Monday, June 06, 2005

meet Oswald Chambers

Despite the many unread books stacked beside my bed, because of a new habit I’ve fallen into, that stack is getting smaller more slowly than quickly. Each Sunday after church I feel tugged toward the church library. Yesterday I found a book I never even knew existed: Oswald Chambers: Abandoned To God – The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest, by David McCasland. As someone whose several-year-old copy of My Utmost is looking more worn by the day and yellow-highlighted to the ridiculous, this is a find indeed. I spent yesterday’s rainy afternoon becoming acquainted with one of my heroes.

I never knew, for example, that it was Chambers’ original intention to pursue a career in art, and that all his life he was a great supporter of reading widely and across the disciplines.

When (Major John ) Skidmore found himself in a mental cul de sac, emptied by his role of continually giving the truth out to others, he shared his dilemma with Chambers.

"What do you read?" Oswald asked.

"Only the Bible and books directly associated with it," Skidmore told him.

"That’s the trouble," Chambers replied. "You have allowed part of your brain to stagnate for want of use."

Within a few minutes, Oswald had scribbled out a list of more than fifty books – philosophical, psychological, and theological, dealing with every phase of current thought. In a follow-up letter to Skidmore, Oswald said: "My strong advice to you is to soak, soak, soak in philosophy and psychology, until you know more of these subjects than ever you need consciously to think. It is ignorance of these subjects on the part of ministers and workers that has brought our evangelical theology to such a sorry plight." (Page 156 & 157)

McCasland had access to original documents to write the book, and the story he tells is enriched by Chambers’ own unique take on things in excerpts from letters, diaries and prayer journals. Here’s another bit on books, something Chambers wrote to his sister Florence on April 7, 1907:

I have been having a reveling few days. My box has arrived. My books! I cannot tell you what they are to me– silent, wealthy, loyal lovers. To look at them, to handle them, and to re-read them! I do thank God for my books with every fibre of my being. Friends that are ever true, and ever your own.... Plato, Wordsworth, Myers, Bradley, Halyburton, St. Augustine, Browning Tennyson, Amiel, etc. I know then, I wish you could see how they look at me, a quiet calm look of certain acquaintance. (Page 109)
Chambers also wrote poetry. Here’s a poem he wrote at the age of 22 (this was before he felt the call to become a minister)

PRELUDE BY CHOPIN
(Perth [Scotland], August 23, 1986)

O the wonder
Of that music in my ear!
How it touches–pains those fibres
Of my soul-life which I fear!
Fear because they wake emotions,
Whispers from another sphere.

Slow subdued a tender minor,
Constant, deep and wonder-ful;
Not a grief but something finer,
Something pure and spirit-ful
Underlies a great, strong yearning,
Weirdly strange yet power-ful,
Passionate, yet purely burning,
Disciplined, and prayer-ful. (Page 62)

And of course, there are the letter and journal snippets, which hearken so closely to the kind of thing one finds in My Utmost, like this bit from a letter written on February 16, 1907:

I want to tell you a growing conviction with me, and that is that as we obey the leadings of the Spirit of God, we enable God to answer the prayers of other people. I mean that our lives, my life, is the answer to someone’s prayer, prayed perhaps centuries ago.

It is more and more impossible to me to have programmes and plans because God alone has the plan, and our plans are only apt to hinder Him, and make it necessary for Him to break them up. I have the unspeakable knowledge that my life is the answer to prayers, and that God is blessing me and making me a blessing entirely of His sovereign grace and nothing to do with my merits, saving as I am bold enough to trust His leading and not the dictates of my own wisdom and common sense... (Page 107)

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