"It is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself." - Tozer
"Perhaps the continued usefulness of this book can be attributed to the author's great spiritual discovery that to seek God does not narrow one's life, but brings it rather, to the level of highest possible fulfillment." [pg. 6, ISBN 1-56865-491-X]
The 'fellowship of the burning heart' was a passion of Tozer's, a man who spent boundless hours literally on his face before God, being still before Him, waiting upon Him.
Tozer grew in this stillness before God:
- while living in the bustle of Chicago:
- after growing up in relative poverty, (with little education, BTW),
- after receiving Christ upon hearing a street preacher,
- and thereby becoming an 'active witness' for Christ.
It is said both that He wrote the rough draft of this book while traveling from Chicago to Texas by train in the 1940s, and that He wrote the book on his knees........ Utterly amazing to one less familiar with such service of worship. How humbling that is indeed.
Tozer studied scripture as a scholar in spite of his former lackings in educational experience through the help of the Holy Spirit, whom he sought directly in all of his efforts to become more effective in his effort to express the nature and greatness of the God, whom we should all pursue.
When Tozer sought to become self-educated (or should we say, 'Spirit Educated'?), he evidently respected works which were not directly related to scripture. It is reported that when he studied Shakespeare, he did so on his knees before God - seeking His guidance.
That bit of info caught me offguard. While I highly value the lessons one can glean from Shakespeare about life and discernment about humanity (such as the insight evident in our 3rd son's then 9 yo response to Shakespeare's The Tempest's conflict between Prospero and Caliban, when he answered that certainly, if one "Sees someone as a monster, he will treat him monstrously"). (BTW - the actual play can be found here). Still, I had not thought to study any book exclusively on my knees, not Shakespeare, not even scripture...... *blush*
That is a humbling picture: Tozer on his knees, while I seek to direct my children in what could definitely be considered a much more laid back approach to learning........
So what of studying Shakespeare 'on one's knees' as it were? Really: Studying Shakespeare on one's knees?!!!
Well, for starters: Why do we study anything of "literary merit" anyway?
Well, just today, I was visiting with my daughter about her school books. We have not been reading any 'living books' with her lately (not much anyway). Upon opening them again, she was somewhat excited, and somewhat overwhelmed.
She was excited to enjoy the richness, but she knows that, since I am heavily influenced by the writings of Charlotte Mason, she would be required to narrate. The perceived pressure actually weighs heavily upon her after a break from narrating, and that stress actually impedes her first, renewed attempts at narrating. With a little practice, she'll be growing in this skill again, but for today, it was a stark challenge.
Thus, we only read a little, BUT THEN, we talked a little about living books, and why we use them. This time, the purpose of living books seemed especially clear to her, which seemed to set her feet on the verge of chosing to grow in maturity. What are those purposes behind the use of living books? Well, what is the purpose of any education?
--the purpose of education is not to help her to 'be successful' (what is 'success' anyway?)
--the purpose of education is not to 'prevent any gaps of knowledge' (no one can 'know it all')
--the purpose of education IS to help the soul to learn to care about many things
I want *her* to care about a great many things, thus the living books.
A living book is a book written by an author who is passionately concerned about his subject, and who is capable of conveying that concern to others in a literary fashion. Upon reading those concerns, rendered eloquently, the hearts of many respond to the 'ideas/seeds' contained in said books. Those 'seeds' bring forth fruit from related concerns which rise up in their own hearts and minds - and if they are maturing in the Lord, which also rise up in their spirits.
The book my daughter and I had opened today dealt with birds. Other books she has on her 'to read list' deals with other subjects. One of her books deals with Shakespeare's tales - after which she listens in while her brothers and I read through the actual Shakespeare play from which those 'tales' are taken.
Before exploring with her (and for myself) *why* we read Shakespeare, we stopped and explored this question:
Why would we read about birds? Just because it is fun? Just so we 'know more' (no, that puffs up the heart of man...... *sigh*)
In order to hear one man's love and concern for the birds, and thereby to impart a love and concern for those creatures into my daughter's heart as well.
