Friday, November 20, 2009

Ageless as the Star and the Lily

In Praise of the Friendship of Books
Quotations from the writings of Oswald Chambers
(c) 2000 JPR

“Books…friends that are ever true and ever your own.” I certainly feel this way about some books and as for Oswald Chambers, the man who penned these words, I count him, through his writing, as such a friend. His days began in the year 1874 and ended in the year 1917, years before my days began. He had not himself rushed to publish, but after his death those who had known and loved him sought to preserve and share what he’d written, gathering his lectures, lesson notes, journal meditations and letters. Numerous titles were published posthumously and some remain in print.

I had made my first acquaintance with Oswald Chambers, as many people do, through the renowned collection of short readings, My Utmost for His Highest. My husband presented the slim volume to me. I had no idea what a challenge I was being given, nor what a friend I was about to meet. Morning after morning I let this man’s words encounter me, but it was not until seven years later that I discovered other writing of Oswald Chambers on the bookshelf of one of my generous friends.

Even though our homes were distant and our visits rare, my friend insisted that I borrow his entire collection of Oswald Chambers, including the 1959 out of print Oswald Chambers, His Life and Work. Knowing that I might never have my own copy of this treasure, or be able to borrow or read this book again, as I read (1996) I created a notebook of favorite passages from this work . That notebook has been tucked away on a shelf for the past four years. Tonight, I came across it and found that it is filled with quotes of a translucent nature that beg to have the light of additional sharing shine though them.

In the pages of Oswald’s biography, when I say I encountered a friend, I mean, to borrow his words, I encountered “a living mind competently expressed.” Oswald was willing to think vulnerably and strenuously. “To think is an effort; to think rightly is a great effort, and to think as a Christian ought to think is the greatest effort of a human soul,” he wrote in a paper he titled “Holy Patience.”

Stick to the Point

Oswald wrote and lived obedient to his own maxim to “stick to the point.” Listen to the pure poetry of his internal dialogue, the economy of his self-counsel, which is found scattered throughout his journal entries. “Be definite…Never lower the ideal…I refuse to worry.”

As I glimpsed how truly thinking this way could shape and energize otherwise lost time and energy of my days, I lamented. Oh the time that I have cast away in the billowing sails of the ship named “waste and worry.” My friend was ready with another word for me, “Arise and do the next thing…never let the sense of failure corrupt your new action.”

And at what pace does one need to stride to keep in step with such a friend? “Unhasting, unresting…” How do two small words capture such dynamic balance?

“Unhasting,” it is a challenging word; laments about the fast pace of life these days are common. Oswald wrote of how he found it a blessed thing in life that “a man carries his kingdom on the inside, and that makes the outside lovely.” The cry of his heart was for the courage to rely on God’s provisions; redemption in Christ Jesus and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to avoid the world’s polarities of rationalism and common sense on the one hand or worry and fear on the other.

Oswald Chambers was known for urging others to recognize any experience that ought to be theirs but was not, and to promptly confess this before God and to put one’s self in the right attitude to make it one’s own. He thought of counseling and teaching as opportunity to experience holiness in human relationships. He prized “spontaneous moral originality.” He urged that organization must be seen “to be the scaffolding,” and that it not be confused with the body that erects it.

This focus on the essence and the essential is delightfully present in so many passages that may have been just the scribbles of some moment he claimed in quietude.

“The thing that comes to me just now is that children, love,straightforwardness, simplicity, are all very old,so old that there is no time about them. They are ageless and they partake of the order of the star and the lily. The busy-nesses, the importance, the worrying, and the doing-goodness are all recent and passing.”


And so is my friend, Mr. Chambers, “very old, so old that there is no time about” him. He too partakes of the “order of the star and the lily” and the order of friendship that transcends time and place and is passed down and along to us in books.

Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night"