I spent a good portion of last year scouring the world for objects of historical importance. I read histories and biographies before I left so they could shape the direction of my travels. I read histories and biographies after I returned so they could interpret what I had seen and experienced. Here’s one case where it all came together just perfectly.
Before I embarked on my journeys to Ireland and India I read biographies of Amy Carmichael, so I knew key facts about her life and influence. In Ireland I went to her birthplace, to the church she helped found, and to the archives that hold her books and Bibles. In India I went to Dohnavur Fellowship, the ministry to which she dedicated the majority of her life. All the while I was looking for objects that seemed especially important to her and which might stand in to help tell the story of her life. It was in India that biography and reality nicely intersected.
In 1931, Carmichael suffered a terrible injury that left her pretty much bedridden for the rest of her life. As we toured Carmichael’s quarters, my host pointed out a scuffed area on the tiled floor where her bed rested for all those years. Above and all around that spot were pictures and Scripture passages, and I took the time to examine each one. Returning home, I read Frank Houghton’s Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur and came across his description of her later years. He makes mention of some of the most noteworthy plaques and paintings.
Shortly after her accident, Carmichael had voiced the fear that her injury had left her too great a burden to others. She was concerned she’d prove a hindrance to the work she had begun. A friend brought comfort by drawing her mind to Revelation 2:9-10 which includes the words: “I know” and “fear not.” Carmichael had the words painted onto a two-part plaque and mounted where she could always see them. Later, reflecting on them, she told in a poem what they had come to mean to her.
“I know”: the words contain
Unfathomable comfort for our pain.
How they can hold such depths I do not know—
I only know that it is so.
“Fear not”: the words have power
To give the thing they name; for in an hour
Of utter weariness, the soul, aware of One beside her bed,
O Lord most dear,
I thank Thee, and I worship—
Thou art here.
Immediately after describing the poem, the Houghton tells about the painting. Here is what she once said about it.
When I am in pain or too tired to find words, I look at a picture of the Matterhorn and the lake at its foot, and I let it pray for me for you. Let the strength of the mountains be theirs, the purity of the snows, the beauty of the blue water, the steadfastness of the rocks, the loveliness of the flowers, on the banks and, above all, the joy of the little stream that flows forth to bless others.
Having read this part of the biography, I opened my catalog of photos from the year gone by and found this one which I took from the spot her bed once rested. Though I had snapped it just quickly with my iPhone, it captured both of the objects that were so precious to Carmichael. “I know,” “Fear not,” and Matterhorn are all right there. And this is just one of the spots in the past year where biography so nicely intersected with reality.