January is my time of year for creating ambitious book lists. I dove into this year’s reading with three books at once– Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Pressfield’s War of Art, and a creative biography mixed with personal memoir, The Paper Garden. But all of these took a back seat to Elizabeth Goudge’s The Scent of Water when it arrived at long last at the library, the remains of last year’s reading list.
Written when I was just a year old, it’s been a terrific tonic, offsetting much modern writing that has scripted God right out of the story of man. Goudge has made Him a central character, though unseen. His silent but powerful movements in the lives of a set of small-town characters transform them—bringing hope despite mental illness, physical weakness, and broken hearts. Like the scent of water to an old stump is this stirring of God in the hearts of those He pursues. Encountering God in the story was all the more delightful for not having known He would be there, as sweet as the scent of water in a dry place.
I offer these quotes in hopes you will find a morsel that feeds your soul as they have mine. And perhaps you’ll want to look into Elizabeth Goudge’s writing and help encourage her books to stay in circulation at your local library!
“You’re afraid of [losing your mind]?”
—”Of course I am, I’m terrified.”
“Why? If you lose your reason you lose it into the hands of God…It’s safe there, you know…It’s the only place where anything is safe. And when you’re dead it’s only what’s there you’ll have. Nothing else.” p.113,114
My dad is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He’s been lost to me for so many years I’ve lost track. An aunt on the other side of the family is on her way down the same slope. The fear of losing my mind is one I have had to address repeatedly…This little tidbit contributes such a reassuring thought to my arsenal.
“Why does God let us suffer like this?”
“My dear young lady, how should I know? Job didn’t know, but he repented in dust and ashes.”
He wasn’t helping me at all and I said crossly, “I haven’t done anything frightfully wrong. Nothing that calls for dust and ashes.”
He said quietly, “No?”
I said, “It makes one hate God.”
He said, “Where you’ve put Him?”
“Where have I put Him?”
“On the gallows.” p.113
How rare this view of substitutionary atonement is becoming; how good to find it here so bracingly presented!
“My dear,” he said, “love, your God, is a trinity. There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these, ‘Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.’ Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.” p.115
I’ve lettered these into my Daybook. It is good to have words for those times when I don’t know what to say but I do know to whom I must run!
It may take me my lifetime to know the vileness of my own sin, and perhaps not even then, perhaps not till later, but until I do know I will no know God. Oh yes, I will know His goodness, it will come to me now and then like a touch, like a breath of fragrance, and I will find His presence at the heart, but not Himself entirely. Not heaven. p.171
So heartening for me to find this here! We’re losing this truth in our generation. Popular authors don’t write like this. They tell us we are loved because we are so loveable, diminishing the marvel of God’s lovingkindess and exalting our own sense of righteousness.
“The tragic capacity of the human race for going off course was a little balanced by the integrity of the animals who were always obedient to the law of their being. We were meant to love like that, thought Mary, simply because that’s our law and we were told to obey it.” p.182
When animals follow their instincts they are following design. When we, like mere animals, live by instinct, sin is bound to result. Clearly we are set apart from the animal kingdom.
“Deception is stealing because it takes away the truth.” p.203
He described to Valerie the girl he had married, not the woman whose present likeness had been stamped upon the screen of his mind by her edgy voice and the stifling dust that had seemed sometimes to settle upon them both, the mental fallout of her discontent.” p.286
Faithfulness in a difficult marriage is a refreshing theme. Here was a man intent on loving His wife in order to restore her to wholeness. So like the way Christ loves His church (Ephesians 5:25-27).
“…he believed the fair Lord of life had accepted a death so shameful by deliberate intent of love, so that nothing that can happen to the body should cause any man to feel himself separated from God.” p.307
“But he knew now that he need never hang there, since another had chosen to hang there in his place, ridding the world of his ugliness by taking his sin into His own body that it might die with Him. For he saw now that his true ugliness had been withdrawn by his Lord while he wept…. The least he could do, he, Adam, the man who had so brutally done what he would when his trusting Lord put Himself into his hands, was now to put himself into his Lord’s hands to be done with what his Lord willed….’Into Thy hands.'” p.308
Here is orthodox theology in layman’s terms, tucked into the story line of a suicidal man to demonstrate the power of the Gospel to transform a life.
“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its tender shoots will not cease. Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground, [yet] at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant.” Job 14:7-9 NKJV
What a fitting metaphor to illustrate God’s power to restore life. Jesus likens Himself to water. May we catch the scent and so flourish by design ( :
On the last day, that great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. —And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
(John 7:37 NKJV; Rev 22:17 NKJV)
–Thanks for letting me share my first read of the New Year with you. It’s been a good reminder to me not to leave the ‘oldies’ off my reading lists!
The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
Publ: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. NY, 1963