What’s in a Name?


The thistles here are a commentary to me on that wonderful title of 1 Timothy 1:11 – “The Blissful God.”  It is as if now that not a flower is left on the barren ground, His gladness and His beauty must pour itself out on something still, so He takes the thistles and glorifies them.   29 September 1904

“What’s in a name?”  This question is raised in one of the most famous quotes of Shakespeare from the play Romeo and Juliet:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Juliet, of course, is resisting the very thing that legislated against the star-crossed love of young Romeo and Juliet – a name! Their love is doomed from the start as members of two warring families, Montague and Capulet.  “Tis but thy name that is my enemy. . .”

What’s in a name?  Well, as it turns out, in life as in fiction, a great deal is in a name.  A name can divide families and countries.  A name can define, honor and extol a virtue or a person who embodies certain characteristics worthy of emulation.

This week I received a notification of yet another baby to join the list of girls named after Lilias Trotter.  Listing the newborn baby’s statistics – name, date, weight and length – the grateful parents added:  “Named after Lilias Trotter, a pioneering missionary to North Africa who has long been a personal heroine of Anna’s (mother), we pray that our Lilias will follow hard after her loving Father and bring blessing to those around her.”

Several organizations have, likewise, claimed the name of Lilias as the embodiment of certain ideals and purposes.  The new Fletcher Center at the international headquarters of Pioneers, a world-wide mission agency, has named their large conference room Trotter Center after Lilias Trotter who, through a “marriage” with Arab World Ministries, is now part of the history of this larger mission family,  How apt to name after her this  space allocated to preparation for new long and short-term missionaries, refreshment for workers on home assignment, training cross-cultural workers in church planting, security and language learning – to mention a few of its purposes all close to Lilias’s heart.

The Lilias Trotter Center, in New York, claims Lilias as “our inspiration” writing. “Her art and writings demonstrate her commitment to the beauty and truth of God’s Word and God’s world.  Her lifestyle of a deep spirituality combined with theological acuity is the model we hope to emulate in all that we do and teach.”  (www.liliastrottercenter.org)

What’s in a name?  Lilias, in spite of her reluctance to make “official” their work, was forced by practicalities of growth, both in numbers and finances, to acknowledge the need for a more formal system of organization.  In 1907, almost 20 years after arriving in North Africa, they organized under the name Algiers Mission Band.

I doubt she would have dreamed that her name would outlast the mission’s title and become iconic a century later for what she represented to the parents of a newborn baby or the birthing of a world-wide program “enabling thoughtful Christian engagement with Muslims.”  (I am certain that she, who prayed for and trained young people for ministry, would be honored to have these training centers devoted to carrying on the work so dear to her heart!)

What’s in a name?  Why is it important?  In a naming of a child I suppose it can represent the hopes and dreams for this tiny bundle of potentiality.  Something – someone – to look up to. . .  an image, by definition or example, of certain qualities of character worth emulating.  So with an organization resonate with certain ideals.

Scripture would indicate that God saw the possibilities in a name:  in the very act of naming the first people on earth then assigning them the naming of all living creatures. He was active in re-naming individuals to indicate a mission or an advance, of sorts, in the purpose and/or direction of their lives.  Think how God changed Abram’s name, meaning “high father,” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.”  Then, again God interfered with the naming process after Abraham and Sarah laughed at the really laughable thought of Sarah bearing a child at the age of ninety.  God not only confronts Sarah’s denial of laughing but goes on to instruct them to name that child “Isaac,” which in Hebrew means, yes, laughter!  God appeared to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, blessing him and saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer.  From now on your name will be Israel.”  (Genesis 35:9-10)

Skip forward many generations to Jesus and His naming of people.  Take Peter:  When Jesus set eyes on him He said, “So you are Simon, the son of John” (John 1:42) and from that time on he called him Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter, which is Greek for rock.  And a rock he did become but not before betraying that same Jesus and seeming to fall apart, very un-rock-like at the least provocation.   While it is not clear when or even why the Apostle Paul’s name was changed from Saul to Paul, this new name was certainly a clean break from his identity as persecutor to apostle – the name by which he will forever be remembered.

