LIFE IS GOOD
Lillian's conviction is that life is indeed good. Her childhood was stark in many ways, but life is good. She has had very few of life's material goods, but life is good. She has worked hard and long throughout her life, but life is good. She has suffered loss and grief and loneliness, but yes, life is very good!
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF BEAUTY
One of the reasons Lillian's life has been so good is because of her great delight in the arts. Where her great attraction for the arts came from is perplexing, certainly not from her childhood environment. The Torkelsons were pioneer settlers whose concerns were almost exclusively for the basic necessities of life. Needless to say, there was little time for such things as art and music. Her normal school experience began the stirring of her aesthetic heart; Mr. Griffin, one of her teachers, was responsible for some of that awakening. He read and recited poetry with such force that she remembers it to this day. She really didn't know that there was any Canadian poetry until she was in Mr. Griffin's class.
All of her life she has been moved by not only the grandeur of God's creation, but also the beauty that man has produced - a symphony concert, a choral program, praise to God in hymns or the sight of great paintings. For many years, as she prayed regularly, she thanked God for both music and colours. At one time, she was concerned about the second commandment, "Make no graven image", wondering if that forbade appreciation of paintings. As she studied it though, she realized from the rest of the commandment that what was forbidden was the worship of created things.
In a lesson at a women's retreat she described her philosophy about beauty and creativity:
We are created in the likeness of the creator, therefore on a finite level we can create. It is not a waste to pursue artistic or scientific activities, because we were made able to do these things. Each person has some talent, sometimes hidden, which should be expressed and developed. In Exodus 31:1ff, God tells Moses that he has "filled Bezalel with the spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship." It is God who has given the skill and ability to people to create beautiful things.
There is a psychological need to surround oneself with beauty and it need not be expensive. In The Hiding Place Corrie ten Boom mentions that her sister Betsy made her small area in the concentration camp as attractive as possible by draping her purple scarf over her cot. When I lived in Radville, I still remember the beautiful cretonne curtains and bedspread that brought light and some beauty into my little room, and kept life from being dreary.
Creativity is a therapy for the mind and soul. Making things with our hands or our minds can help us overcome discouragement, depression and a sense of inferiority. It can enrich our lives by giving us a touch of beauty and a feeling of self respect. Rookmaker, in his book, Art Needs No Justification says "In concentrating on saving souls, Christians have forgotten that God is the God of life. . . . . .God certainly does not want us to turn art into a god, making beauty our highest aim. . . .Beauty simply adds an enrichment that makes our life fuller, with the result that we're able to be better Christians and more interested in other people."
When Lillian talks about art, her ardent hope is that she may influence people to see that art can enrich their lives and help them to be better Christians. "Just as a beautiful flower can make people rejoice and simple forms of beauty can lift the spirits, works of art in all expressions can make us better able to cope with the stress of life so that we can be of greater service for a longer period of time".
The Visual Arts
She recalls from her childhood that in her mother's trunk there was a copy of the painting, The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur that she loved to look at. She took every opportunity to look into that trunk. She remembers how the power and energy of those galloping horses captured her imagination even as a little girl.
After her rich experience at university in Winnipeg in 1942/43, it has been her practice to always visit the art galleries wherever she travels. And what a rich experience that has been! It's difficult for her to single out favourite artists or art works; she loves so many. She's fascinated by the way art relates to the history of the time; in fact, she believes art, music, poetry and drama are all the unveiling of the period of history in which they are produced. She takes pleasure in many different styles, from renaissance to baroque to rococo and very much enjoys impressionist scenes.
However, she has had some favourites over the years. For several years her favourite was Arthur Lismer's September Gale. A windswept tree became symbolic of endurance and strength in time of sorrow or hardship. She hung a print of it in her home and often gained courage and peace from it.
Then for a time, it was Constable's Haywain. She said "A sparkling clear mirror of summertime. It glows with serenity and optimism." During a particularly stressful time in her life, she often brought out and gazed at her slide of Raphael's Alba Madonna. The peace and order calmed her and seemed to fill some of the needs of her soul.
