From the Collections

Mission Lamplight

As we change the clocks this coming weekend and darkness arrives earlier, we thought you might enjoy this reflection on illumination by Bishop Frederick Donaghy, MM:

fa_1934sept_p235_a_webI am writing this by the light of a small kerosene lamp. If you have never attempted to read, study, or write with such means of illumination, you are not apt to grasp the full significance of this seemingly simple remark.

Work by lamp offers two chief difficulties. Firstly: if it is so placed as to shed the best light on one’s endeavors the heat which it radiates is unbearable, or, more mildly, too great for comfort. If removed to a distance sufficient to lessen this objection it is only with a strain on the eyes that one can pursue the work. Secondly: it has even greater magnetic influence than electric light over all things that fly.

My nocturnal visitors range in size from the tiny gnat, which seems to bore into the skin, to the bat. I assure you that a bat in a small Chinese room can create quite a commotion. Included in this range are, or course, the mosquitoes, but they do not limit their annoying visits to the evening…

fa_1934sept_p235_bSomething however, may be said in favor of the lamp. It casts a mysterious golden glow over the whole room, softening the severe lines and effecting a change worthy even of Aladdin’s lamp. Occasionally as I lean back in my bamboo chair…and glance about me through half-closed eyes, I experience a feeling akin to that which Croesus must have felt as he surveyed his luxurious surroundings.

My bed, standing, or more correctly, propped up, in the corner, is no longer a Chinese bed – flat boards laid across two wooden horses and the whole encased in a framework of mosquito netting – but a four-poster draped with rich lace curtains, such as was in vogue during the Middle Ages. My bookcase refuses to remain the plain homemade affair that it is, and becomes a mahogany case no less. Even the two pictures on the wall – the Sacred Heart and the Madonna – cease to be conspicuous by the absence of a glass front, as they are now the original oil productions of the artist. So also the other few fixtures of my room pass from the most commonplace to the beautiful under the spell.

A kerosene lamp has disadvantages it is true, but it also affords advantages for those possessed of a creative imagination. From the few observations I have made since arriving in China I am of the opinion that on occasions a creative imagination will stand a missioner in good stead.

From The Field Afar, September 1934

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