Is that really important to God?
In today's world, it is easy to react against those who are 'green' and worship the world. However, God did admonish us to be caretakers here even before the fall (Genesis 2:15 - NIV). Besides, didn't Solomon advise us to learn from nature around us (e.g. - look to the ant, thou sluggard.......), and didn't Paul advise us that creation bears witness as to the nature of its creator?
I would that God can and will both encourage and teach my daughter directly through His creation - that as she becomes increasingly attentive to the creation around her, she might not miss the lessons God has enmeshed in His creation for us, but which we flit past all too quickly. (as an example of our own inattention to the wonders of His creation, I was found out to be quite the city girl when I encouraged my children to begin watching for raptors, which I had hardly ever noticed in my home town, but which are readily observed throughout the whole region! - that was quite humbling - what else am I utterly oblivious to, anyway???)
I would that God would put on her heart to care about His creatures and His wondrous creation at large. That is actually something that God Himself does: the sparrow doesn't fall without His knowing (Luke 12:6 NLT). He certainly must take note when the earth cries out to Him - did it only cry out to Him when Abel died in Genesis 3? (We are not so omniscient as God in any of that, but Certainly God cares more for His flock - the body of Christ, than He cares for the sparrows (see Luke 12:7). More than He cares for the sparrows, He cares for us. Even though He is keeping the whole universe from flying apart into chaos (Hebrews 1:1-3), He cannot allow even one sparrow to pass through life without His amazing attention. What does He miss about our circumstances? What should we notice about the circumstances of those around us?
I would hope that my daughter becomes concerned about modern concerns, such as the diminishing bee population (and perhaps the impact of GMO's upon the bees). I would hope that she is concerned to leave the nests of birds alone, especially during nesting season whenever at all possible.
I would hope that my daughter becomes concerned with many subjects, thus many living books, with many eloquent authors putting forth their concerns are brought to her attention.
I would that she would couch those concerns in the terms of caring for the creation of God Almighty, over which we were made to rule and manage wisely, to His glory.
But is she only to be concerned with creation? Heaven forfend! Certainly the souls of men who need salvation and courage and peace from God are more important than the sparrows, and insects, and such.
So what of Shakespeare? What is his 'concern' which might empower my daughter with righteous concerns?
And - Why would Tozer open Shakespeare so prayerfully that he would be upon his knees?
Two thoughts come to mind at present:
--that Shakespeare is not direct scripture, and Tozer would not wish to be infected by any error implicit in Shakespeare....
but *perhaps* more than that.......
--that Shakespeare was an eloquent man with a powerful and discerning passion: that we understand the way a heart and a mind ticks in good men, in evil men, in oblivious men, in undecided men.......
Charlotte Mason said of Shakespeare that his psychology was without error - that he studied the soul of men with precise discernment. Is that perfectly accurate? Perhaps not, thus it is wise to add trembling to our studies, just as we should add trembling to our rejoicing (Psalm 2:11). Thus, Tozer's wisdom in taking to his knees when approaching Shakespeare is a powerful example to us all.
That said: What benefit is it to anyone who might have opportunity to observe literary figures who illustrate the good, the bad, and the ugly - as expressed in Proverbs and in other scripture which give rise to understanding about human nature?
Simply this, there is less need to discuss the behavior of specific individuals in our world in order for them to observe scripture 'in real life scenarios'.
One of the advisory members for AmblesideOnline once shared that while walking down the street with her daughters, she simply stated, "Watch out, Wickham, at 2:00." (or something to that affect). Her daughters were amazed at this alleged insight of their mother, but they were warned to at least be on their guard with this brief comment (not Shakespeare, but Austin in this case, but similar concerns can be expressed quietly and without lible through references to literary characters - characters who are known to an educated youth to be examples of real life strengths and foibles in real life people around them).