Names matter.  But probably no more than in the many names in Scripture given the God-head.  As many as seven-hundred – maybe more – have been identified.  Look at a few:  Comforter. . . Emmanuel . . .  Good Shepherd. . .  Jehovah. . .  Redeemer. . .  Savior. . . Rose of Sharon . . .  Bread of Life. . .  Truth. . .  Wonderful Counselor. . .  Morning Star. . . Light of the World. . .  Sun of Righteousness. . .  Teacher. . .  Truth . . .  Refuge. . .  Jesus. . .  Messiah. . .   Say them aloud.  Think deeply of the implications of each and every name.  Let them pour over your very being like fresh spring water.

All the names combined can not contain or express the fulness of the character nor the work of God.  Yet each name speaks directly to the needs and longings of the human heart – some at certain times more than others.  He is all the above and more – sufficient for all that we may encounter in life.

What’s in a name?  When isolated or lonely, “Emmanuel,” God With Us, speaks to the void within me.  The “Comforter” soothes my sadness.  He is my “Counselor” when in need of direction. . .  my “Refuge” when fearful. . .  my “Strong Tower” when weak or  vulnerable. . . .  my “Teacher” satisfying  longings after Truth. . .   He is “Jesus,” my friend who walks the pilgrim way alongside me having walked it Himself before me.  As for the alienation between myself and God, He is the The “Savior-Redeemer” now and for all Eternity.  He is all the above and more, sufficient for everything that I – that all humankind – might encounter in life.

Frederick Buechner, in Peculiar Treasure: A Biblical Who’s Who,  under “J” wrote about Jesus. He listed many of His great works on earth but concluded with the time He lay sleeping in the stern of the boat, pillow under His head, seemingly oblivious to the raging winds, waves washing into the boat, his anxious disciples waking Him.  “The way, when they woke Him, He opened His eyes to the howling storm and to all the other howling things that He must have known were in the cards for Him and that his nap had been a few moments of vacation from. ” Buechner goes on to say,  “Lamb of God, Rose of Sharon, Prince of Peace – none of the things people have found to call him has ever managed to say it quite right.  You can see why when he told people to follow him they often did, even if they backed out later when they started to catch on to what lay ahead.  If you’re religiously inclined, you can see why they went even so far as to call him Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, the Son of God, and call him these things still, some of them.  And even if you’re not religiously inclined, you can see why it is you might give your immortal soul if you thought you had one to give, to have been the one to raise that head a little from the hard deck and slip a pillow under it.”

What’s in a name?  Everything:  even life itself.

“We rest in Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”

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Soul Shelter

clouds TROTTER_F022_003 (2)

Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God – not rest, no foothold – nothing but Himself. A triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true.  ‘The Lord alone’ – that is trained faith.”   9 September 1902

“Mom!  Dad! Have you heard the latest weather report?!  Hurricane Irma is coming straight up Central Florida – through Lake County.”  It is 11:30 p.m.  We have been without power now for several hours.  The batteries on our radio are dead.  (So much for “buying in advance!”)  Our only connection to the world is our land phone and to our three children who have been faithfully updating us on every new development:  two  tornado  warnings, a hard hit on their childhood town of Lake Wales –  and now an unexpected change in direction, the eye of the storm predicted to come through our town.

The calls continue – reports of damages (and terror) along the relentless path northward, statistics of sustained as well as gusts of winds, updates on tornado status.  And, now, as the clock pushes 2:00 a,m., the last intrepid caller confesses, “I think I better go to bed.  I’ll call you in the morning.”

