“When Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off. Bare absolute contact with God’s Presence – if our times alone with Him were but that all the time, they would be mighty in their outcome.” Diary 16 August 1901
I lingered in front of the dessert table, studying the slices of cake arranged on white plastic plates. I became aware that I was blocking a man behind me and sheepishly admitted, “I was looking for the one with the most frosting.” He responded, “Take your time. I’m looking for the one with the least frosting.” Noting his trim physique, I ruefully acknowledged, “This, in microcosm, explains a significant difference between the two of us.”
Amy Carmichael, in her daily devotional, Whispers of His Power, quotes an old English nursery rhyme:
It’s a very odd thing,
As odd as can be,
That whatever she eats
Turns into Miss T.”
She elaborates: “If we hastily read God’s word, without taking the time to absorb it, we do not gain much. But if we take it into ourselves (“Thy word was found and I did eat it”) then it becomes part of us. It ‘turns into Miss T.'”.
“You are what you eat.” How many times have we heard that principle in relation to our physical well-being? It is just as applicable to the spiritual realm. We are profoundly affected by what we feed our souls. What better place to develop a basic, healthy menu than with a steady diet of Scripture – God’s revealed Word. Soul food.
Lilias was keenly aware of the necessity of “soul food” if she were to survive the challenges of her pioneer work in Algeria. She attempted to work into her yearly pattern a European break, including a fortnight “alone with God,” frequently scheduled around family or ministry commitments. The exact site was often a matter of prayer and the “little traces by which God leads us in the way of His steps” a story in itself.
Such was the case, September of 1901, when she settled in an alpine village above Zermatt, in Switzerland. “Up again tonight in a beloved Findelu – alone this time, & for a fortnight – such a gift from God for time with Him. It is looking lovelier than ever with the first tawny touches of autumn on the bilberry bushes.” The driving force for her annual (and daily) retreats was one and the same: a soul hunger for God almost visceral in its intensity.
I searched her diaries and journals to discern a formula for her “times alone with God” – a Bible reading program, perhaps, or certain disciplines that would instruct my spiritual formation. To no avail. I did, however, discover some common elements to her “diet.” There was, at start, a ravishing hunger for God that led her to seek out places conducive for communion with Him – with nothing but her “bare soul and God” – whether it be a quiet spot in a nearby woods or palm garden, a “place of prayer” in a rooftop room or desert outpost. There she drew a circle of quiet around her soul and waited for God to speak – through His world, His word and through a collection of topically related Scriptures compiled in her well-worn leather volume, Daily Light. More often than not God spoke first through His created order – daisy, dandelion, snow-diamond, firwood – which, in turn, connected her to Scripture: “It (the peak of the Matterhorn) linked on with that verse in Job…” “The thistles here are a commentary to me on that wonderful title of 1 Timothy 1:11, ‘The Blissful God.'” “It (fog) has been linking in, these days, with the ‘forty days with God, of the Bible…'” From there the conversation continues, she “tracing in Scripture” these lessons and/or thoughts; she bringing them back to God for His instruction.
I am very much a novice when it comes to that kind of communion with God. But I believe it possible. And I do desire it. Prosaic soul that I am, I can’t depend on my “beholdings” to lead me to the heights and depths of Lilias’ experience, but I have found that a daily Bible reading schedule is the best place for me to begin. The Scripture Union Bible Reading Program, Encounter with God, has been my starting point for the past several decades, providing me with a plan that leads me in a systematic way through the Bible (Old Testament once and the New Testament twice every five years) guided by a brief commentary on each passage, written by a variety of trusted Biblical scholars. (scripture union) Whitney Kuniholm, President of Scripture Union/USA warns in a “Final Note” at the end of the current guide: “We must always remember that the point of the method is to meet God, to become more aware of him, to be in step with his Spirit. We learn the discipline because it puts us in a position to experience God.”
Eugene Peterson sums this thought: “‘Eat this book’ is my metaphor of choice for focusing attention on what is involved in reading our Holy Scriptures formatively, that is, in a way that the Holy Spirit uses them to form Christ in us. We are not interested in knowing more but in becoming more… This kind of reading… enters our souls as food, enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom.”
Thy words were found, and I did eat them;
and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart:
for I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts. Jeremiah 15:16
Paintings: Pocket Sketchbook, France/Switzerland/Venice, 1877
Soul food indeed!