The following blog post is written by guest contributor Kim Shippey: Every five years I thumb through the books on my shelves and cull about thirty percent of them, which I donate to our local library. What I notice is that year after year the same well-explored books escape the purge and return to their joyful task of inspiring those who turn their pages.
- The Greatest Thing in the World (Henry Drummond, 1911): “Is life not full of opportunities for learning Love?”
- What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Philip Yancey, 1997): “Grace is everywhere, like lenses that go unnoticed because you are looking through them.”
- Surprised by Joy (C.S. Lewis, 1955): “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
- Your God Is Too Small (J.B. Phillips, 1952): “Once the inner affections are aligned with God the outward expression of the life will look after itself.”
- And, a book, which since it was first published in 1927, has sold millions of copies in 40 different languages, My Utmost for His Highest (Oswald Chambers): “Prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature.”
Imagine my delight the other day when I came across a new book about that Chambers classic. It’s by Macy Halford, who gave up her job as an editor and reviewer for The New Yorker magazine to write a first book of her own, My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir (Knopf, 2017).
In her memoir, Halford chronicles her first encounter with Chambers’s book as a thirteen-year-old in her evangelical Christian home in Dallas, Texas. (I don’t hesitate to use the word evangelical because it then carried less political baggage than it does nowadays.)
Halford explains how and why this collection of daily devotions would not let her go during her years as a journalist in New York and her move to an apartment in Paris. My own experience was uncannily similar when I traveled the world as a reporter with a copy of My Utmost always within reach.
It was in France that Halford pieced together the story of Chambers and his wife, Biddy (along with their daughter, Kathleen), who compiled and published Chambers’s works, including My Utmost, some years after he died ministering to British soldiers in Egypt during World War One.
Halford’s prose is as smooth as anything you’d find in the New Yorker today as she interlocks her own spiritual growth with that of Chambers under the stress of war.
And there’s special poignancy in the moment when she stops separating My Utmost into a category designated “religion”—which she felt she was required to do—and reaches what she describes as “the right perspective or mode of seeing, the one most fully open to and attuned to reality.”
Halford’s family history also happens to be naturally aligned with something Chambers himself once wrote in his diary: “I am ever grateful,” he said, “when I can associate those I love with books which will last as long as my mind will. It forms a fine kingdom on the inside, unassailable by anything external.”
In five years, the “kingdom” that Halford’s memoir represents may not retain a place alongside the copy of My Utmost on my bookshelves at home, but I will remain grateful for her meticulous, caring research into the life and deep wisdom of a man whose healing insights have belonged there for so many years.
Yet I fully understand Halford’s homage to a writer who so unexpectedly transformed her own life, and in such practical ways validated his observation that “the author who benefits you is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been struggling for utterance in you.”
In my experience, no writer has more tellingly embraced both aspects of that wisdom than Mary Baker Eddy whose book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875) has a firm place in leather, cloth, paperback, and electronic form on the “shelves” of my daily experience.
I don’t need to quote more than the opening sentence of that book because it so perfectly captures the essence of Eddy’s work and her life’s mission as a spiritual healer: “To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, to-day is big with blessings” (p. vii).
Judging by Halford’s revelations, we might reasonably conclude that Oswald Chambers would have gone along with that.