Perhaps that advisory member was right on target about the young man to whom she referred; perhaps in time, her concerns proved unfounded. Either way, she had a tool with which to put her daughters on guard when they otherwise might be put off by any stuffy nay-sayings which a mother might be inclined to make in a more emotionally propelled way...... [Of course, I do not believe that this advisory member deemed this alleged 'Wickham' to be beyond the reach of God's grace, but that her daughters had been taught both that women cannot remake the spirit of a man, and that they are to be on guard and watch out for men who do not love God who 'creep' into the homes of godly men to lead astray the daughters of such men (II Tim. 3:6). A scripturally acknowledged reality which is illustrated so well in Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice.]
Another reason to study the works of 'living book authors', is that they are master craftsmen of the English language. When one both reads such well written work, and then thinks through that level of material on a regular basis (preferably aloud or in writing via some form of 'narration'), one begins to naturally take on the literary style and thus the literary/verbal power of those he is studying.
Certainly scripture should be the first of literary, living books to both read and narrate (the first time I had my sons attempt narration of bits of epistles at a time - first one verse, then the next - the attention required was brought to bear upon aspects of the scripture which we otherwise would have missed - highly recommended!). Yes, the Bible is a literary book of the highest quality. Yet other authors are able to reflect a part of the nature of the god in whose image they are made. Well chosen authors, then, are worthy of study, in order to empower the student with a power to express ideas clearly, concisely, and purposefully.
Thus, I agree with Tozer that the study of Shakespeare and many other truly classic authors has incredible potential value for both ourselves and our children.
So, here now, I bow before God Almighty, asking Him to provide His grace to help at least my heart to bow before God very specifically upon opening any book, whether or no I should ask my children to read Shakespeare on their knees......
And here now, I ask God to move on our hearts to know whether or no, perhaps we should, as Tozer did, break open at least some of our books upon our knees as well........
And here now, I ask God to move on my heart to know whether or not, perhaps I should approach Bible study on my knees.........
That I / we might gain greater insight and concern for the things which are of concern to Our Heavenly Father, and not merely puff up our own mind and souls.
That we might leave off 'self-education' and 'home education' and thereby more diligently seek to be "Spirit-educated," filled with and supplied by and satisfied with - the Spirit - with the provision of God.
Can we even leave it to our churches to feed us? Milton, quoted in the Preface here answers that all too well, "The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed."
May that God provides that in our home, in our heart sought 'spirit-led-education', we do not develop an appetite for the things of the world, but that we do develop an appetite for our proper nourishment (God Himself, per Tozer - see quote above).
May He help us indeed to be hungry sheep.
The Preface goes on to lament 'the Program' taking over actual worship in the church, at which time my heart longs more and more to admonish and empower and encourage the brethren to admonish each other to spend the days in singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs - and thereby to 'admonish each other' while praising Him.
Oh, to spend our days worshipping Him and encouraging each other! What a vision He has provided for us in this! (Colossians 3:15-17)
But what should we sing? Merely literary workings which point to God? Certainly singing hymns would be singing literary workings. There is no ill in that? Certainly singing psalms via psalmody or as they are set in psalters would be more powerful, being scripture which is God breathed. Then again, might we not add to that the singing of other scripture, which can bring forth greater and greater faith (Romans 10:17).
May God grant me the grace to set my hand yet again, and more effectively to setting His Word to song, and may it be set in a way that brings honor to Him while admonishing those who love Him to 'pursue' Him more purposefully and effectively, and that such work brings forth faith in those not yet of the faith, and more faith in those already of the faith.
May He thereby humble me further, that I might be laid low on my face, in stillness before Him - waiting on Him - becoming one of the 'fellowship of the burning heart' in deed and in truth - that I might not be brought forth as one whose life discredits in the mind of anyone the scripture by which I would that others might find life, peace, and the love of God in more and more abundance.