Category Archives: The Vault

Gairdner at Niagara

Temple Gairdner was a prolific writer, an erudite scholar, and a committed missionary to the people of Egypt. The following is Temple Gairdner’s thoughtful account of visiting The Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls. He reflects on climbing into a dangerous cave, where winds can reach up to 68 mph. According to Wikipedia, guided tours were conducted there from 1841, but the cave was closed permanently in 1954 after a massive rockfall, making Gairdner’s description all the more precious.

I feel the same reluctance to begin writing about Niagara as I felt to approaching it. I hung about and finally approached the river above the Falls themselves—as bashfully as one approaches a mistress. And how shall I begin to write of it?

It is a roaring sea tilted up, seething down in great billows, gigantic waves leaping madly, not because they strike a rock but simply because they are burst upwards by the intolerable pressure of the furious waters beneath, all tearing pell-mell down, shoving each other down, up, aside, in the rush for annihilation over the fatal brink. And weirder and more terrific than the noise and the commotion of the rapid, is the silence, the helplessness with which they finally disappear over that edge. It is in the curve of that Horse-Shoe Fall that the waters really heap up, and that you realise the quantities that are going over. It is there that the water, as it seems to pause for an infinitesimal moment, shows the clear, deep body that reminded me again and again of that astounding description in Exodus “as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.”

When the audacious mortal tries to force an entrance into the very arcanum of Niagara, and dares the passage behind the Fall! That is the most thrilling—and the most baffled moment—of all.

This is the entrance into what is called the Cave of the Winds. Why it is so called will be clear in a moment. It is situated behind a small section of the American Fall, about fifty feet broad, isolated from the remainder by the occurrence of a very small islet above. One goes over to Goat Island, enters a changing-room, takes off every stitch of one’s clothing and dons a suit of flannels with a complete oilskin which is drawn over the head, and weird canvas shoes which make one’s two feet look like the tail of a seal. Then comes the descent by a spiral staircase enclosed in a chimney of wood, down the face of the cliff of Goat Island, till the screes at the bottom are reached.

We turn to the right and make towards the corner of the American Fall. Where it hits the screes, it divides into two or three cascades which come foaming down the rocks in two or three channels. These are spanned by small wooden bridges. Then, as we set foot on the first of them we are immediately enveloped in fine spray-mist. . . . We penetrate into the middle of the cloud. . . .

And then—oh wonder! Marvel of beauteous marvels! What sight is this? A rainbow. But what a rainbow! The like was never seen, save by S. John, around the Throne. A brilliant sun is shining overhead. Its rays of intense light fall on and suffuse this saturation of fine spray in the midst of which we stand, and the result is a rainbow of unimaginable intensity and brilliance—a double Rainbow. But—how shall I put the rapturous sight into words—it is not an arch! It is a circle! It bends about me on this side and on that side, yea, seems almost to meet behind me at my very feet! And oh ye gods, what is this? It moves, it moves as I move!!! It surrounds me and moves with me!! When I go forward my rainbow goeth forward!! It is my rainbow! I go back, it goeth back, for it will by no means leave its lord. Ha! What is this? Am I a god? By Jupiter—I am Jupiter! What ho, Ganymede! Bring me my golden flagon of nectar! My eagle, perch on my right hand! Hither to me, Lady Juno, and hear the behest of the rainbow-encircled one . . . Heavens! It was a godlike moment. The oil-skinned one with fishlike tail of canvas yelled with exultation against the bellow of the cataract, and cavorted, encaged in his rainbow, upon that slippery bridge.

Oh godlike moment, must thou pass? Yes, for I came to discover not a divinity for myself, but to track down the divinity of Niagara within her own temple. The Valhalla of this goddess is not the Rainbow-bridge on which I stand, but the deep mysterious recess to which this Rainbow is but the bridge. On, then, again.

I crossed the bridge and began to go up the path by the cascade direct towards the Fall. Already on the bridge one had been drenched from head to foot, in spite of the oilskins: a torrent of water had at once found its way down by the neck over one’s whole body. But torrential though the rain of spray on the footbridge was, it was child’s play to what followed. As I approached the foot of the cataract I was assailed by a perfect blizzard of wind and water, hurricaned across the path by the impact of the falling water on the rocks. One must half shut one’s eyelids and sidle along by the hand-rail peering and blinking. And yet that again was child’s play—only the vestibule to this tempest-goddess’s shrine. We now prepared to pass right behind the Fall, or rather, you understand, that small band of it which is isolated by the two islands above. The passage into this Cave of the Winds is made possible by the occurrence of a hollow, which the cataract clears in its leap from the ledge above. Into this veritable Hall of Aeolus, we now struggle.

