Vintage books represent old lives. People from the past, who lived, loved, laughed, cried, and recorded the treasure of their minds and hearts in words on printed pages for posterity. Not just those who penned the words—but very often, those who read those words and subsequently responded to them. Perhaps with handwritten notes of their own compositions in the margins, or back pages.
I came into possession of a vintage book titled, Day After Day: A Manual of Devotions for Individual and Family Use, as compiled by 19th and early 20th century evangelist John Wilbur Chapman. It was published in 1919, at the end of the First World War. One of the first places I go when treasure hunting in a vintage or antique book, is inside, opening to the front page in the hopes of finding an inscription of its owner. I was not disappointed in this small navy-blue volume with gold embossed lettering.
Etched in pencil, in what appeared to be a hurried cursive handwriting, was the epitaph: “To Laura, with love from Emma & Sade.” An error in composition required erasing the original, “from with love,” for the edited, “with love from.”
My only disappointment was the absence of any more clues as to date and occasion. Was it Laura’s birthday? Confirmation? Marriage? Who were Emma and Sade? Best friends? Beloved sisters? With so many unanswered questions, my imagination kicked into high gear, fueled with inspiration. This is the stuff short stories are made of, I thought.
I found only one other clue on the end pages of the book to help me piece together who Laura might have been. A few poetic verses, roughly drawn, in need of an editor. The writer drafted it in pencil first, and then wrote over the pencil in tell-tale fountain pen ink as if to set it in stone. A poem. A prayer. Titled very simply: Peace.
Perhaps, she copied it from another source. Perhaps, she composed it herself. A prayer for peace in troubled times. A young woman living a hundred years ago. In 1919. At the close of a global war that reset both Europe and America. Those who survived would never be the same.
The loss of 126,000 American soldiers stripped the innocence and formality of the Victorian and Edwardian age from society. Fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers were not coming home to loved ones and the potential of a life lived. Add in the 245,000-wounded returned from French, German, and Italian battlefields, it was clear that the year 1919 would be fraught with exhilaration at the war’s end, equal to the anxiety of living in a physical and social landscape dramatically altered. In total, 11 million military personnel died and 7 million more were wounded. Civilian casualties were equally shocking.
Laura, Emma, and Sade—how did World War I touch their lives? Did they suffer loss? Were they newly-minted war widows consoling each other with a book of devotional readings?
I imagine them in this setting, as we celebrate Independence Day this July 4th, and the first of many tragic wars Americans were forced to fight in the past 245 years to secure our liberties and sovereign borders.
Thumbing through the thirteen weeks’ worth of weekly Scripture readings and prayers in Day After Day, I came across specialized readings for select holidays.
Among them was Flag Day, where Chapman selects an interesting Scripture from James 1:25:
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
It is interesting to consider the application of this verse to the founding principles of our nation’s liberty—derived, and well documented as so, from the Bible. In years past, training in “religion” (meaning specifically, Christianity) was an integral part of American education, as Samuel Adams attests in these inspiring words dated in Boston, October 4, 1790:
Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavors to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy, and, in subordination to these great principles, the love of their country; of instructing them in the art of self-government, without which they never can act a wise part in the government of societies, great or small; in short, of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system . . .
Boston, October 4, 1790
Prayer and open discussion of the Bible, and how its principles applied to public life as a citizen, were a revered part of every school child’s academic years. Until 1961, that is—a mere forty years since the publication of this vintage family devotional, and only twenty years since the end of the nation’s second war on foreign shores. Not to mention Korea. And the contemporary threats a half century ago, of a Cold War.
Being a doer of the work of liberty—applying the principles of liberty, including a love country—brings blessing, indeed. But often after much loss. Sacrificial love secures liberty. Like that of Christ on the cross. Or a young man on a battlefield far from home.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13 NLT
Peace in troubled times seems distant. Laura, Emma, and Sade may have grown up together in a one room classroom learning their American Christian heritage together. In the trauma and aftermath of a world war, they remembered that the anchor of the soul is to be found in stealing away to a quiet place for devotions, meeting in prayer with the Prince of Peace.
Losing a loved one in the defense of the nation might have spurred Emma and Sade’s gift of this little book of devotions to Laura. Perhaps the prayer chosen for the Flag Day meditation brought her some comfort:
Almighty God, Sovereign of the universe, we thank Thee that our flag has always stood for liberty, justice, and freedom, and that the banner of the Republic floated in the battle front across the seas. (Reference to WWI) Great God, may our flag never be dishonored. Grant that through the coming years its stars may continue to shine, and its colors stand for purity, devotion, and sacrifice. May all our citizens be loyal to it as the symbol of national sovereignty. May there soon come to this weary world the morning of universal peace. This we ask in the Name of Thy Son, our Redeemer. Amen.
David G. Wylie, D.D.
Reprinted in Day by Day, 1919
This is the first of my treasure hunt finds in this particular volume. Next month I’ll explore more nuggets of inspiration from this old gold mine of beautiful words and wisdom—the legacy of past lives. The more I learn of the hearts and minds of those who have gone before us, the more I am challenged to pursue my own life’s legacy with purpose—seeds for growing on, rather than chaff for the wind.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Til all our strivings cease
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the hearts of our desires
Thy coolness and Thy balm
Let sense be dumb—let flesh retire
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire
A still small voice of calm
Our Father, Thy life opens fresh and new in my being this day. They love fills my soul and mind and presses me unto faithful service and high purpose. All darkness, all dimness or vision within or without is but a cloud which the lens of Thy reality will turn to light and clearness. My being rests in calm security in Thy love and knows the beginning and the end is peace. Amen.
To hear the dramatized audio version of this article by author/storyteller, Kathryn Ross, visit www.thewritersreverie.com/book-for-laura or click on the PODCASTS page for the link to this and more inspiring audio stories leading to all good things and beauty.
Kathryn Ross is a writer, speaker, dramatist, and independent publisher at Pageant Wagon Publishing with a mission to nurture the seeds of all good things, innocence, and beauty in the human heart. Her inspiring devotional books for journaling and discussion groups, theatrical scripts for church and school, and storybooks and speaking programs engage young and old with dramatic flair as discipleship tools for homeschool and Christian families, designed to minister to all ages—all at the same time. Visit her online where she blogs weekly and podcasts monthly at www.thewritersreverie.com and www.pageantwagonpublishing.com .