On the Common 065
Two mentions of pancakes
I took the dog to the vet earlier this week for his annual checkup. He is a mild-mannered, delightful, low-key animal until the vet’s office is involved in his day. When we enter the exam room, his eyes get bloodshot, his heart races, he sheds profusely, and he pants. He is an utter basketcase until we leave.
At the other extreme lies the cat who lives at the vet’s office. He makes his bed on the front desk and occasionally wakes up to greet you. He almost climbed in my purse this week.
He could teach our dog a few things.
The Part Where There’s an Essay: The Obscure Life of Lilias Trotter
(from the archives at Story Warren. Originally published in March 2016)
A few weeks ago I had the chance to see a screening of the biographical documentary Many Beautiful Things, about the life of Lilias Trotter. Lilias (from England, 1853-1928) was a talented artist early in her life, showing promise from a young age. She was mentored by John Ruskin, who at the time was one of the most celebrated artists in England. When Ruskin saw her raw talent, he told Lilias that she someday might be “the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.”
After Ruskin mentored her for a number of years, Lilias felt the call of the Holy Spirit to dedicate her life to missions, specifically to North Africa. She applied to a program to be sent, but due to her weak health, she was rejected. Since she came from a wealthy family and had the ability to support herself, she set out anyway, with two friends — to a harsh, unknown land with taxing weather and a foreign tongue. She stayed there until she died at the age of 75, having given her life for the women and children of the Algerian slums.
Ruskin never recovered from Lilias’ decision to forego a life dedicated to painting. He implored her to pursue her art with the same passion with which she embraced missions. When pressed, ultimately she could not do it. She felt she had to go to Africa and leave her beloved mentor behind. It was not an easy choice; it came through much anguished prayer. Ruskin mourned her decision of mission over art.
But here’s the thing Ruskin didn’t know: Lilias wasn’t making a choice between art and missions. If you read her journals, they are filled with beautiful sketches, paintings, and inspirational, decorative prose. She continued to see the world with an artist’s eye, whether it was the people she ministered to or the landscape she grew to love.
No, as the filmmakers point out, she did not choose between art and mission. The choice Lilias made was between fame and obscurity. Ruskin had declared her to be his student with the greatest potential for acclaim. People would celebrate her art; she would be famous in England — perhaps all over the world. Instead, she moved with two friends to a land she did not know, to minister to people she could not communicate with, in the spirit of a religion that was strange to them.
What an absolutely counter-cultural idea today: choosing obscurity. To take the less celebrated, unrecognized path in our world is unheard of. Choosing to diminish, to be brought low, to become less — this is greatness in God’s economy.
As Lilias put it:
“Surrender–stillness–a ready welcoming of all stripping, all loss, all that brings us low, low into the Lord’s path of humility–a cherishing of every whisper of the Spirit’s voice, every touch of the prompting that comes to quicken the hidden life within: that is the way God’s human seed-vessels ripen, and Christ becomes “magnified” even through the things that seem against us. “Mine but to be still: Thine the glorious power, Thine the mighty will.”
Many Beautiful Things was released (on DVD and digitally) on March 8, 2016 in celebration of International Women’s Day. Find more information and watch the trailer here.
For the Anglophiles
This past Tuesday was Mardi Gras here in the States; some places call it Shrove Tuesday, and others refer to it as Pancake Day.
You need to know that this happened in London on Tuesday:
“Dressed in their full regalia, the members of the related Liveries of London compete in this pancake-flipping race. As usual, crowds gather to watch the race for the crown in Guildhall Yard. Organised by the Poulters (egg suppliers), the event employs the skills of a variety of liveries: Clockmakers time it, Gunmakers fire the starting pistol, Glovers provide the white gloves worn by racers, the Fruiterers provide lemons and the Cutlers provide the forks! This is a really fun event, with 30 teams competing in their traditional clothes. Only time will tell which guild will win the coveted frying pan trophy.”
Reads & Listens of the Week
Why We Need a Joshua Harris Rule: I also rejoiced at the news that Marie Kondo has learned what it’s like to live with children. “This is not the first time a self-help author later came to a more mature understanding of the world after publishing a bestseller, and, without some sort of serious intervention, it will not be the last.”
I enjoyed Ben Affleck working at Dunkin’ Donuts,1 but this local commercial that aired during the Super Bowl might have been my favorite:
And to close, here is the exact tweet I would post to let you know I’ve been kidnapped:
It may be possible for each to think too much of this own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. - CS Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
A Massachusetts native, I am bound to my people.