We settle back into the darkness awaiting God knows what.  I consider our preparations:  all furniture and moveable objects have been brought into the house, we’ve stocked up on soup, peanut butter and crackers and placed water bottles in the freezer to extend the cooling.  We’ve gathered together all our battery-lit candles making a dimly lit pathway from room to room.  There is nothing left to do but settle into our makeshift bedroom in the downstairs library  – the closest location to our “safe place” – and wait out the storm:  await the unknown.  That is, I await the unknown.  Dave is fast asleep!

I lay wide-eyed on the sofa.  My mind races.  What if there is a tornado?  Will I hear it in time for us to retreat to the tiny bathroom: our designated “safe place?”  With memories of Hurricane Charlie (2004) I wonder what the world will be like when the night is over.  The back screen door is slaps open and shut with the increasingly strong gusts of wind.  We should have taken up the offer to join our North Carolinian family during the storm.  We should have tested the batteries on the radio before the stores were emptied of supplies.  We are virtually alone without any means of communication.  What if we have a medical emergency?  I don’t know what is happening nor when it will end.

Reality:  I feel completely helpless – I am completely helpless – in the known and of the unknown.  There is absolutely nothing I can do but wait it out. Howling winds and strange sounds are magnified in the absolute darkness of night.  How do I pass the seemingly endless night hours of unknowing – and, yes, fear?

Fear.  Where does trust in God come in?  Are there any promises I can claim?  Any guarantees of protection?  I try to recall Scripture verses.  (I must remember to memorize more – later).  I turn to familiar hymns of the faith – easier to recall – at least the choruses.  Stronger gusts of wind batter the house and Dave stirs.  Noting my anxiety, he suggests that I sing “God of Grace and  God of Glory.”  “Shall we sing it together?” I invite.  “No, sing it to yourself.  Not out loud.  In your mind.”  (He dozes off  again!)  The words of the chorus come to me and with it insight:

“Grant us wisdom,                                                                                                                                   Grant us courage,                                                                                                                                   For the facing of this hour,                                                                                                                   For the facing of this hour.”

It’s courage I need.  And for courage I pray:  for the facing of the hours ahead.  There is no way around it:  I must pass through it.  Whatever that means.  As to promises?  There are no guarantees of outcome.  But there is, in Scripture, the repeated promise of God’s Presence. He said, “My presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.”  And that is enough.  The “rest” is in His Presence, not in the outcome.  Another verse, one of my favorites, comes to mind:  “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will  guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:7)  I clasp unto these promises to fortify my night vigil.

The hours pass slowly:  endless gusts of wind followed by a sudden then prolonged stillness.  Is it over?  I venture to the front of the house and open the door to an eerie calm.  The eye of the storm.  I slam shut the door and return to my vigil.  The winds build, again, in intensity.  Will it ever end?  The sky slowly lightens promising a new day.  The phone rings.  Our daughter asks, “How are you?” and I ask her, “What is happening?”  “You’re on the other side of the storm.  The worse is over.”

Five hours.  And the worse is over.  Debris covers the ground; lack of power inconveniences our day.  But we were spared.  My mind turns to those in more precarious situations.  Without the protection of a strong roof or the presence of a strong, albeit slumbering, man.  I consider those who have recently experienced loss and destruction through flood surges.  The people who live in a constant state of the unknown due to unending war or disease or poverty.  How does one carry on when there is no relief from anxiety or guarantee of outcome?

I recall the physical perils Lilias faced in her years in North Africa.  She weathered blinding sandstorms in the Sahara – with only tent and camping gear – that paralyzed her guide who said with characteristic fatalism:  “If you die you die” or “It is written.”  She experienced suffocating siroccos and mountainous mudslides,  hostile enemies and exposure to deadly disease.  Yet, it was not the physical storms with which she seemed to wrestle.  (She probably would have slept through Hurricane Irma!)  No, it was the spiritual battles and emotional storms that sapped her energy and brought her to the lowest places.  Writing about the outward challenges of their early years in North Africa, she acknowledged that the greatest disappointments were in themselves:  “The testings on the battle-field where the inner life failed, the nerve strain with which all teems out here, – the lessons which we thought we knew and which we had ‘turned back again and again to be learnt afresh.”

