“The Sufi is a man who has the purpose of discovering secrets, and they are the secrets of Divine truth and Divine power. He leaves to other men the lifeless husk, that is to say, the things that are seen, and he desires with all his heart to break through to the kernel, that is, to the things that are unseen, and that have in them the essence of eternal life.” The Way of the Sevenfold Secret 1926
Lilias’s love for the Southlands began soon after her arrival in Algeria. It was on her first major expedition south (1895) that she made acquaintance with Sufi Mystics who would capture both her heart and her mind throughout her years in North Africa. From her very first contact, in Tozeur, she sensed in these “sons of sonshine” a “lovely spirit of listening” as they would gather round and beg her to read from scripture. Several years later (1900), a highlight of her visit to another southland village, Tolga, was an invitation to a fraternity house of the Sufi brotherhood – a rare honor for an outsider, a European – moreover a woman. “Up a winding stair we went into a big booklined room, the floor spread with great camel skins – round the skirting boards were solemn white-robed figures, sitting or squatting round. We had coffee & talk & promised them a Bible for their library.”
Through the decades she would repeatedly return to the Southlands – dependant on the political climate, national and international – to “that particular stretch of desert,” between Tozeur and Tolga, that in her words “we have always felt was especially given to us for our corner,” eventually setting up a permanent winter post. The artist in her responded to the artist in the Sufis, their great writers of old being as much poets as philosophers. Her heart responded to their efforts to seek after God.
In contrast to the cold formalism of orthodox Islam, she found in certain Sufi mystics -particularly of the lay brotherhoods – sincere hunger for things of the spirit. She made it a point of serious study to understand not only what they believed but how to establish effective dialogue with them. “Till you show them by some word that you understand them and care for them and are ‘reaching forth’ also to ‘the things that are before,’ they will remain within their shell.” Lilias penetrated that shell with her love, sensitivity, and profound understanding of their way of thinking. “She knows about The Way,” they would say of her.
She witnessed the Sufi’s thirst for the unseen mysteries, yet recognized their need for “objective, verifiable and divine revelation” in contrast to their search in the “subjective realm of their own consciousness.” She dreamed of a future “where these Brotherhood men, when their thirst has been quenched by the living water, may be drawn into their own development on Christian lines, and bring into the compacting of the Church an element that no others can offer.”
Toward that end, at the close of her life, she completed a work – arguably her magnum opus – written specifically for the Sufi Mystics: The Way of The Sevenfold Secret. Lucid, elegant, and strong, it appealed to the common ground shared by Christian and Sufi alike: the purpose of discovering the secrets of divine truth and divine power. Addressing the Sufi’s means of seeking divine union through a succession of seven spiritual states, which in the end still may not please what they see as an arbitrary God, she presents an alternate path “Wherein we have found joy and peace from the first step.” She takes the seven sayings of Christ about Himself contained in John’s Gospel and explores how each offers the “secret” for which the Sufi’s long: Satisfaction (Bread), Illumination (Light), access (Door), Leadership (Shepherd), life (Resurrection and Life), progress (Way), and the ultimate union (Vine).
Within three years of publication, it went into six new editions in four languages – Arabic, English, French, and Persian – creating a spiritual resonance for seeker and believer alike with its mystical nuances grounded in solid biblical truth. It is relevant today being, in my opinion, a singularly comprehensive and succinct presentation of the Christian life. (See transcript of The Way of the Sevenfold Secret.)
We, like Lilias, are connected with people who may not have the same sensibility as her beloved “sons of sunshine” but for whom there is a longing for truth. Who are the soul thirsty people in my life? What have I done, what am I doing, to understand their hearts? To what extent have I made it my intent to understand the constructs which motivate their assumptions and actions? Am I willing to engage with them in our search for the deep things of God?
“God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit,
For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea
the deep things of God.”
Painting from Journal: “A Week in a Strong City” 1908)
Thank you so much for the link to The Way of the Sevenfold Secret. I know someone who might be interested in reading it, but first I’m going to read it myself and pray about sending it on at the right time.
This truly is a “classic” written by Lilias, specifically for the Sufi Mystics (with “sons of sunshine” even helping her with the Arabic translation) – and the culminating work of her life. It also, in my way of thinking, has application for today with the current emphasis on “spirituality” – Lilias distilling a comprehensive view of the essence of Christianity through the “I Am’s” of Jesus.
Excellent point; I look forward to reading it.
I was looking all over for a hard copy of this book, but then it crossed my mind to look for a PDF version. I just watched the documentary about Lilias and I am enthralled. Now I’ve stumbled upon this lovely resource of Lilias’ work. Thank you Miriam!!!!! Can’t wait to savour all the treasures of your insight on such a precious life. ❤
So glad you have “discovered” Lilias! She was an amazing woman – and her insight/legacy is just as relevant today as when she lived. Have you seen the liliastrotter.com website? It has a wealth of information about Lilias (including a list of books by and about her). I’m wondering how you learned about The Sevenfold Secret? That is another book we would love to see in print, again. Thank you for your email. Best blessings, Miriam
Hello, I am writing from Indonesia where I work among many mystics. I have just discovered this book “The Sevenfold Secret”. I am assuming that this is public domain correct? I am wondering about having it translated into Indonesian language. Also, where are all of Lilias Trotter’s art kept? Would it be possible to illustrate this translated book with her art?
Eric, I’m delighted that you have “discovered” Lilias’ book for her beloved Sufi Mystics! This was an important work that she completed during her final years while confined to bed. I have no doubt that she would want this book to reach mystics today – or for that matter, anyone – with the love and truth of Jesus. It was published in several translations during her lifetime. It is my understanding that it is in public domain according to UK standards. While we hold no “ownership” over her works, we (Lilias Trotter Legacy) have a deeply vested interest in her life and legacy. We would hope to stay in touch with you as you advance this translation project and to acknowledge this translation on our website. As far as illustrations: there are not many that are specifically related to the Sufis. We have several paintings of robed mystics in our collection (The Egerton Family Collection which is deposited at the Special Collections/ Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois). The bulk of archival material/paintings “belong” to the UK/Arab World Ministries of PIONEERS – now, in deposit/on loan at The University of London (SOAS). We would be glad to work with you on our limited selection. I imagine the U.of L. would refer you to AWM/UK. The contact numbers for both, respectively, can be found on our website (liliastrotter.com) under RESOURCES – Primary Repositories. If you saw our LTL/FB Lenten Series on the “Sevenfold Secret” you saw the line-drawings illustrating each “secret” that we adapted from her 7-panel fold-out that predated the greater work. They, of course, would be illuminating for your use. If you wish to continue this conversation, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Best blessings, Miriam Rockness