"The colored sunsets and starry heavens, the beautiful mountains and the shining seas, the frgrant woods and painted flowers, are not half so beautiful as a soul that is serving Jesus out of love, in the wear and tear of common, unpoetic life." (Frederick William Faber, in All for Jesus)
Of the nearly 400 books and notebooks which I cleaned out of my mother's house before she died, I found very few that yielded any personal reflections, any key to who she was and what she was thinking. Perhaps it was characteristic of her generation not to speak about themselves. But in additon to her well-marked Bible, one book that stands out (and which I have) is one I have seen on her nightstand or table by her chair for many years. Streams in the Desert, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, is a book I never once looked at though it is one that my mother obviously read and re-read many times. The cover of this 1992 large print edition (which, I confess, is nice for my eyes now), is well-worn from hands that carried it, opened it, and closed it, many of its pages falling from the binding. It's not that she made notes in the book, as she did not, but she placed bookmarks in various places. I can only guess at why the words on the marked pages meant something to her, and yet it gives me pleasure to follow her path, to look on pages that made her pause and reflect.
I didn't know anything about the author, Lettie Cowman, but I found out that she and her husband were missionaries to Japan and China during the early years of the Twentieth Century until they were forced to return home because of her husband's health. She nursed him for six years. Other than that, little more is to be found in her bio, and perhaps that is as it should be. And yet her book, first published in 1925, has sold more than two million copies. Like my mother's library and her bookmarks, it reveals the path she walked, the quotes and writings that meant something to her. As such, it is a great source of encouragement to anyone struggling with a trial or difficulty.
One page marked by my mother had the quote from Faber in it. Though the text does not make it clear, Faber was a Catholic priest in London who wrote, among other works, a book called All for Jesus, or the Easy Ways of Love Divine. The fourth edition, the only one I found on Google Books, was published in 1854. Reading just a little bit of it shows a man consumed with love for Jesus and for the common life he shared with his parishioners. For example, he begins the book like this:
Jesus belongs to us. He vouchsafes to put himself at our disposal. He communicates to us everything of His which we are capable of receiving. He loves us with a love that no words can tell, nay, above all our thought and imagination. And He condescends to desire, with a longing that is equally indescribable, that we should love Him, with a fervent and entire love.
And so it goes. And then the quote that forms the epigraph for this short post has a beautiful phrase that demonstrates his celebration of the common life --- "the wear and tear of common, unpoetic life." I love that sense that it is not the sainted who are to be revered so much as are the common, faithful Christians, those in the mud and muck of life, in the unpoetic trenches of daily obedience. There is my mother who no doubt had her share of tribulation; Lettie Cowman, who cared for an ailing husband for six long years; and William Faber, parish priest faithfully serving his people --- the communion of saints, all now together in the presence of Jesus.
Don't discount the the paths taken by the aged and the long-dead. They have tread where we shall go. Follow the bookmarks of their lives. Go from saint to saint to saint.