A fight it is indeed. We have only some fifty feet to go, but they must be struggled through. The Cave of the Winds! Justly named! A perfect hurricane is blowing; this is no metaphor; the speed of the wind is that of a violent gale: it is the air that has been violently driven down by the falling water, packed and compressed, and now has been turned inwards and, being liberated, smashes obliquely, up and across, towards the opposite cliff-wall, bouncing off from that again, meeting the opposing current, fighting it, and with it producing a wind-inferno. With this alone one would have had almost to close one’s eyes and grope along by the hand-rail; but that is not all; these winds carry along with them flying gallons of thick drenching spray. It dashes itself against one’s face; it assails and assaults the eyes till they smart: mouth and nostrils are smitten till breathing labours; while the ears are deafened and the brain cleaved by the shrieking of the blast and the pelting-sound of the driven water striking the cliff, far more (apparently) than the noise of the Fall itself. The very senses with which one must look upon the goddess are giving out, used up and paralysed by the goddess’s mere attendant slaves. Nevertheless I made one last, and supreme, effort to behold her. Standing fairly in the centre of the footway, where the fury and the din were at their height, I faced—not so much the Fall, as the direction where I knew the Fall was. Disregarding the shrieking and the buffeting, I slowly pulled my eyelids apart and forced the smarting eyes to look straight ahead. . . . In vain! Utterly and entirely in vain! Niagara I saw not: only a vague dimness and obscurity, flying scud, and infernal, elemental din: that was no more Niagara than to stand on a dark night in a gale on a spray-swept deck. No! Divinity Veils itself by excess of light, and blinds the powers of perception that would scan it, not by taking them away but by the intolerable over-supply of the percept. Niagara I found not—saw not (unlike Gerontius) even “for one moment.” I only saw her terrible attendants. Lo, these were but the outskirts of her ways; but the thunder of her mighty power who can comprehend?

Source: William Henry Temple Gairdner. W. H. T. G. To His Friends: Some Letters & Informal Writings of Canon W. H. Temple Gairdner of Cairo, 1873-1928. Ed. Constance E. Padwick. London: SPCK, 1930.

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The Ideal Christianity

“… who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” (Ps. 12:4)

That is the beginning of the iniquity. When we mistake our proprietorship we cease to be religious, and we give up the possibility of being religious. What is the first lesson in true Christian religion? The first lesson is that we are not our own, have no right, title, or claim to ourselves; we are branded: we have the burnt-in mark upon us that we belong to Christ Jesus, that we are blood-bought, that we are not our own; we have not a moment of time, not a single energy, thought, wish, will, desire that is our own. That is the ideal Christianity, the very purpose and consummation of Christ’s priesthood, the true meaning—that is, the large and complete meaning—of self-denial, saying No when anything within us claims to have an existence or a right of its own. But this cannot be taught in lectures, nor can men receive it through the medium of preaching; this is the last lesson as well as the first doctrine which is to be learned in the school of Christ. We can only learn what it is to have no right in ourselves, not after we have been to church, but after we have been nailed to the Cross of Christ in the very presence and companionship of Christ. Who can attain this wisdom? Who will not say before attaining it, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Who does not know that before obtaining this there are Gethsemane days, sweltering of blood, sense of loneliness, and, at the last, crashing temples and opening tombs, and a whole apocalypse of wonder and transformation? So long as we think that our lips are our own we shall speak what we please; when we begin to learn that our lips are not our own, nor our hands, nor feet, nor head, nor heart, we shall have but one question: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Tell me, and give me strength to do it.” That will be the day of jubilee, the morning of coronation.

Source: Joseph Parker. The People’s Bible: Psalms. “The Ideal Christianity.”

