“Walk independently of self, and straight to God. What is anything, when you think of Eternity, except a means to get there; so laugh at everything, and go on in God’s name.”
Recently I was made aware of these words of Lilias, as if for the first time. They simply had not resonated with me until now. I must admit, this quote was jolting to my sensibilities. Especially now. A now that is reeling from a world-wide pandemic and a brutal killing eliciting civil protest that erupted into revolt and chaos nationally with ramifications globally.
Laugh? “Laugh at everything?” Laugh when people are dying in massive numbers, alone, banned from loved ones? Laugh when people are separated from each other physically by stay-at-home mandates and/or relationally by ideology? Laugh when livelihoods are at stake, jobs lost or furloughed, economy once perceived stable now in jeopardy. Laugh when any trace of satisfaction in historical gains in racial equality has been shattered by exposure to divides deeper than meet the eye?
These past weeks have been a time of soul-searching for me. Plenty of time to think. Much to ponder. I’ve made some unsettling observations about myself. 1) I don’t like living with ambiguity. It is a kind of virtual “No Man’s Land” with few clear conclusions. When will it be safe to socialize? Who do I trust? How will we emerge – personally, nationally, globally – after the pandemic, after our presidential election? 2) I want to ascribe blame or motive – to someone, something – in the hope, perhaps, of making sense of matters which are, in fact, beyond logical explanation much less solution. 3) I like to be in control. I just want to know how much longer!
Bottom line: One discovers a lot about oneself when alone with oneself – and the media! Fears. . . anxieties. . . inadequacies. . . biases. . . . An article in a recent New Yorker magazine cites one therapist’s conclusion upon working with clients during the pandemic: “. . . what people bring out of a crisis is the strength that they had before the crisis that helped them survive it.” I suspect there is much truth in that observation but does that have to be the only take-away?
Is not “hope” at the very heart of the Christian faith? And does not that hope have currency in the here-and-now as well as eternally? I want to believe – no, I choose to believe that we need not be stuck at any one place in our spiritual journey. . . that there can be a redemptive aspect to crisis: insight, change, growth. Suffering needs not be wasted.
This brings me back to Lilias’ statement, not so much to defend but to understand her. I note these words were written near the end of her life hence bear the full weight of her life experience and faith walk. While she was born into privilege, from youth to the end of her life, she chose to engage with the disadvantaged, the suffering, the “lost sheep.” Her early London years she devoted to the prostitutes at Victoria Station, the working girls with little opportunity for ease much less pleasure; later, in North Africa, she chose to come alongside the marginalized women and children in the Casbah of Algiers, the soul-hungry seekers of the Southlands, Arab families struggling for daily survival – unemployment, epidemics that regularly and relentlessly took the lives of the young and the aged, as well as members of her own mission band. She did not speak theoretically nor were her words without context.
Rather, they were words of hope – and perspective. Laughter, for Lilias, was in the light of an eternal vantage point that was not dismissive of temporal pain and suffering but understood it as part of a journey – a pathway to Eternity – a pilgrimage during we are shaped for our ultimate destination: HOME. Implicit is the understanding that we do live in a broken world. We don’t have answers for suffering. Only the promise that God will be us with throughout the journey – if we invite Him. This eternal perspective shapes how we live today: “walk independently of self, and straight to God.”
Laughter, as Lilias meant it, could be called “holy laughter.” When one is liberated from the petty concerns of self – opinions, fears, pride, greed – we can experience joy, even laughter(!), amidst adversity. Karl Barth stated, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” One might say that God established His nation of Israel on the ground of laughter when Sarah, aged 90, doubled over with laughter upon learning she was going to have a baby. It seems God endorsed her laugher as fitting and proper by naming the wonder child Isaac, which in Hebrew, means laughter.
Laughter is therapeutic. Our youngest son called recently to vent his frustration as he, pastor of a church and father of five, attempted to process the overlapping issues that dogged him as a person, parent, pastor. It was grim as there seemed to be no easy solution. Well into the conversation someone (probably said son!) made a comical comment that cut through the angst and left us both, like Sarah of old, breathless with laughter. I cannot remember what was said, only what laughter did. Nothing changed except the spirit atmosphere. “Laughter,” wrote Chuck Swindoll, “is the most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity.”
Holy laughter. Laughter knowing full well the pain of the moment but trusting fully, as Julian of Norwich famously stated, “that all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” – with God in control. We can anticipate a time and a place where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Meanwhile, we fully acknowledge our reality – pain and joy, injustice and rectitude, hatred and forgiveness, mortal loss and momentary gains – and strive to do our part, however small, to shed the light and life and love of Jesus along the pathway Home. We “go on in God’s name” – independent of self and straight to God.
Great insights … and, great expansions on her insights!
Especially helpful on Father’s Day!
Great insights and great timing friend Miriam!
Thank you, Bobb. You are always such an encouragement. I have taken an almost 10 month break from writing – caught up with LTL (Lilias Trotter Trust) related matters. But with transition behind, I’m ready to commit to a monthly blog again. Lilias continues to “speak” to me – hence I from her to others. Happy Father’s Day!
Hi Miriam! Great to hear from you and thank you for your reflections on Lilias and her life of faith.
Much love to you and your family!
I was just thinking about you! The week before the pandemic (stay-at-home) we visited LW – Wheaton College Glee/President Ryken singing/speaking at our church in LW. We stayed at the Colony House (a first and a last!) and memories surged over us. The Bible Class . . . the Pierson family. . . precious times with you. You have my email, I think? Let me know how and what you are doing! Love!
