A few days ago I finally finished the first book from my summer reading list, Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I was distracted by a couple of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, which were gifts, and life in general needed to happen, so finishing my first book wasn’t accomplished as quickly as I had thought it would be. I’m also now six and a half chapters into Boundaries, so I am making some progress there.
If you haven’t heard of this book, here’s the blurb from the back cover: a beautiful allegory dramatizing the yearning of God’s children to be led to new heights of love, joy, and victory. In this moving tale, follow Much-Afraid on her spiritual journey with her two companions, Sorrow and Suffering, as she overcomes many dangers and mounts at last to the High Places. There she gains a new name and is transformed by her union with the loving Shepherd. It was originally written in 1955, so there is some old-fashioned language in it, some words that have a different connotation now than they did then, and I imagine the author’s occasional switch to King James English when quoting the Bible is difficult for some modern readers. The story shines through, though, and left me feeling satisfied.
I can distill my experience with it down to three things. The first was a bit of a gut check in two ways. First, the central character Much-Afraid has a set of relatives who try to discourage her or get her to turn back to the valley while on her journey. Their names are indicative of their characters, as hers is, Resentment, Self-Pity, Bitterness, and Pride among them. As I read I began to realize that I listen to Self-Pity too often in my own life. Would it be easier to resist if it were an actual person shouting at me from behind the tree next to the path rather than a sniping little voice in my head? Possibly. Possibly not too. Either way, following along as Much-Afraid learned to resist them encouraged me to be more aware of doing that myself.
And a gut check in another form in some of her interactions with the Shepherd while on her journey. “Do you love me enough to be able to trust me completely, Much-Afraid?” he asks her gently at one point (p 167). I stopped and then read that one again. Do I? I don’t often stop to think about how things like insisting on doing something my way really indicates that I don’t trust God that his way is better. There were a number of interactions like this that made me stop and think.
The second thing is a feeling of envy, strange as that sounds. Whenever the path becomes too hard or it looks like surely that can’t be the way to go, Much-Afraid calls out and the Shepherd is right there. She can take his hand and look into his eyes and he’ll assure her that this really is the way he wants her to go, even if it looks hard or frightening. Yes, I know that we can always talk to the Lord in prayer and he will always hear us. I know that many of the things the Shepherd tells Much-Afraid are straight from scripture and we have the Bible in its entirety to search for answers and promises.
But knowing those things doesn’t take away my envy that Much-Afraid can reach out and touch her savior when she is in need. That she can get clear confirmation of direction whenever the path is difficult – she doesn’t have to wonder if the path is hard because that’s what God intended for her to grow, or if it’s hard because she missed something and is off the right path altogether. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and we have the Bible in a language we can easily read and we have the advantage of prayer. But those things are not the same as being able to throw my arms around him and weep on his shoulder if I needed to. So I envy Much-Afraid, just a little.
And the third thing, in spite of the melancholy of the second, is a sense of hope. I won’t give it away if you haven’t read it (and if that’s the case, I think you should), but Much-Afraid does achieve a transformation in the end. She does get to experience even more closeness with the Shepherd and freedom from the things that held her back before, her fears and her lameness. The book ends not with Much-Afraid disappearing into a languid cloud of bliss, but with her still active, with a new sense of purpose to go with her new name, there’s something important still to be done. She looks back on the long and difficult journey and sees the things she has learned and how those have changed her for the better. It gives me hope to look back at the things I have learned in my own journey, to see that the time hasn’t been wasted. It gives me hope that someday I might reach the High Places of total surrender to the Shepherd and experience the joy there. I’m not there yet. It gives me hope I might find his purpose for me too.
All in all, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. I found it encouraging and a good reminder in many ways. The edition I have includes Hannah Hurnard’s own account of the circumstances that led her to write the book, which I also enjoyed – almost like a behind-the-scenes featurette on a DVD. As I mentioned above, some readers may find the older language problematic, and it is an allegory, which isn’t going to work for everyone, but I’m glad I read it and I think you should too.
Now, which book from my list to read next?