I think of storm as metaphor.  How the struggles of life so aptly parallel the storms of nature.:  waves of betrayal. . . disease. . .  disappointment in relationships. . . financial setbacks. . .  depression. . .  addiction. . . to name a few.  During the storm – short-lived (as with my 5 hours of darkness) or ongoing – we don’t know what we will experience in the storm nor what will be the outcome.  Yet we can – we must – cling to our faith in who God is and what He can do.  We can rest in His goodness and His loving care for us.  He is our shelter in the time of storm:  our soul shelter.

An old seaman was quoted as saying:  “In fierce storms, we must do one thing; there is only one way:  we must put the ship in a certain position and keep her there.”  Richard
Fuller went on to make this observation:  “You must stay upon the Lord; and come what may – winds, waves, cross-seas, thunder, lighting, frowning rock, roaring breaker – no matter what, you must lash yourself to the helm, and hold fast your confidence in God’s faithfulness.  His covenant engagement.  His everlasting love in Christ Jesus.”

I admit it:  I didn’t score well in the faith department during the storm.  (My sleeping husband did much better:  having prepared for the storm he could sleep through it!)  But I did have plenty of time to think about the nature of faith and my lack thereof.  And to  learn more about myself – and some faith lessons in the process.  “My soul finds rest in God alone.” What I learned in the “storm” I must practice in the “calm” as well:  The Lord Alone.

“Faith, walking in the dark with God, only prays Him to clasp its hand more closely.”                                                                  (Phillips Brooks)





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Kind Hearts



“Nothing is irretrievable with God.”  

Thomas Erskine as quoted by Lilias Trotter  23 July 1906

Dave calls on his way home from his golf tournament in Georgia.  “I had an interesting experience this morning,” he says, and proceeds to relate this incident.  He stopped along the road for a quick breakfast at a Waffle House. While his waitress was taking his order the door opened and she immediately looked past his shoulder and with a smile calls out,  “Hey Slim!”  Soon other employees echo her greeting and ask Slim “How is it going?” and other welcoming words.  Dave cannot restrain his curiosity and turns his head to view the object of their enthusiasm.  Slim is an emaciated old man, poorly kempt and shabbily dressed.  “The usual?” they ask.  He tucks in a hearty breakfast and heads off, again with farewells as warm as the greetings.  “Looks like Slim’s a regular customer?” Dave comments to his waitress.  “Yup.  He comes in here everyday.  We think he’s homeless. We all chip in and feed him breakfast.”

Who were these people who gave with such loving constancy to this needy man?  What was their motivation?  Did Slim fully appreciate  what he was being given?  Did he express gratitude?  We will never know the back story much less the answers to my musings.  But this we know:  they were kind-hearted.  Through their daily act of kindness – to this one man – love was manifested.

Lilias Trotter came to Algiers with a big vision:  to bring the light and life and love of Jesus to people who did not know Him.  Yet much of her everyday life was made up of what appeared, on the surface, to be random acts of kindness:  countless gestures of caring and devotion unobserved by others and seemingly undeserved.  Were they fully appreciated by the recipients?

One such person was Almed.  A person from their past, he showed up unexpectedly, clearly in need of help.   Lilias observes:  “Wreck as he is, there is something touching about him – something of possibilities yet undestroyed.”   Despite his poor track record her heart goes out to him and she longs to give him “one more chance to get on his feet.”  So they set him up with housing and a bit of work – and love – and a glimmer of hope.

What becomes of Almed?  What becomes of their efforts on his behalf?  He seems to fall off the pages of her diary much as he appeared – much as did many others in whom Lilias and her colleagues invested.  Charia. . .   Omed. . . Fatima. . . Aissha. . .   Doudja. . .  people come and go, touched by love – for a day, a week, a year – or intermittently for decades.  Lilias does not give up hope.  She does not stop loving.

