"Set to Lilies--Incense Trees"

(From Amy Carmichael's Rose from Brier)

There are two little Bethlehems in the land,
Two little Bethlehems there.
O Wise Men, do you understand
To seek Him everywhere?
The heavenly Child lies holily,
The heavenly Child lies lowlily,
No crown on His soft hair.

There are three crosses on the hill,
Three dreadful crosses there.
And very dark and very chill
The heavy shuddering air.
Is there a sign to show my Lord,
The sinner's Saviour, Heaven's Adored?
'Tis He with thorn-crowned hair.

For in His lovely baby days
Heaven's door was set ajar,
And angels flew through glimmering ways
And lit a silver star.
No need for halo or for crown
To show the King of Love come down
To dwell where sinners are.

But when He died upon the Rood
(The King of Glory, He),
There was no star, there was no good,
Nor any majesty.
For diadem was only scorn,
A twisted, torturing crown of thorn--
And it was all for me.

"Set to Lilies--Incense Trees"

Quotations can be tiresome, but there is just a chance that what helped those early days may help another's first days of illness. So I copy again from the notebook.

The Bible is amazing. Continually things that differ as much as things can, are bound together by golden chains. "The altar of God... God my exceeding joy." "Although the fig tree shall not blossom... yet I will rejoice in the Lord." "Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden"; and so on from Genesis to Revelation. The title of Psalm lxxx. R. V. M. has taken me out of this room into a new world this morning: Set to lilies, a testimony. The lily breaks through hard ground after rain. Psalm lxxx. is hard ground. It is full of the hardness of suffering with others or for others. All who have ever suffered with this suffering world of ours understand this Psalm. They have walked on this hard ground.*

But the lilies break through the hardness of that (as it appears) purposeless pain, with a sudden upspringing of hope and joy: "And cause Thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." Not I--there is no selfishness here--we, Thy creation--we shall be saved.

Whatever form our dry ground may take at the moment, we can rejoice in our lilies and listen to their testimony. There is an end set to pain, to sin. The present order is not eternal. The day will come, and we shall see it, when the word will be, "Neither shall there be any more pain," and He whom our soul loveth shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass, springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.

More than the sweetness of lilies springs from the hard ground. There is something that the name Hazarmaveth of Genesis x. 26 now brings to mind.

I never thought that a pot of manna was stored away in that word till I read of Hadramaut (as the word is now) in Southern Arabia.

On the scorching face of that land are towns and cities built entirely of mud bricks (the forts and palaces run to five stories; there is a minaret 175 feet high). No one could explore this region till lately, but now, because of the good government of the Dutch in Java, to which island some of the people from Hadramaut went, friendliness has begun to be, and a few explorers, with the help of the Dutch government's influence, have been able to travel there. Photographs show a blistered land, naked to the sun, covered for miles with sand, broken stones, or bare rock, almost waterless, almost treeless.

But one of the high roads of the Old World, the trade-route from India and Persia to Egypt and Syria, and to other countries round the Mediterranean, ran through this Hazarmaveth, and "it supplied its own fragrant contribution to that ancient-world commerce, a contribution not great in extent but vast in significance." Incense trees grew along the barren plateaux and in the dry river-beds. Merchants came from as far as Persia to find this precious gum. The frankincense and myrrh the wise men offered to our Saviour may have grown in that burning land, and that which gave fragrance to the ointment Mary poured upon His hair and His feet, and the spices that the women laid among the linen for His burying. But the chief thought with me to-day is that this substance, universal symbol of prayer, worship, and adoration, was found in such a place. There is a touch of wonder in that, as in all the thoughts of God.

Sooner or later we find ourselves in some Hazarmaveth of His appointment. We may miss the incense trees or we may find them. If we miss them we shall not find them anywhere else. Have we, who are now in Hazarmaveth (and the name means Valley of death, or Court of death), found our incense trees?


One day in the Madras Museum the Curator, who was showing our children all he could in a single, wonder-filled afternoon, stopped before a sandal-wood tree. They knew that tree and delighted in the scent of its wood. "Where do you think it grows?" Dr. Henderson asked the children. They thought of gardens by the river-side, of forests by the river-side, where the soil is dark and rich. "No," he said, "it grows in the very poorest soil."

One of the hottest of Hazarmaveths for all who are ill must be, I think, Christmas Day. On my second Christmas Day, apart in measure from my dear family, I found comfort in "taking" a new carol, which, unlike most carols, would look not only at Bethlehem, but also at Calvary. There are times when nothing holds the heart but a long, long look at Calvary. How very small anything that we are allowed to endure seems beside that Cross.

*A Bill for the protection of horses was, at the time of this note, before Parliament. The Illustrated London News had played its part by showing haunting pictures of the traffic, and we who care for animals were fighting the cruel spirit of the love of gain by prayer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

all i can say is - yes. it's all true; the reality and the metaphor. thanks for sharing. -arp