She acknowledges that there are dozens of works of art that she enjoys, each one satisfying some aspect of her being. She appreciates the mixture of reality and fantasy in Chagall's works such as The Birthday where lovers float through the air above the birthday cake and flowers on a table. . . . The serenity, order and colour of Vermeer's Young Woman With the Water Jug make a strong impression on her. . . . The dear little child in Renoir's A Girl With a Watering Can always brings a smile to her face. . . . Van Gogh's use of colour for emotion and symbolism make his Starry Night one of her favourites as well.
Rembrandt is always a favourite; she appreciates his way of using rich, velvety colours, often browns, reds and golds, to reveal character and emotion in works like Belshazzar's Feast and Jeremiah Laments the Destruction of Jerusalem. She is especially drawn to the expressiveness of the hands he pictures, in paintings like The Jewish Bride.
She even appreciates, although not enjoys, the paintings of Goya, who portrayed the horrors of war. In his The Third of May 1808, for example, he graphically depicts innocent Spanish citizens being shot by Napoleon's soldiers. This painting has been described as the most horrifying record of war made in any medium. She remembers well seeing his etchings, The Disasters of War, in a gallery. While the friend who was with her could not bear to view them, Lillian looked at each one carefully "to register more fully in my mind the horrors of war." To the question, "Why paint war?" Goya replied, " To have the pleasure of saying eternally to men that they stop being barbarians."
While she most enjoys balanced, serene paintings, she can also get a great deal of satisfaction in studying almost all kinds of art works, even some that, on first look, make you wonder why they were done. She enjoys asking herself, "Why did he paint like that?" or "What is the artist trying to tell me?". She believes that even modern art can challenge the mind and have some benefit.
In more recent years, she gets a real lift every time she visits Lois and Roland Olson's Pottery and Painting Gallery as she takes her daily walk. She says, "I walk a little faster and a little lighter and have a livelier song in my heart after such a visit."
Lillian never had the opportunity to study music as a child, but she has always responded to it. As a small child Silent Night, sung in Norwegian, always stirred her. She says, " Music relaxes me and keeps me sane, like walking does."
Her tastes are eclectic. She enjoys a great variety of musical styles, from symphonic to Irish folk music to opera to musicals to hymns. Strauss waltzes and violin music "touch my heart strings".Mozart is such a favourite that she walked all over Salzburg, Austria (his birthplace) to find a concert of his works to attend. She also enjoys Ravel's Bolero, Dvorak's New World Symphony; Chopin piano works, Beethoven symphonies, and on. . . and on.
Musical theatre always elicits an emotional response from her. She is moved by opera, enjoys almost any musical and has a special fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
She will never forget a performance of Verdi's Aida at the Baths of Caracalla just outside of Rome. It is a huge outdoor amphitheatre with a stage large enough to accommodate not only the sizable cast, but also the camels and galloping horses in the second act.
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF HUMOUR
One of Lillian's favourite quotations has long been, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad." It has been so meaningful to her that for several years she repeated this verse each morning when she got up. Her premise was that it would put her in the right frame of mind to start the day. She still repeats that verse frequently, and she still greets each day with pleasure.
She has never been guilty of taking herself too seriously, always enjoying a good joke, especially when it has been on her as we've already discovered. As young people, she and her friends were often playing practical jokes on each other. She still chuckles when she thinks about a skating party they had at Radville one winter. She had always laughed about being the world's worst skater, but this time the joke was on J.C. Bailey. The whole school, staff and students alike, were at the rink in town, when Carlos suddenly appeared, arms going in every direction, skating (sort of!) across the ice. Everyone roared, and it especially amused Lillian.
There are two things most apt to make her laugh - the unexpected and the understated. So her kind of joke is rather subtle. She tells one of her favourites, "A proper English lady had a room on the third floor of a certain rooming house. One day she came downstairs and asked the landlady for a cup of water. When she got it she went sedately back upstairs, but a few minutes later she came down again, asking for another cup of water. After several more trips, the landlady finally said, 'You're surely drinking a lot', to which the lady replied, 'Oh no. I have a fire in my room and I can't put it out.'"
She's well aware that some people wouldn't find that funny at all, but that's alright; she thinks it's hilarious. Every time she pictures that poor woman it tickles her funny bone all over again.
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF FRIENDS
Lillian considers herself blessed to have had a host of lifelong friends. The Black sisters, Ellen, whom she met at normal school in Regina, and Frances, that she so enjoyed in Wawota, are wonderful examples of that. She says she has never been popular in the sense of making lots of friends wherever she was, but she has always made a few very good friends in each place she has lived. Some of those have been dear friends for sixty, some even seventy years.
