Many of you will remember the magnificent movie, "Chariots of Fire," (1981) which tells the story of the "Flying Scotsman," Eric Liddell, the man who ran in the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was supposed to run the 100 meters race, but when he learned it was scheduled on a Sunday, he withdrew because he felt running on a Sunday would be (for him) dishonoring to God. So on the following Tuesday he ran and won the 440 meter race and became a hero of Scotland, the U.K and the world.
Instead of resting on his laurels and enjoying his fame, Liddell went to China as a missionary teacher. As gripping as the story of his Olympic victory is, the rest of Liddell's life in China, his marriage, his internment in a Japanese prison camp, and his untimely death in the prison camp due to a brain tumor, is even more intriguing and moving. This morning, I went through a box
of videotapes I had stored on a shelf and came across parts 2 and 3 of Day of Discovery's documentary, "Story of Eric Liddell: Olympic Champion, Man of Courage." While watching part 3 I began choking up and tearing (not a common thing for me to do!). What prompted my emotional response was learning that as he lay dying in the Camp hospital, he requested the Salvation Army band (who were playing hymns in the courtyard below), to play Finlandia ("Be Still, My Soul"**).
What an inspiring man! It's common nowadays to hear that young people don't have heroes. They need to hear and see the story of Eric Liddell.
Several biographies tell his story. What grabs me in particular, is the incidental tribute given Liddell by Langdon Gilkey, in his book Shantung Compound. Gilkey, along with Liddell and 1800 other foreigners, was interned by the Japanese in the Weihsien prison camp in China during World War II. Gilkey describes life in that camp with such power and insight into human behavior that I have loaned the book to many friends over the years saying, "Set aside your psychology and sociological books, and read Shantung Compound. It provides more insight into human nature than you will find anywhere else."
Though Gilkey changes the names of people he talks about in his book, on page 192 he clearly refers to Eric Liddell when he speaks about a track man who had won the 440 in the Olympics in the twenties. Gilkey writes:
"It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known."
This is high praise, indeed, from a man who was not shy at pointing out the foibles and failures of men and women imprisoned with him in the camp.
My suggestion: Show to youth and adult groups the movie, "Chariots of Fire," and then in the weeks to follow, watch the Day of Discovery documentary, Story of Eric Liddell: Olympic Champion, Man of Courage. It would be an unforgettable experience.
** Words to "Be Still, My Soul" -
"Be Still, My Soul"
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897
1. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
2. Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
3. Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
4. Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.