on one verse of Scripture, or a short passage. It is amazing what the Holy Spirit can say to us when we take time to listen and ponder, but also, like Gilmore, what we hear when we least expect it, such as when we read through as familiar a passage as Psalm 23.
Whoever wrote this and linked it with this hymn is obviously trying to promote a particular agenda – one that Calvin College is no stranger to. But we find it highly inappropriate and disrespectful to taint a hymn written over a hundred and fifty years ago in such a manner. If you aren’t sure what Lectio Divina is, please read our article that explains it very clearly. Essentially, in Lectio Divina, the practitioner finds a few words from a Scripture passage and repeats those words over and over in order to enter what contemplative mystics call “the silence.” It is in this meditative altered state that the practitioner has been told he or she can now hear the voice of God. Contemplative advocates such as Beth Moore say you cannot really know God intimately without this self-induced “stillness” or silence. Lectio Divina is kind of a “gateway drug” into full-blown contemplative meditation. And because Scripture is used to practice Lectio Divina, it gives the deceptive feeling that it must be OK. But in reality, Scripture is being misused (and abused) as a tool for meditation.
While Calvin College and Hymnary.org have the legal right to taint and even alter hymns, given that most of them are in the public domain, we can’t help wonder what the Lord thinks of taking a hymn that is about our trusting the Lord and letting Him lead us in our lives and turning it into a tool for entering altered states of consciousness similar to the meditation of the New Age and eastern religions.
We also highly doubt Joseph Gilmore would approve of his beautiful hymn being used in this damaging way. According to one hymn website:
[He Leadeth Me ] was birthed out of a particular struggle in American history. This hymn was composed in 1862 during the Civil War, a time of upheaval and insecurity. The author was preaching at First Baptist Church in Philadelphia soon after his ordination.
Another hymn website quotes Joseph Gilmore talking about He Leadeth Me:
It was the darkest hour of the Civil War. I did not refer to that fact— that is, I don’t think I did— but it may subconsciously have led me to realize that God’s leadership is the one significant fact in human experience, that it make no difference how we are led, or whither we are led, so long as we are sure God is leading us.
As with many of the hymns of old, He Leadeth Me was inspired during a time of hardship and suffering and was an exhortation to put our trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. Tragically and ironically, contemplative prayer isn’t about that at all because its roots are panentheistic and interspiritual, both which put more trust in man than in God, focusing more on what man can do for himself rather than what God did for us in the finished work on the Cross.
Below are the words of Joseph Gilmore’s hymn, He Leadeth Me:
He Leadeth Me by Joseph Gilmore
He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
He leadeth me, he leadeth me;
by his own hand he leadeth me:
his faithful follower I would be,
for by his hand he leadeth me.
2 Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom,
by waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me. Refrain
3 Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,
nor ever murmur nor repine;
content, whatever lot I see,
since ’tis my God that leadeth me. Refrain
4 And when my task on earth is done,
when, by thy grace, the victory’s won,
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
since God through Jordan leadeth me. Refrain