Lilias’s Legacy

floral 1888

“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

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5 Responses to Lilias’s Legacy

  1. Sara says:

    I completely agree those two Parable books would be marvelous reprinted with quality color plates; I found reprinted copies of them a couple of years ago, the drawings are in black and white, but even so, both little books are wonderfully thought provoking and insightful. Lilias Trotter had a real gift for illustrating, both in pictures and even more importantly in words that paint pictures, deep faith lessons taken from simple observations in the world of God’s beautiful creation . . . they have certainly had an impact on how I see the world around me and make me stop and listen, to be quiet and know that He is God . . . I can’t say enough good about Lilias’ works, those few I have managed to find.

  2. mhrockness says:

    Glad to find another Lilias admirer! I just found 4 separate editions of The Parable of the Cross on Amazon. I ordered 3 of them to supplement the earlier edition printed by The 3 Brothers. I will be in a better position to recommend an edition based on comparison. None, at present, are facsimile editions – but, I hope, the quality of painting has improved with time and technology.

  3. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Oh how this resonates, because I love these three authors: Lilias Trotter, Elisabeth Elliot, and Miriam Huffman Rockness–exceptional, all! I can’t thank you enough for pursuing your passion to share Miss Trotter with the world. Actually, I had heard of her through the writings of Mrs. Elliot (Gren), and then was thrilled to rediscover her through your beautiful compilation from her journals, Blossom in the Desert. I was simply enchanted with your introduction to Lilias, personal photographs of her with her family and with her Arab friends, her own exquisite writing, and her ethereal watercolor paintings. I was further intrigued to learn of your journey to England to see her works. Probably a year or two after having read your breathtaking book, providentially, I found myself planning a trip to the UK. I was nearly breathless when I learned that we would be only a fifty-minute drive at our friends’ house from Leicester, where most of the Trotter archives are housed. Also amazingly we would be in the Lake District, where Trotter studied at Brantwood with John Ruskin, and later at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. I was stunned to realize that I would be following in your footsteps. Amazingly, I was able to arrange a private meeting with Alisdair McClaren to see Miss Trotter’s privated journals and paintings and also a private visit at the Ashmolean’s print room to see their Trotter collection (though it was far smaller). Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Brantwood (Beatrix Potter’s farmhouse, Hill Top, was so enchanting, we spent all of our time there and had to move on). Actually to hold in my hands the weatherworn Trotter leather journals filled with her flowing penmanship and profound insights and to view perfect art-in-miniature that illustrated her thoughts was nearly a sacred experience. Not only did it stagger me that God had preserved these treasures for all these years in near-perfect condition, but it underscored to me the vital importance of recording our thoughts for the next generations to come. As an aside, besides being an author, I’m a journaling aficonado, having written well over thirty years of my prayers and insight to the Lord. Seeing Trotter’s journals and the wisdom that has emanated from them and has been passed on by authors ilke you and Mrs. Ellioit generating your own thoughts about them, underscored to me the crucial importance of keeping a written record. I keep asking myself why I was so privileged to have been given this opportunity. I stayed for over three hours, while my husband killed time by walking (and walking again!) around Leicester, without a lot to see. I think had Michael not returned, Mr. McClaren would have allowed me to camp out. He understood my utter astonisment and gratitude for this unique experience. I wholeheartedly applaud your efforts to try to resurrect these books. A far wider audience needs to read them. Surely, they were all preserved for a reason. And now, I wonder, Miss Miriam, what will be your next blogging subject? I hope that you will leave up the archives of your Lilias blog, because I have only just discovered it and am directing others to it. Maybe your next subject will be the writings of Elisabeth Elliot. She has a powerful story to share. She is still alive and her books are readily available, and yet I am amazed at how many people have never heard of her! It would be wonderful to see her work featured here, with your insightful commentary. I also lament that her program, Gateway to Joy, was taken off the air. Her wisdom needs so much to be heard. And finally, you could simply blog. You are an exceptional author in your own right (everyone please read Home God’s Design!), and I’m sure your readers would greatly profit from your continued wisdom and gifteness. I’m eager to learn what you will do next. Thank you for your sacrifice of this year in consistently posting these blog entries. I hope to spend the next year looking them up and devouring them all!
    Blessings,
    Lynn

    • mhrockness says:

      Thank you, Lynn, for your thoughtful comments. I can live with you the thrill of paging through the diaires and journals – no reproductions can do justice to the art in the originals and seeing them in context of her written words! I am honored to be considered in the company of Lilias Trotter and Elisabeth Elliot. I plan to continue to devote the next year to Lilias’s writing/paintings. After that – we’ll see. . . I can say that there are some very wonderful possibilities developing around Lilias’s life and legacy – soon to be announced and anticipated.

  4. Lynn Morrissey says:

    OH thank, Miriam. I must say that you have piqued my curiosity! I can’t wait to read about the unfolding developments! I’ll send others to your blog (as I have done).
    Lynn

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