Wounded Healers

“They who, themselves, have trodden with bleeding feet the Via Crucis [Way of the Cross] know best how to pity. Thackeray wrote: ‘Most likely the Good Samaritan was a man who had been robbed and beaten on life’s road and knew what it was to lie stripped and bruised by the wayside.’ The superintendent of a large hospital reports that most of the gifts for buildings or endowments come from bereaved or otherwise afflicted people. It is said that most of the improvements in artificial limbs have been invented by the first man who lost a limb on the Confederate side in our Civil War [James Edward Hanger]. Out of his crippled condition benefits have emerged for thousands of maimed. Out of Senator Leland Stanford’s loss of his only child came limitless benefit to endless generations of boys by the building of Leland Stanford, Jr., University. Out of A. R. Crittenton’s loss of a loved daughter came his impulse to father thousands of friendless girls by the establishment of Florence Crittenton Homes in near a hundred cities for a class most in need of true friends and least likely to have them. Out of George Matheson’s bitterest hour of anguish comes one of the great hymns of the ages to comfort the anguish of countless souls with the ‘Love that wilt not let me go.’ . . . It was because Miss Sullivan had suffered an attack of blindness lasting several years that she was moved with sympathy toward a little blind deaf-mute child in Tuscumbia, Alabama; whereby Helen Keller got a teacher who brought her out of darkness into the marvelous light of a wonderful life.”

Source: William Valentine Kelley, A Salute to the Valiant

God Forsaken of God (G. K. Chesterton)

“Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point–and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologise in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

Source: G. K. Chesterton, “The Romance of Orthodoxy.” Chapter 8 in Orthodoxy. 1908.

James Gilmour of Mongolia review

James Gilmour on the Missionary Call (includes link for a free ebook)

James Gilmour was a lifetime missionary in Mongolia. Though he suffered bereavement and isolation in a remote field, his writings on the missionary call show that he gave his life to Mongolia willingly and steadfastly, not under the compulsion of some emotional experience. In his fantastic book on The Missionary Call, David Sills places Gilmour’s words alongside those of Jim Elliot and Oswald Chambers, who likewise celebrated Christian freedom in regard to calling. Here is the full section that Sills quoted, with a link to the free ebook at the bottom:

I had thought of the relative claims of the home and foreign fields, but during the summer session in Edinburgh I thought the matter out, and decided for the mission field; even on the low ground of common sense I seemed to be called to be a missionary. Is the kingdom a harvest field? Then I thought it reasonable that I should seek to work where the work was most abundant and the workers fewest. Labourers say they are overtaxed at home; what then must be the case abroad, where there are wide stretching plains already white to harvest, with scarcely here and there a solitary reaper? To me the soul of an Indian seemed as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as for the European; and as the band of missionaries was few compared with the company of home ministers, it seemed to me clearly to be my duty to go abroad.

But I go out as a missionary not that I may follow the dictates of common sense, but that I may obey that command of Christ, “Go into all the world and preach.” He who said “preach,” said also, “Go ye into and preach,” and what Christ hath joined together let not man put asunder.

This command seems to me to be strictly a missionary injunction, and, as far as I can see, those to whom it was first delivered regarded it in that light, so that, apart altogether from choice and other lower reasons, my going forth is a matter of obedience to a plain command; and in place of seeking to assign a reason for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home.’

Gilmour, James. James Gilmour of Mongolia: His diaries, letters, and reports, pp. 42-43. Originally printed in 1895. Click here to download the free ebook from Project Gutenberg.

Here and Here Alone

“Here and here alone
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him,
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight.
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.
Canst thou not suffer then one hour? or two?
And while we suffer let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly, since this alone—
The suffering—which is this world’s special grace,
May here be perfected and left behind.”

Source: Mrs. Hamilton King. Quoted in Herbert Alfred Birks, Jesus, A Man of Sorrows: Lent Addresses. 1900.

On Preaching a Dead Christ

Tell me that Christ died some nineteen centuries ago, and I will say it was a pathetic incident, but it does not fill me with inspiration and confidence, and a determination to preach something to every creature; tell me that he died and rose again, and is alive, and is alive for evermore, and with me unto the end of the world: then you feed me, stir me, impassion me, until every faculty of my nature burns with new life, feels upon it the touch of eternity. You have lost the resurrection, and therefore any competitor can overthrow Christ’s claims to your confidence. There are men outside who are laughing at you because you are preaching a dead Christ. The men are right. The laughter may be a divine rebuke. If we can affirm that Christ is alive, why, not a council in any county, not a parliament in any country, can for a moment compare with our message.

Joseph Parker, “The Living Christ.” Studies in Texts, vol. 1. Available for Kindle.