This week our hearts have been focused on Texas and the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey.   We watch horrified, from the comfort of our homes, as flood waters rise and engulf homes, roads, communities.  We watch perilous missions as people are rescued by boat and plane from the waters rapidly rising in their homes. Stories begin to surface as the waters begin to subside and people return to assess the damages and begin to reconstruct their homes and their lives.  Stories of bravery and sacrifice documented by interviews and fleshed out by film: individuals risking lives to check on neighbors. . .   volunteers coming to the aid of complete strangers. . .  people turning their spaces into shelters for the displaced or homeless. . .   individuals giving sacrificially of personal resources – money, supplies, services – to help others begin to rebuild their lives.

There are poignant images etched on the public consciousness that reduce the scale of suffering, loss – and hope – to the intimate:  a gentleman picking out a haunting melody on a piano submerged in several feet of water. . .   the reunion of a son with his aged father. . .   heartbroken reflections of a couple who have lost 3 generations of family in a car swept away by flood waters. . .

Our nation unites, if only momentarily, in a massive virtual hug as we witness the loss as well as the response.  It touches something deep in all of us as we unite around our screens if not descend upon the scene.  We breathe a mutual sigh of relief:  maybe there is something decent in humanity that transcends the media negativity.

Back to Slim.  We don’t know what motivated those kind hearts to care in such a practical way for him.  We don’t know what became of Almed.  Did he make good this “one more chance” offered him?

This we do know:  acts of loving kindness bless the giver as much as the recipient.  “Compassion,” wrote Henri Nouwen, “asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain.”  When we enter others’ “places of pain” we become better people:  more fully human.  And who of us is without pain – whether hidden or obvious?

For the Christian, kindness is not an option.  It is a mandate.  Throughout Scripture, kindness is upheld as a requirement:  for the benefit of the needy, for the wholeness of community, for the health of ones’ soul, and for the honoring of God.

Kindness can take a radical even costly form as in the cases of Slim, Almed and Hurricane Harvey responders.  More often it finds expression in simple acts of  thoughtfulness scattered throughout the day:  a smile. . .  a word of encouragement. . . a gentle response. . .  a listening ear. . .   a bunch of flowers. . .   an email. . .   a compliment. . .   a card with a personal note. . .   transportation to a doctor’s appointment. . .  an errand done willingly. . .     The list could go on and on.  At heart, it lies in being attentive to the people whose lives we touch, profoundly or incidently, in the daily round of living.  It asks no credit.  It keeps no score.  It measures no results.

Joe Stowell, in a Daily Light devotional writes:  “In J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf explains why he has selected a small hobbit like Bilbo to accompany the dwarves to fight the enemy.  He says, ‘Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.'”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another. . . “

Ephesians 4:32a


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                         “He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.”                        Journal 1898

Silence.  My copy of this classic novel, by Shusako Endo, remained unopened on our library table for weeks.  Never have I approached reading a book with such a mix of emotions: anticipation of a highly acclaimed book; reluctance given the subject of persecution and apostasy.

The story of the 17th century effort to eradicate Christianity in Japan was told largely through letters of the Jesuit priest, Rodrigues, who against all counsel, made the dangerous two-year journey from Portugal to Japan, knowing that his life would be in mortal danger.  His purpose was two-fold:  to determine the truth about his mentor who was rumored to have apostatized; to be a priest for the hidden Japanese Christians. Having survived the treacherous journey, he was to learn, first-hand, the unspeakable torture Christians suffered for their faith.  The Christian was given a choice between the repudiation of their faith or relentless persecution.  The way of freedom was seductively simple:  stepping on the fumi-e (a bronze relief sculpture of Christ or Mary mounted into a wooden frame) as a public act of apostasy.   (“Do it.  You don’t even have to mean it.”)

Through the brilliantly nuanced narrative, Endo took me with Rodrigues, to depths of despair, I would rather not have traveled even in print.  Through the complexity of the characters drawn and situations encountered in this account, I was confronted with suffering – physical, spiritual, moral – that I would hope not to face in a lifetime.  And I wondered:  What would I have done in the same situation?

