“We have started Sunday afternoon Bible readings, in my room, on the seven carvings of Solomon’s temple. That temple seems to be in its full sense a picture of the perfect service of the Church during the reign of Christ that is to come, and therefore it behooves us to see that we are already learning the lessons that we shall put into their full use when His Kingdom comes.” Diary May 1928
“Please check out my blog – ‘Last Lessons.’” You can be sure I did just that! Rosemary Jensen, past Executive Director of Bible Study Fellowship and Founder/President of Rafiki Foundation, now in her early nineties, clearly has a lifetime of experience from which to draw these lessons. I wanted to know what she had gleaned from her life-long walk of faith and ministry. Previously, I had figuratively sat at the feet of my new friend, studying the Gospel of Matthew, when we were shut down from our study and shut out of her retirement home by Covid 19,
Last lessons. Rosemary draws from her time-line of pilgrimage – early acceptance of Jesus into her life, her love for studying the Bible, her marriage, her family and certainly, not least, God’s guiding her to a lifetime of ministry that brought her to Africa with her beloved doctor-husband, back to the States where she picked up the leadership mantle for Bible Study Fellowship from founder Miss Johnson and then, her “calling” to continue their work in Africa to orphans and widows under the name Rafiki, “friend” in Swahili. This is merely the scaffolding upon which she builds her lessons gleaned from decades of faith grounded in Scripture and the abiding belief of God’s working out His purposes in her life. Her “last lessons” touch a wide range of subjects: engagement in the world. . . civil responsibility. . . guidelines for voting. . . .practical suggestions for making a difference in public education or tools for private or home-schooling. . . meaningful gifting. . . recommended Bible commentaries and outstanding books, fiction and non-fiction. . . mentoring or being mentored. . . priorities. . . purpose in old age. . . The lessons go on and on – current tally, 96!
Simply knowing that these lessons have been culled from a life-time of experience bring a certain gravitas to the words. Knowing that they are last lessons freight them with added emotion. Whether words spoken upon retirement of a college president or CEO of a business, a writer’s last work, a beloved grandparent’s memories – their words have heightened significance by the very context in which they were given.
Last lessons. . . My husband was given a book of collected sermons from his predecessor in pastoral ministry. The concluding sermon, “If I Were Young Again,” was laden with meaning to this twenty-nine year old fledgling beginning his first assignment as senior minister. A college-age church group over a series of Sundays, interviewed elderly congregants. The CD of my mother’s interview will remain a lasting treasure for her loved ones. I remember well a luncheon, years ago, hosted by an elderly friend in honor of my friend’s grandmother. Young moms, inspired by these two beautiful octogenarians, rich in years well-lived, asked, “What advice would you give to us?” It made a lasting impression when Grandmother Gingi, who had been widowed at a young age and had weathered her fair share of challenges, advised: “Cherish your loved ones – husband, children, friends. Don’t give up on them. Relationship are all that matter in the end.”
Late Spring, 1928, Lilias began teaching Sunday afternoon Bible lessons in her room, studying life “over the Jordan” as pre-figured in the carvings of Solomon’s temple – an especially poignant experience as her own life was drawing to a close, literally, in a matter of weeks (August 28,1928). One can imagine those quiet Sunday afternoons as Lilias, propped up against pillows, the map of North Africa above her head, added a life-time of wisdom to her scriptural insight. Her diary records her notes about the temple carvings, beginning with the oxen – “lowest in the scale of service” – working through the portals of the porch to the cherubim around the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. One can’t help but notice that her writing becomes fainter as her life is slowly ebbing, the last lesson short one, trailing with these last words, “Open flowers surely tell of the joy that is to run through all.” her concluding words and the following final lesson are recorded through the notes of a listener.
As she expounded on the symbolic significance of each carving and the lessons to be derived therein, it is likely her listeners noted how fully her own life had become the embodiment of those very qualities: the service of the ox. . . the fearlessness of the lion. . . the purity of the lily. . . the fruitfulness of the pomegranate. . . the victory of the palm tree. . . the joyfulness of the open flowers. . . the pure worship of the cherubim. And it seems somehow fitting that her last lessons focused on the beautiful carvings fitted for the house of worship bringing together so perfectly her love of The Creator with with her love for beauty and artistic expression as presented in these carvings.
Last lessons. . . We are never to old to “listen up” and profit from the lessons – lived or spoken – of those who have journeyed ahead of us, chronologically or spiritually. And we are never too young to consider what life lessons we would want to pass on to others, to be our legacy. Both lift us from the tedium of daily living with a bigger purpose, a larger perspective.
I conclude with the final words of Dr. R.T. Nelson’s sermon: “If I were young again, I would think of the old man or the old woman of a future day and I would try to be good to him or her. Of course, I’ll never be young again in this world, but you are young and God is asking you as He asked the young Solomon, ‘What shall I give thee?’ Won’t you ask Him for wisdom, for courage, for self-control, for faith, for love. Ask, and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock at the door of life and it shall be opened unto you.”
Last lessons. What can I learn from others? What can I leave for others?
Note: Each Sunday, beginning in July (2022) and ending late August, Lilias Trotter Legacy will post on their website, liliastrotter.com, each of Lilias’ “lessons” from Solomon’s Temple Carvings, consecutively, as she presented them during her final weeks on earth.
Thank you for the layers of rich truth in this piece, Miriam. Writing exerpts furiously in my journal things i want to share with those I love.