“It is when the death of winter has done its work that the sun can draw out in each plant its own individuality, and make its existence full and fragrant. Spiritual growth means something more than the sweeping away of the old leaves of sin – it means the life of the Lord Jesus developed in us.” Parables of the Cross
For one year, now, I have posted a weekly reflection on the art and writing of Lilias Trotter. It has been, for me, both a luxury and a discipline. A luxury to ponder passages and paintings that have penetrated my soul; a discipline to do so under the threat of a deadline! Today, I’m going to post reflections from yet another Trotter devotee: Elisabeth Elliot.
But let me start from the beginning. Almost 3 decades ago, I was introduced to Lilias Trotter by the Barbour sisters who were wintering in our hometown of Lake Wales. Later that year they sent me the first installment of their Trotter library, a cameo biography and the leaflet, Focussed. Over the next several years, they continued to send me – unannounced – individual volumes by or about her: biographies, devotional books, leaflets and finally, the Algerian sketchbook, Between the Desert & the Sea.
By now I was smitten! And eager to locate the missing volumes referred to in these works. I wondered where the paintings likewise indicated were located? But most fundamentally, I was impacted at the deepest places in my soul by her practical faith perspective. Her writings, counter-cultural to even much of the current spiritual genre, both challenged and comforted me. I began to see earthly realities more from an eternal perspective.
But a big question remained: If she was so wonderful, why had I never heard of her before? And, for that matter, why didn’t anyone else seem to know of her?! I contented myself with the inner knowledge that God was, at the very least, using her in my life.
Then, I noticed that Parables of The Cross was dedicated to “A.C.” Could that be Amy Carmichel of India, I wondered. Knowing that Elisabeth Elliot had written a biography of Amy Carmichel, I took (for me) the bold move of writing her and asking her about that possibility. In the return mail I received her response: “Delighted to hear from you and find you’re another Lilias Trotter fan! … I quote her and tell people about her whenever I can.” (And, yes, “A.C.” was Amy Carmichel who, corresponded with Lilias through the years although they never met in person.)
Elisabeth Elliot, pursued the republication of Lilias’ beautifully illustrated devotional classics, Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ-life*, but finding the cost of color printing prohibitive, read them aloud over her broadcast Gateway to Joy. Later, she wrote the book, A Path Through Suffering, basing each chapter on one of Lilias’s parables. My continued pilgrimage to “find” Lilias is yet another story. (see “About Miriam” Home Page) But now: from Elisabeth Elliot!
In the Preface to A Path Through Suffering, Elisabeth Elliot writes: “Suffering, even its its mildest forms – inconvenience, delay, disappointment, discomfort, or anything that is not in harmony with our whims and preferences – we will not tolerate. We even reject and deny it.
“Have we missed a fundamental principle of God? Is not suffering loss, even death itself the minor key to existence? Do we not lose our very lives by trying so hard to save them?
“The words which have illuminated for me the deepest understanding of suffering are Jesus’ own, ‘In truth, in very truth I tell you, a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.’ This, He told His disciples, was the key. There is a necessary link between suffering and glory.
But what difference does that make in the life of an ordinary man or woman? (This is the question I am always asking myself as I read the Bible or books about the Bible, as I hear a spiritual talk or as I try to talk to others about spiritual things: what difference ought this to make in the way I live?)
Two little books, now out of print, wonderfully expand on the imagery Jesus used, and have greatly helped me to understand the principle. They are Lilias Trotter’s Parables of the Cross and Parables of the Christ-Life.”
Later, in Chapter 4 of A Path Through Suffering, Elisabeth Elliot expands on a quote from Parables of the Cross: “Spiritual growth means something more than the sweeping away of the dead leaves of sin – it means the life of the Lord Jesus developed in us.” She writes, “In God’s management of the affairs of men suffering is never senseless. We can find plenty of goodness in the metaphor of pruning for in the Gospel of John…
“Vines must be pruned. This looks like a cruel business, perfectly good branches have to be lopped off in order for better branches to develop. It is necessary business, for only the well-pruned vine bears the best fruit. The life of the vine is strengthened in one part by another part’s being cut away. The rank growth has to go and then the sun reaches places it could not reach before. Pruning increases yield.
“So also in the spiritual life. We may pray a prayer such as Lancelot Andrewes prayed in the seventeenth century: ‘O direct my life towards Thy commandments, hallow my soul, purify my body, correct my thoughts, cleanse my desires, soul and body, mind and spirit, heart and reins. Renew me thoroughly, O Lord, for if Thou wilt Thou canst.'”
Let me conclude with an invitation: Perhaps, like myself and Elisabeth Elliot, something Lilias Trotter wrote (or painted) 100 years ago resonates in your soul today. I invite you to join us, adding to our reflections your thoughts.
*My dream is to see the Parable books reprinted in facsimile with quality color plates. There have been, however, several recent reprintings of these books, which can be located through Amazon.com.
Painting from Algerian pocket sketchbook, 1888