Such was Lilias’s experience living and working among the Arab Muslims.  Knowing the importance of young Christians boldly proclaiming their faith – whether through adherence to Biblical teaching or abstaining from the disciplines of Ramadan – she gained a growing awareness of the suffering for the same.  Her heart ached with compassion for the persecution of these “baby souls” for their faith in Jesus.  Social ostracization, loss of jobs – or husbands – was only the beginning of their torment.  They were subject to physical abuse and physiological intimidation in the form of poisons, drugs and “spells” wearing down first their bodies and then their wills.   She developed a deeper understanding for what she called a ‘Nicodemus” or secret disciple writing, “He is so gentle and patient with them, the blessed Spirit of God.”  

It is impossible to associate any form of discomfort or unease I might experience resulting from living out my faith in a post-Christian society with either the 17th century Japanese Christians or 19th century Algerians – or for that matter the persecuted Christian throughout the world today.  But I have to ask myself if there are, perhaps subtle or even subconscious, ways in which I apostatize – “trample the fume-i”?  Are there instances in which my silence betrays Christ?  Or my indifference or nonchalance minimize my faith?  Does a glib self-satisfaction belie the very essence of my true condition – and God’s grace?

This I can say with certainty:  having read this book, I will never see things quite the same way again.  As this is neither a book review nor a critique (much less a spoiler), I will only allude to themes which, in the reading, shook me to the very core of my being: the perceived “silence” of God amidst the unthinkable suffering for His sake. . . the Judas-like character, Kichijiro, who shows up on Rodrigues’ first day in Japan then dogs his steps from that point on, seeking absolution then betraying, denying and apostatizing –  again and again. . .  Rodrigues’ driving determination to not, above all things, deny the Jesus he dearly loved – only to face, in the end, the most unimaginable moral dilemma. . .

Endo does not let us off easy.  He forces the reader to watch and to experience the ambiguity of all the above – and much more.  He does not offer simple answers or pithy take-aways.  Enough is left unsaid as to elicit discussion and disagreement with others – if not in one’s soul.  Yet enough is said to leave us with hope.

My take-away – along with an ongoing soul-searching – is a far greater compassion for others in their crisis of faith or tension of choices – large or small. . .  a greater generosity toward the limitations or weaknesses of others – along with more honesty with those of my own. . . a desire to be more passionate in living for and loving Jesus the Redeemer. . .

Perhaps the strongest “take-away” is summed by Philip Yancy in his Foreword to Silence and Beauty, Makato Fugimura’s companion book to Endo’s Silence.  “Every one of Jesus’ followers, from the first disciples down through history to the present day, knows the feeling of betrayal.  Sharp-edged gossip, the stab of envy, that colleague we humiliated, the racist comment that drew a laugh, a sudden and inexplicable cruelty, apologies to our children deserved but never made, a furtive fantasy, a stolen kiss, callousness toward another’s misery, an addiction to what demeans or even destroys – in ways small and large we too step on the fumi-e.  Our only hope is the forgiving gaze of the betrayed Savior, the still point of Endo’s novel.”

He is so gentle and patient. . .  the blessed Spirit of God. 

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A Way of Seeing

                                          “Many things begin with seeing in this world of ours.”                                               Between the Desert & the Sea

I hold within my gaze a little gem of a book – A Way of Seeing* – 40 of Lilias’s inspirational reflections exquisitely illustrated with paintings selected from the Egerton Collection (Lilias’s family). While either the paintings or the writings alone would be reason enough to own or gift this book, there are two added features that make it unique:  1) a Preface by Stephen Wildman, Professor of the History of Art, Lancaster University/Director, Ruskin Library and Research Centre, on the relationship between John Ruskin and Lilias Trotter; 2) an Introduction by Darcy Weir, classics scholar/lecturer on faith and art, on the art of seeing.

