[posted at my children’s book site last week]
While we are travelling in Scotland I began reading to my older boys a book I picked up here- I Rode with the Covenanters, by Kathleen Fidler. We have read several books about the Covenanters along the way (not least Douglas Bond’s wonderful Crown & Covenant trilogy), but it seemed good to read another as we were seeing so many things related to their story. I did not have any previous knowledge of this book or author, but it has been wonderful! The book gives a good portrayal of what it must have been like for many typical families of the time- conviction of faith, yet fears, economic difficulties, etc.
Tonight’s reading was especially powerful- in fact, worshipful. The main character in the book is a 14 year old boy (John) whose father and older brother go off with the Covenanters to seek justice and relief from their oppression. In the portion we read tonight John was on his way to try to catch up with the Covenanter troop to bring food to his father and brother and to see how they were doing. He finds food and shelter overnight with a poor family who are also sympathetic to the Covenanting cause (a good description of the fear and carefulness of the time is given here as well). Because the villagers realize this boy’s father is with the Covenanters they help him though they have little themselves. Then just as they are about to go to bed, the man housing John thinks to ask him if he can read. When he discovers John can read, he asks if he would mind reading to him and his wife a portion from “the Good Book”:
From a cupboard he produced a treasured Bible and placed it on the table before me.
“It is the minister’s,” he whispered to me, as though fearful lest even the walls should hear what he said. Our minister has been outed [evicted] too, but whiles he rides across the hills and gives us a reading frae the scriptures and a bit sermon, forbye. This Bible belonged to his kirk, and he leaves it with me for safety.”
I turned over the pages with reverence. “What would ye like me to read?” I asked.
“Read anywhere ye like, but I would like fine if it could be out o’ one o’ the gospels,” David replied.
“Wait! Wait! This is too guid a thing to keep to ourselves. Be ye finding the place, John, while I seek out those who would wish to hear.”
David slipped out of the door and in a few minutes he was back but not alone. With him was the man who had met me on the hills, the blacksmith, and half a dozen other men and women, who came quietly in like shadows and stood, like shadows too, just outside the circle of the candle light. They did not even disturb the sleeping bairns. When the door was shut, David tapped me on the arm and I read aloud. I commenced at the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew and the thirty-first verse.
The passage John reads is particularly poignant as these people have just taken him in and cared for him as Jesus describes in that passage.
It was a new experience for me to read before so many listeners, but I thought how my father would have done it, and I tried to carry it through in the quiet manner I know he would have done. But I could not help my voice trembling, and I was not ashamed of the great tear that fell upon the page. When I was finished there was a sigh ran round the folk, “Amen. Amen.”
They then ask John is he might lead them in prayer and he does the best he can praying as he has learned at home. With deep gratitude, the people depart as quietly as they came.
I don’t know if the excerpt captures the power of the portrayal which was no doubt heightened for us as I sat reading to my own boys having been walking through the experiences of the Covenanters together. My own voice quavered as I felt just a bit, again, of what it must be like for those whose only access to God’s Word is for someone else to read to them, for those for whom such reading is illegal- a situation which was not only true in the past but is still the case for believers in various parts of the world today. I told my boys that I have prized the opportunity for us to see so much natural beauty and history- and it is a great privilege- but that all pales in comparison with the treasure of God’s Word and the privilege of reading it as much as we want.
Lastly, in the story, as John is almost asleep he was “startled into wakefulness” as he realized he had just broken the law of the land. He had held a forbidden worship meeting and was now liable to severe punishment by his government.
For this simple thing of beauty which had been among us all, I could suffer the severest pains of the law. It would be accounted a wicked thing by the government in Edinburgh. Then suddenly I knew I had done God’s will and that it was the law that was wicked and wrong, and I cared no more. There was a lovely peace came upon me and sleep came down like a curtain.
Reminder of the treasure of God’s word and challenge to obey that word regardless- a powerful time, and lessons I pray sink deep into my own heart and those off my sons.