An exquisite encouragement, Miriam. Thank you!.
Such a great perspective and encouragement! Our family has been going through some hard trials even before all the things you mentioned. I find hope in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness! Glad you are back writing!
Miriam, thank you for this reminder about laughter. I really needed this at this time in our world and also in my world here with Rob. I too often forget to laugh!
Brenda! I just noticed your kind words in the Comments of the Lilias blog. Thank you for your encouragement now – and always through the years with all-things-Lilias. Yes, laughter does help us along the way, doesn’t it?! Love, Miriam
Amen. Thank you, for these thoughts, Miriam. What a blessing to read and consider them.
Reminded of Heidelberg Catechism
Q 27:What do you understand by the providence of God?
God’s providence is
his almighty and ever present power, 1
whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds
heaven and earth and all creatures, 2
and so governs them that
leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and barren years,
food and drink,
health and sickness,
riches and poverty, 3
indeed, all things,
come to us not by chance 4
but by his fatherly hand. 5
1. Jer 23:23, 24; Acts 17:24-28.
2. Heb 1:3.
3. Jer 5:24; Acts 14:15-17; Jn 9:3; Prov 22:2.
4. Prov 16:33.
5. Mt 10:29.
Thank you for your wonderful email with the quote from the Heidelberg Catechism. Lovely reminder of what is meant by the providence of God. And my belated “thank you” for your encouraging words. Best blessings! Miriam
How are you? Did you receive a first draft of the Parables project from me? Did you find time to glance at it. I had hoped a friend would also have time to consider it but her life has gotten more complicated.
I will re-attach just in caseâ¦
Jane, I did not. I’ve been having difficulty sending/receiving emails – so please try again. It will eventually come through (and I’ll let you know.
We had watched the Lilias Trotter documentary on our public library digital resource, a fascinating story! I am catching up, trying to read about a month’s posts at a time. Finding much to enjoy in the way Lilias saw God at work in nature, in art, in story, in people, and appreciating your contribution from your personal life as well.
Regarding COVID, you might enjoy a beautiful poem by Lynn Ungar, titled “Pandemic.”
Lynn, a much belated “thank you” for your encouoraging words about the Lilias Trotter documentary. I just read the poem by Lynn Ungar. What a fine and helpful perspective for this most unusual season of our lives. Best blessings, Miriam
Watched your work celebrated in the film Many Beautiful Things https://tubitv.com/movies/517833/many_beautiful_things
and found you through it. Your words about St. Julian reminded me of https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2020/05/08/finding-christ-in-isolation-a-sonnet-for-julian-of-norwich/ May you continue to “Walk independently of self, and straight to God.” Peace to you and yours.
Thank you for your message. And for the link to Malcolm Guite. Wonderful. Best blessings, Miriam Rockness
Miriam: My own journey only recently led me to the beautiful life of Lilias Trotter that lives on today because of your own calling. I am so thankful for your obedience. I love God’s glorious tapestry and one of the true benefits of growing older is that we can look back and see His threads, placed oh so specifically with great love, weaving everything together for His good. In May, my husband took the hand of Jesus and joined Him in Heaven, and through my grief, I sought new music (without all the memories). God led me to the Sleeping At Last composition ‘Her Joy Was Complete’. I had to know more, which led me to the beautifully crafted unveiling of Lilias to the world through “Many Beautiful Things”. And there you read the words: “Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there, He can bring your soul into blossom.” There it was: “Expect God to triumph”. Ten months earlier, in ICU, we received this excellent counsel, and held tightly to it until the Lord granted the miracle of all miracles. And, still here, I seek His will for this changed path of my own journey. The direction is the same, but the road a bit more treacherous and unfamiliar. It is from His abundant Love that I know He led me to Lilias and to you. Thank you for digging so deeply, so passionately. As I continue to explore, I get glimpses of Joy, like today when you taught me about how the Lord wove together the lives of Lilias and Helen Lemmel. (‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’ was also in the service for my husband.) Charles Spurgeon writes: “Bear your sorrows bravely, for they are appointed of your Heavenly Father in supreme wisdom. Bear them joyfully, for they will bring forth to you the peaceable fruits of righteousness.” Or as Lilias says: “bring your soul into blossom”. -With gratitude, Debbie.
Dear Debbie, My apology for my delay in responding to your wonderful email! What an interesting pathway to Lilias! The music of Sleeping at Last! Isn’t amazing how God uses the bits and pieces of our everyday lives to lead us exactly to whom and what He knows we need – and He desires for us. Thank you for sharing your journey of this past year. I can only imagine the void this loss has left in your life. I remember C. S. Lewis writing, upon the loss of his wife, that it felt like an amputation. I’m so glad that Lilias’ words ministered to you at “your place of difficulty” – it is one of my favorite Lilias quotes. And to think that “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” was in the service for your husband. . . (It was a beloved song of mine long before I knew of Lilias or the connection.) And, thank you for taking the time and making the effort to connect with me. You – and others who have been ministered to by Lilias – are the reason we continue to make every effort to “present Lililas’ life and legacy” to people today. Best blessings! Miriam
Thank you so much for your thoughts and for your reflections on Lilias Trotter. Lockdown has sifted us all. This is what remains for me:
“All of life is distilled into this single drop of sweetness, that He is mine and I am His forever”
Lovely! Thank you for sharing. Best blessings, Miriam