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    painting of the Good Samaritan

    Let Me Go Back and Try Again

    One life on this earth is not enough to satisfy the hunger that we have to serve Christ in all the ways that are open to us.

    By Elizabeth Goudge

    August 13, 2023
    • Jane Greer

      Goudge’s marvelous THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE accompanied me through my childhood.

    It is his skill, not ours, that yields faith to our loving, but what of those many loving people who do not find God? Are they in this world deprived of Christ? I think the answer is again in the cross. Wherever there is suffering, there they find him, and with or without recognition that is always where the greatest men and women do find him. Francis of Assisi, Father Damian, Elizabeth Fry, Albert Schweitzer, these and many other Christians knew that they found Christ in those whom they served and acknowledged that the love they felt was God’s love in them, but those who do not know do the same work for the same God and have a richness and fulfilment in their lives unknown to many so-called Christians. I know of one, a man who has suffered the impossible things, war, grief, torture and imprisonment, and come through uncorrupted, with a compassion so strong that wherever he may be in the world he must find his way to those who suffer most, no matter how terrible their suffering or how dreadful the place where they are, and keep them company and serve them as far as he is able.

    painting of the Good Samaritan

    Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Good Samaritan, 1853 

    Conversion is sterile unless one can face and implement the paradox of Christ. He is God and a man on the gallows. His voice is the beauty of the world and the crying of a hungry child. He is peace in our hearts and conviction of sin. He draws us to him with tenderness and then says the most uncomfortable things to us. To go through the gospels and note them all is a frightening experience.

    Hypocrites that are like whitewashed tombs, which make a fine show from without, but are full inside of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.… Harlots have the lead of you on the road to the kingdom of God.… I was hungry and you did not feed me; I was thirsty but you did not give me drink; I was homeless and you did not bring me in; naked and you did not clothe me; sick and in prison and you did not visit me.… Hear the truth.… In so far as you did not do these things to one of these little ones, you did not do them to me.

    I believe that the converted can face a great danger. It is that when the skill of Christ has brought us to him we forget about his children in concentration about himself. It seems impossible, but we can almost forget the very suffering the thought of which was at one time driving us nearly mad. But Christ won’t be concentrated upon in this one-sided manner. He won’t have us on these terms. He is completely identified with all suffering creatures and we have him with them, or not at all. It can come about that some man or woman finds God not by way of a sense of unity with his children but through a journey lonely as that of the Prodigal Son, but I believe that if we go home like the Prodigal Son we must go out again as the Good Samaritan.

    Christ is completely identified with all suffering creatures and we have him with them, or not at all.

    I feel myself that I have come really to know this too late and I understand what my father felt when towards the end of his life he said (and it was the only time when I ever saw him close to weeping), “When I come to the end I shall be saying to God ‘Let me go back and try again.’” Was it simply a cry of penitence or did he feel at last as I do now, that one life on this earth is not enough to satisfy the hunger that we have to serve him in all the ways that are open to us under earthly conditions? One earthly life may have been enough for Christ, so perfectly balanced was he, so entirely concentrated on the matter in hand, yet able to turn from one thing to another as though there were no difficult transitions between storm and calm, teaching and healing, praying and going to a party, suffering and dying, but all were the one smooth flow of the music of the will of God.

    But we are torn and exhausted by the trivialities and conflicts of self, by stress and strain and busyness. Those who are devotedly serving their fellow men are often too tired to pray, creative artists are so absorbed in the world of their own creativity that the tiny place assumes enormous proportions and they are in danger of forgetting the suffering world outside; and in proportion as they forget their own world darkens. Only the contemplatives seem in better shape, for their prayer has no walls. It embraces all the world and all the people in it and all their pain. They tell us that their deep prayer actually shares the pain and so to those of us to whom prayer goes no deeper than “the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying,” such prayer seems a frightening thing. Nevertheless it has the music and if in old age we feel heartbroken because we know that we have failed Christ in his suffering children it is not too late to try and reach out to them in that life of selfless prayer. Death may come upon us before we have done more than merely try to reach out, but it will not matter too much. I believe that death interrupts nothing of importance if the goal is Christ.

    Source: Elizabeth Goudge, The Joy of the Snow (Hodder & Stoughton), 204–206. Reproduced by permission of David Higham Associates.

    Contributed By ElizabethGoudge Elizabeth Goudge

    Elizabeth de Beauchamp Goudge (1900–1984) was one of the most popular British novelists of the twentieth century.

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