She's not sure what kind of people it is she makes such lasting relationships with, except that they're loyal; they accept each other as they are; they are either Christians or women of high moral calibre; they agree on many things in life; they are usually optimistic; they have an attitude of counting their blessings and they generally have a quiet sense of humour. Perhaps most significant of all is that they always knew they could trust each other through thick or thin.
They are also very different from each other. Ethel Rogers was an animated, energetic, fun loving person and Lillian loved that about her. Ellen on the other hand, was more quiet and contemplative, and Lillian appreciated that as well.
And then there was Signe, one of her closest friend during her teens and early twenties. Lillian told her things she never told anyone else, including some very deep hurts. That kind of confidentiality was rare for Lillian. She seldom discusses private things with her friends, even now. She's not sure why, perhaps her Scandinavian reticence showing up again. She has a kinship with her close friends that often transcends verbal communication. They understand things about each other without the need to discuss it.
Clarice Hurlburt and Lavine Jelsing were her other bosom buddies during those girlhood years. The bonds formed then continue. One after the other of them went off to normal school, but the separations they experienced as they moved around in their careers and marriages, were balanced by their great joy whenever two or more of them wound up living near each other. These four were the nucleus of The Hungry Five who so treasured their times together at summer Bible schools.
Signe has gone on before them to be with God; Lavine lives far enough away that their meetings, while sweet, are infrequent; but Clarice and Lillian still live just a few miles apart, and continue to enjoy their relationship. They value their travels together; they can talk easily or just as comfortably enjoy silence together. Perhaps their greatest bond at this time in their lives is that they are both still very youthful in their thinking, curious and eager to learn and explore.
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF GOD
Art and music, humour and friends have all added significant dimensions to Lillian's life and she is very grateful for all of them. But, of course, the fundamental reason her life has been so good is the reality of God. She has a lesson called Life Is Good that she has given a number of times in different places. In it she describes the five reasons why her life is so good. Here are those reasons:
1. Because we belong to the family of God:
She experienced this in a remarkable way when she was visiting in Oslo Norway. She was contacted by a brother in Christ within minutes of her arrival at her hotel. She had never met, only corresponded, with him. He took her to meet her relatives, acted as her interpreter and made arrangements for her to be picked up for worship services. These people entertained her, took her sightseeing, and treated her as a loving sister; all the things a family would do.2. Because we are able to enjoy the beauty of God's creation, and the creativity He has given man:
For many years she thanked God daily for music and for colours. "If you have been afraid that your love of beautiful flowers, or the flickering flame of a candle, or an eye catching painting is less spiritual than if you were living in stark, bare ugliness, let us remember that He who created you created beauty and also gave you the sensitivity to appreciate and respond to His creation and the beautiful things that man can make." This is a favourite quotation of Lillian's. It's from Edith Schaeffer's book, Hidden Art.
3. Because God has given us the ability to create beauty:
Lillian agrees with Francis Schaeffer that "no work of art is more important than the Christian's own life. The Christian's life is to be a thing of truth and beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world." There is a creative spirit in each of us that finds its own expression. She believes that even things like experimenting with new recipes and being creative in her decorating are a part of her creative spirit. It is never a waste of time to pursue artistic or scientific activities because God made us able to do and to appreciate these things.
4. Because we have the gift of service:
Because service to others is pleasing to Christ, it helps make life good. She is thoroughly convinced that service to others relieves personal mental anguish, depression and even physical pain.
5. Because we have the gift of God's love:
Her deepest security comes from knowing that she is safe in God's love. He has shown his love by providing a way of salvation and the key to learning about that salvation in his Word, the Bible. She believes that "God's love is gracious and forgiving, providing us with a way of escape when we are tempted, lifting us when we fall and caring for us in such a way that even through life's greatest difficulties he is with us, working things out for our eventual good."
A good life is much more a matter of choice than circumstance. Lillian has made that choice over and over again, when it would have been much easier for her to wallow in self pity when life dealt her a hard blow, to develop resentment towards those who treated her badly or to seek (and surely find) personal fame and fortune rather than live a life of service. She has few material symbols of success, but the full richness of the good life she has chosen far surpasses anything material she could have acquired.
Published in The Old Paths Archive