“The milky looking glacier spoke with God’s voice this morning – so obedient to its course in its narrow bed, – yet just – tossing with freedom & swing in every motion – such a picture of the rivers “of living water” – bound & yet unbound.” Journal 8 August 1899
I love it when Lilias ministers to me – through other people. Such was my experience this week when I read a devotional which included a quote from Lilias. I looked up the quote, in context, and discovered a painting of the same.
Subject? Obedience. A word most often associated with “rules” – one short (negative) step from restrictions. And yet, Lilias chose to illustrate “obedience” with a glacier “tossing with freedom & swing in every motion.”
Is that true? Is there, in fact, evidence (if not proof) of liberty within limits. . . freedom within boundaries. . . ? Or, as Lilias stated, the paradox of being “bound & yet unbound”?
I look to my heroes of faith and find, on my short list, C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a man of faith with a lifestyle light years from mine: scholar (Oxford and Cambridge-based academician), single for most of his adult years and a Brit to boot. Convicted of his need for a spiritual director, Lewis chose to place himself in a relationship of accountability – a decision challenged by his own innate “private” nature. His choice – Anglican priest, Walter Adams – would have perhaps the most profound input on Lewis’s development during his spiritually formative years.
Adams seldom missed an opportunity to remind people to “look after the roots and the fruits will look after themselves.” Both Adams and Lewis agreed that the “deep watering of the roots required radical obedience to every thing the Lord required, regardless of how small or mundane it seemed.” Lewis wrote: “Discipline is the key to all doors.” (Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C.S. Lewis by Lyle Dorsett)
Letter writing was one such thing Lewis believed God required of him. If readers took the trouble to write to him, it was his inviolable obligation to respond to them whether to answer questions or respond to their gratitude. Little did he realize when he submitted to that discipline how, a decade later, he would be bombarded with mail, his writings and radio lectures having made him a household name. When questioned about this “bane of my life” he never veered from his original belief, “When Christ gives an order it must be done,” even if he didn’t fully understand why. While he understood the immediate value of any writing that “illuminated the heart” he didn’t know what would become of these letters (many now in published “collections”) – a spiritual legacy for generations to come.
The common perception is that “obedience” to some higher power or rule stifles freedom. Yet Lewis insisted: “Obedience is the road to freedom.” (Letters to Malcolm ) Life confirms the same. Consider the value of boundaries in art. Take the sonnet, for example, a poetic form with a fixed pattern of lines, meter, and rhyme. From this exacting structure has emerged some of the world’s greatest literature: Shakespeare’s penetrating insight into human nature; Milton’s profound resolution to his blindness; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s outpouring of passion and love. Thought compressed to crystalline hardness radiates with the clarity and brilliance of a diamond. The precision and power that makes these sonnets so compelling must be attributed, in part, to the defining refining role of restriction. One could go on and on with like illustrations in various disciplines – sports, science, music, for a start.
Back to point. These are only examples, in microcosm, of what God intended for us – lives rich and free and joy-filled – when we live within His prescribed boundaries. He has given us a rulebook (Scripture) and a Guide (the Holy Spirit) to instruct us and inspire us.
Frankly, I really don’t like to be told what to do. But what if I’m instructed by someone I really trust? What if it is for my good? My highest good? The obedience of which Lewis and Lilias wrote was, of course, to the God of the Bible. Can He be trusted? Does He have my highest good in mind? If so… surely I must “trust and obey,” as summed in the old gospel song, “for there is no other way. . . .”
Like the glacier “so obedient to its course in its narrow bed – such a picture of the rivers ‘of living water’ – bound & yet unbound!”
Painting: Travel Journal 1899