Because Darcy Weir captures so beautifully the essence of Lilias unique way of seeing, I have chosen, with her consent, to print in full her introductory essay – with the belief that these words not only introduce us to this work but to a wonderful way of viewing our own worlds.  Read.  Look.  See!


This little volume, A Way of Seeing, is intended to be more than simply a selection of Lilias Trotter’s work, presented for the viewer’s enjoyment. Lilias’s drawings, paintings, and sketches form a record of her visceral and almost mystical communion with the natural world, a world which she beheld as much with a quickened spiritual eye as with the trained vision of an artist. The result is a collection of colorful jewels, each capturing the very essence of the scene, the plant, the person, or the object before her eyes. Her ability to see and then artistically render the very essence, the quiddity of what she beheld, was singled out by her mentor and friend, the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when he praised her uncanny skill in making a “minute, instantaneous and unerring record of the things that are precisely best.”

Very few people possess this rare artistic gift, but all of us possess, at least potentially, the ability to pay close attention to what is before our eyes, to be patient as we behold an object or scene, to linger on it long enough, tenderly and attentively enough, for it to begin to reveal its own unique nature. This was Lilias Trotter’s way of seeing, and it can become yours as well. Spend time with the images, enough time to allow your spirit’s inner eye to awaken, and your imagination to stir. Be patient. Gradually, the mystery, the unique identity, of the object or scene will unfold before your eyes. As you become more accustomed to this way of viewing Lilias’s works, so will you begin to see the beauties of your own surrounding world reveal themselves. And then the purpose for which this little volume was created will be fulfilled.

Before you embark on this voyage of discovery, a few bits of background and biographical information are in order. You will be looking at scenes from a variety of places where Lilias lived and journeyed, from the English countryside to the deserts of North Africa, from perilous mountain passes to scenes of everyday life in the Casbah of Algiers. To all these vistas she brought a fresh and eager eye, but also an unerring gift for capturing vast expanses in the smallest compass. Living the life of a missionary in rugged terrain, Lilias did not have the luxury of large canvases and boxes of paints and brushes with which to work. She captured these impressions “on the fly,” using a bare minimum of equipment—a small brush or pencil, a few paints, and a tiny 4×6 sketchbook or 2-inch square space in the margin of a journal for canvas. Some of the images you will see in this book—scenes of a glorious desert sunset, of a large bay, of a sunrise on the sea—will have been created on a surface no larger than a matchbook. Conversely, she could fill up that small space with a single image of a seed pod or a bee fumbling amongst flower blossoms, and you would swear that you are seeing a much larger surface—a canvas of, say 36×24 inches. Very few artists have this capacity for elegantly rendering vast spaces in a tiny compass, or depicting a seemingly insignificant thing—a shell, a puppy, or clump of grass—as if it were the subject of a large and major work. Rembrandt and Dürer come to mind, but very few others. Lilias Trotter is one of those very few.

This faculty of accurately interpreting space, of attending with equal care and attention to the very large and the very small, was also emblematic of her approach to people. Each person, no matter how destitute, dirty, and downtrodden, was a precious soul, a being who bore within him or herself the image of God. Just as the fumbling bee could be as worthy a subject of painting as a distant view of a vast mountain range, so was a six year old Muslim child as worthy of attention as a powerful London banker.

Lilias Trotter renounced a potentially glorious career as an artist in order to work as a missionary in North Africa, a calling both difficult and fraught with peril for a young woman of frail health from London’s upper middle class. The great critic John Ruskin said “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal” – but only on condition that she give herself up entirely to art. This she would not do, but the images in this little book reveal how she continued to use her artistic gift, even though art was no longer the main focus of her life. Rather like her contemporary Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose exquisite poetry only came to light after his death, and who often felt his life as a priest in God’s service bore little fruit, Lilias’s art was hidden for long years, and her toil in the deserts of North Africa seemed to meet with limited success. But Hopkins and Trotter have now both been brought back from obscurity into the light, and both artists in their respective domains are inspiring new ways of seeing, new ways of appreciating God’s magnificent, infinitely varied, wonderfully curious creation. As Hopkins said,

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things….

