walking on water

Apr 25, 2020

Today it is ANZAC day in New Zealand and Australia, commemorating those killed in the tragedy of war and honouring returned and serving servicemen and women.

In the years of the two world wars the harbours of some of our major cities were places where families  and friends farewelled the young men and women they loved as they headed out onto the waters. In their minds would have been the fear that they might never return. But, with the confidence of youth these men and women themselves perhaps felt invincible, and the desire to walk on water is a sign of healthy human openness to life.

A well-known wartime Navy hymn recognises the ancients’ fear of the waters that these troop ships would traverse: “Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!” 

While battlefields, hospitals, khaki uniforms and foxholes are common pictures of war, it’s the image of the troop ship leaving safe harbour that moves me today. It’s got a lot to do with the difficulties we have been facing across the globe in recent weeks, moving into the unknown and navigating uncertain waters, with many people saying that it’s not since wartime that we have together faced national, social, family and financial challenges of this magnitude.

And so many of the scripture readings in these days have coincidentally (or perhaps God-incidentally) led us to turn to Jesus as the ONE who has power to save us from life’s battlefields.

Take a moment to skim today’s gospel reading noting especially the highlighted sections. (You can take more time with it later using the Lectio Divina link below)

“In the evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.”   (Readings at this link)

One of the great privileges of priesthood is that many people share their life story honestly and openly with me. This has helped me to appreciate every human life, including my own,  as an adventure of faith with ups and downs and unexpected changes of circumstance and direction. Sometimes the unexpected is welcome. Other times we are less ready and wonder how we will get through.

This is the story of the ANZACs. I’m thinking of those who never returned from war, and others who came home traumatised and wounded. I’m remembering those who in more recent years have shared the stories of the battlefields of their lives with me and who carry wounds that are less acknowledged than the scars of a recognisable war zone.

This year I am aware of so many who struggle as we prepare to ease lockdown of recent weeks, all of us uncertain about what the future will hold.

In 1833 St. .John Henry Newman found himself feeling lost, sick and far from home. He had been visiting Rome while in a state of personal turmoil and indecision then sailed from Rome home to England but became ill, struck down by a fever that nearly killed him. When he probably thought that things could get no worse his ship was becalmed for a full week in the Strait of Bonafacio. He later reflected “I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly”.

Then in that darkest of places Newman picked up his pen and wrote the poem that I discovered by chance on a dark day years ago in a hymn book in the chapel of a retreat centre. These words reminded me at that time and daily since that with Christ walking on water is possible.

Today I share Newman’s prayer for every one of us, and especially for those to whom we dedicate this sacred ANZAC day, but also for those who are struggling in the coronavirus battlefield of 2020.

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst 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.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed 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!

So long Thy power 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!


An Invitation:

  • You might like to listen to this beautiful rendition of Newman’s poem as a hymn at this link.
  • I have been thinking for some time about providing a Pray to Sleep audio reflection, based informally on Compline the Night Prayer of the Church, a way of relaxing as you prepare for sleep with a reflection on the graces of the day, leading (hopefully) into sleep. This will be available from Monday of next week.



Keep the bell pictures coming in. Send to john@fff.org.nz.  Today’s is St. Paul’s in Papanui Christchurch. Thanks Monty.

Saturday Easter Week II  (15 minutes)

Saturday Easter Week II  (25 minutes)



  1. Thank you, John.

  2. Thank you again Father John

  3. Thanks Fr John for your reflections, helping us all navigate these times. I also came across Lead Kindly Light during a retreat, years ago as a very homesick student just after I’d moved to Auckland to study theology, not 100% sure I’d made the right decision. I love the words and it helped me let go of wanting to be sure of the ‘distant scene’. God bless.

  4. Thank you Father John

  5. Thank you Fr John,looking forward to the Pray to sleep reflections as it’s something I have been looking for.
    Touched by “i do not ask to see the distant scene,one step is enough”. Profound as we don’t know how our “new normal” is going to be like after the restrictions. Some dark days for me as I’m working in Australia but with my children at home in NZ

  6. Thank you John………just right for me, especially at present!

  7. This is the most beautiful hymn and the last line always brings tears to my eyes.
    I hope that you are getting some rest during your day ! Another reflection on top of what you are already doing….look after yourself Father John

  8. Newman’s hymn is well known and loved in Anglican services as an evening hymn.

  9. Courage. It is I.
    I am with you always.


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