One hundred years ago, the war to end all wars ended, leaving the world a very different place, and, ironically, setting the stage for the next world war. Geographic boundaries would shift and entire countries would be swallowed up or renamed, but even more seismic changes were at work in the spiritual realm as hearts were softened and minds were startled awake by the devastation and loss of life.
Oswald Chambers is best known for the classic devotional work My Utmost for His Highest, but some of his most important pastoral work happened against the backdrop of World War I as he ministered to troops stationed in Egypt. In A Poppy in Remembrance, Michelle Ule, author of the biography covering the life of Chambers’s wife Biddy, has applied her sanctified imagination to a subject she knows well–the lives of Oswald and Biddy Chambers–and has created a cast of realistic and relatable characters who were impacted by the Chambers’s ministry.
A Story and a Message
Claire Meacham grew up to the staccato of typewriters and the echoing excitement of whatever was in the news as she traveled the world with her father Jock, collecting stories for the Boston Newspaper Syndicate. Radcliffe-educated and American-born, Claire ached to see her own byline in newsprint, but, stationed in a conservative London newsroom, found herself perpetually thwarted by cultural bias and her parents; insistence that she devote herself to more “appropriate” womanly pursuits. Given the task of transcribing notes from her father’s war reporting, Claire was haunted by the appalling numbers of casualties and the descriptions of war on a colossal scale, and, after hearing biblical truth through Chambers’ ministry, she turned to Christ, first as a coping mechanism to survive the war, but ultimately as a Savior and reliable Guide for her future.
Ule anchors her characters in early 20th century England and France with vivid multi-sensory descriptions of honking taxis and rumbling horse drawn transports that combined for nose-assaulting bedlam — this along with an affluent socialite aunt who played bridge with “Clemmie” Churchill and a worship service in which Robert E. Lee’s disenfranchised daughter turns up veiled in black and wandering Europe.
Relevant Counsel from Chambers
Chambers’s counsel to Claire in her spiritual pilgrimage comes directly from the pages of his sermon notes, so not only does it ring true, but it applies to present day believers as well:
“I find it helps to brood on the unknown and let it sit in your soul.” (33)
“Sanctification means intense concentration on God’s point of view. Every power of body, soul, and spirit are chained and kept for God’s purpose.” (121)
Through Claire’s eyes, the reader experiences the heat, the lice, and the drills of soldiers deployed in Egypt and also the heartache and terror of the European front that hit close to home and left grief in its wake. With nearly 17 million deaths all tolled, many emerged from their experience of World War I without hope. Even the poppies that sprouted from soil churned by tanks and soldiers’ boots were taken as a symbol of the war and a sign that beauty can, indeed, survive ugliness, but lasting hope comes only through submitting one’s entire life to the God who already owns it.
Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the irreparable past in His hands, and step out into the irresistible future with Him.” ~Oswald Chambers (397)
Many thinks to the author for providing this book to facilitate my review which is, of course, offered freely and with complete honesty.
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