It is those things and more that await you, as you learn to practice a new Way of Seeing.

by Darcy Weir

*Available at Amazon Books

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“God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each of us.”    Parables of the Cross

Possibilities. How do we choose our path(s) when different vocational possibilities seem to pull us in different directions?  How was Lilias Trotter’s  set of vocational possibilities influenced by the current cultural assumptions of her era?  What would it have looked like if Trotter had pursued her art without the waning of her commitment to Christ?  Vocation, being as diverse and simultaneous as the many kinds of relationships in our lives, how then do we handle overlapping vocations?  What is our set of imaginative vocational opportunities?

These questions, along with others, were the focus of the Lilias Trotter Symposium at Wheaton College this past Thursday (September 15).  Lilias’s radical choice, concerning the role of art in her life, became the springboard for thought and discussion about the complexity of vocation choices explored through a variety of presentations:  On the Life of Lilias Trotter (Miriam Rockness), On John Ruskin (Matthew Milliner), On the Making of “Many Beautiful Things” (Laura Waters Hinson), On leading Discussions of Film (Lena Connor/Giovanna Meeks).   Biographer, artists, film maker, patrons of art, further explored this subject during the panel discussion following the screening of “Many Beautiful Things.”

Vocation.  I’m often asked, in regards to Lilias’s vocational choice, “Was it worth it?”  Implicit in the query is the doubt that the gain was worth the sacrifice.  I was, I admit, haunted by this question when researching and writing her story.  Was it necessary for her to give up all that potential and opportunity in the world of art and culture?  Could she not have served God as effectively – more effectively – through her art and those who would people her world?

Having “lived” in her world, through her diaries and written work, I hasten to respond:  I might agonize over  the “what if’s” and “might have been’s” but one thing is certain:  Lilias did not.  The decision made, art continued to be essential to her soul – whether processing her own pilgrimage or developing material for ministry – but she whole-heartedly pursued what for her was “God’s calling” without looking back and with an undivided heart.  Furthermore, it is important for me to note that she did not generalize her radical choice to others.  In Parable of the Cross, she writes:  “There are those to whom a blessed life of fruitfulness to God comes in a simple way, with seemingly no hard process of dying involved…”  

Clearly, our vocations – in the traditional Christian framework – (to quote Chris Armstrong, Director of OPUS: The Art of Work) “are the ways we love and serve our neighbors and thus, ultimately, the way God loves the world and supplies their need through us.”  Lilias’s vocation was demonstrated through incarnational love lavished upon the Arab Muslims as well as.among other services, translating and printing Scripture to strategically “plant” throughout the land of Algeria.  Today, a church visible in Algeria is, in part, the germination of those seeds planted a century ago by Lilias and her colleagues.

This symposium, in truth, was the culmination of the efforts of many people in many vocations – doubtless an interweaving of vocations as varied and simultaneous as the phases and stages of each participant’s  life. Consider the variety of vocations represented in creating this particular venue:  teachers, librarians, media technicians, writers, artists, film maker, editors, business persons, patrons of the arts – to say nothing of the formation of an academic institution to host such an event!

This event was, likewise, a celebration of the diversity of skills and talents and work that crafted “Many Beautiful Things”.  Each aspect of the finished work has its own story, as specific and personal as Lilias’s story.  Each person involved in this creative venture has followed their “calling” – or, should I say God’s calling – in their lives.

In conclusion I want to share one person’s “story” – Austin Blasingame – the artist who animated Lilias’s art for the film. Follow this link to hear his story of how the creative process fed him as he drew upon his talent – vocation! – to enrich the lives of others.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived                                                                             what God has prepared for those who love Him –                                                                                      but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.”




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Lilias Trotter Symposium

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