Pros: Faith, hope, and love--all wrapped in the paper of exquisite eloquence.
Cons: Does not excede seven hundred pages.
The Bottom Line:
For those who have never purchased this wonderful book, I lament.
Love And Light: for Friends, Acquaintances... And Snakes?
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28, NIV).
Certainly, many of us have been familiar with these words since the earliest moments of Sunday school. Yet, how many of us--myself included--are actually able to put these words fully into practice? Imagine the following:
The Poland morning had been icy. For hours, the young girl had been standing in a threadbare dress. Her shoes had long been reduced to tatters. Worst of all was the hunger. Her daily allotment of one small roll, thin turnip soup, and tiny cup of hot coffee -these did nothing to fill that nagging hollowness. She had been waiting in this formation--waiting for the other prisoners' names to be called, waiting for this role call to be over--waiting, waiting...
Her feet were nearly frozen. Her legs ached, her stomach ached, life ached. For just a minute, she dared to relax.
She paid dearly for that moment of inattention. An irate prison guard, noticing the girl, approached the youngster with horrifying strides. This was one guard to fear with all of your hungry, frozen faculties. Perhaps because of the black dress she wore, or perhaps because of her temperament, this woman had long been designated "the Snake" in most of the prison barracks. Heedless of the child's cries, the Snake began beating her with all of the calculated fervor that months of training could muster. Only when the girl lay unconscious did the guard consider her job completed.
Now, does that not break your heart? Does it not make you cry out to the author of such a tale, "No! No--not the innocent! But there must be hope. Please, tell me there's hope even in this cruelty."? Indeed, but I have a question for you. To whom does your heart go out--the young girl, or her abusive guard?
Certainly, the initial response is invariably the same: the girl had done nothing wrong, and the guard had. Why pity the aggressor? Yet, there did exist in 1945 a woman who did--a kind, gentle person by the name of Betsie ten Boom. For months, Betsie and her sister, Corrie, shared the griefs of thousands of inmates within the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. As prisoners in the camp themselves, Betsie and Corrie saw and experienced unspeakable suffering and did all that they could to alleviate it among the prisoners. Yet, Betsie also acknowledged a simple yet beautiful truth: If the Camp's guards had been taught to hate, could they not be taught to love?
Throughout their sojourn into grief and triumph, Betsie and Corrie ten Boom strove to love--prisoners; guards; one another; and, above all, God. First published in 1971, The Hiding Place captures the sisters' efforts in beautiful, vivid detail. Although the story is Corrie ten Boom's, this brilliant speaker and engaging author chose as her assistants two editors whose command of the English language never fails to impress me. As co-authors, John and Elizabeth Sherrill create a perfectly-developed memoir of suspense and survival, love and joy. When draped in the garment of intricate, boundless faith, these elements form a masterpiece comparable only to such treasures as THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, The God I Love, and Tozer's works.
Watches, Mr. Schmidt, And a Dangerous Cup of Coffee
For, you see, dear reader, a watch may not be what you always believed it was. Perhaps the most valuable type of watch does not consistently display the time. Perhaps it is not to be carried about, regulated, ordered from a far nation, and displayed proudly in the window of a Dutch clock repair shop. Perhaps, were this sort of watch to be broken, the tragedy would involve far more than a number of intricate yet finite parts. Perhaps, then, the meaning of the word "watch" is twofold.
But likely, you feel as if I have begun my story in medias res. So I have. Let us start over, shall we, and see if this digressing linguist can begin ab ovo?
Born in 1892, Cornelia ten Boom never seemed to conform to the carefully-molded image of a respectable Dutch woman. While her older sister, Betsie, spent long hours carefully embroidering, Corrie inflicted merciless injuries on her clothes. Her strong, sensible will did not allow her to march merrily off to school without a healthy dose of resistance. Yet, Corrie's devoted, compassionate family fostered an environment perfectly suited to childhood growth.
Certainly, the greatest factor contributing to Corrie's development was her father and, by extension, the latter's watch shop. Mr. ten Boom was a man with great compassion and greater naïveté. Quite frequently, he spent days repairing a timepiece, then forgot to send the bill. After all, it had been a privilege to work on such a fine clock! The shop was always filled with such "privileges" and the customers who owned them. More curious than Mr. ten Boom's naïve ways, though, was the house itself. Built just over the watch shop, the family's living quarters actually consisted of two tiny houses connected by a spiral staircase. Among other interesting architectural points, this design rendered the front room five steps above the street and in a rather odd location. During Corrie's youth, nine people filled this marvel of a residence--herself and her two sisters, brother, her parents, and her three aunts.
As the years passed, Corrie accepted her continual status as a single woman following some heartbreaking circumstances. While her brother and sister married, Corrie minded the house and performed all of the domestic duties that she so hated in the secret places of her adventurous heart. The passing of Corrie's aunts and mother left Emptiness as an unwelcome resident in the house--a void that was quickly filled by a number of foster children. Through a remarkable series of events, Betsie and Corrie exchanged primary roles; while Betsie applied her kindness and sense of the artistic to domestic matters, Corrie began to mind the shop and even to repair watches. This intricate work was far more suited to Corrie's need for intellectual stimulation--and, besides, it gave her the opportunity to correct her father's poor business skills!
Life continued after this manner for decades. Then, the Queen left Holland--a tragic event that marked the end of consistency and the beginning of an unspeakable cruelty. With the Queen's departure came the German occupation--rationing of everything from meat to sugar; blackout curtains; the relinquishment of all radios; and, worse than any inconvenience, the constant raids and attacks. Shops around Holland closed for no apparent reason; many times, Corrie and her father found that their neighbors' houses or businesses exhibited cracked windows and broken merchandise. These were the days of constant threats and horrifying secrecy, of violent arrests and the knowledge of impending concentration camps.
Into this turmoil plunged Corrie and her family. Soon, they were hiding Jewish refugees, obtaining stolen ration cards for those who were never issued the needed food, and generally assisting in whatever way they could. As workers in the Underground, the ten Booms must take many precautions of which Mr. ten Boom seemed unaware. The only name to exist in such covert work is that of Schmidt. While one "Mr. Schmidt" installed a secret room in Corrie's sleeping quarters, another provided the house with emergency alarms to alert the family of danger. Corrie's unassuming father, however, consistently believed that Schmidt had simply become an extraordinarily popular name. "Schmidt? I once knew a man by that name several years ago..."
By the middle of the German Occupation, the ten Booms had invited seven people to take up silent residence in their house. Their development is exquisite; from a truly learned rabbi to an elderly woman, these men and women capture the heart until the reader nearly counts them as dear loved-ones. In order to guard their operation, Corrie began referring to refugees in the terminology of her father's trade. "A child's watch that's giving us some trouble" might signify a youngster for whom a place of hiding had not yet been found. And this, dear reader, is why it was once very important to protect the most precious type of watch.
And that very real, very dangerous cup of coffee? Throughout her endeavors, Corrie frequented the home of a wealthy Dutchman, there to meet with several others who all carried the name of Schmidt. With the conversation, the arrangements for more stolen ration cards, and the discussions concerning well-concealed rooms came the luxury of real coffee--a scarce commodity indeed since the issuing of the ration cards. Yet, even this beverage harbored dark connotations; if the German soldiers ever discovered the presence of coffee not made from roots and herbs, they could easily suspect other illegal goings-on.
This life of apparent normality and frightening secrecy abruptly ended, however, when Corrie became ill and answered a series of questions unwisely. Subsequent days found Corrie and her siblings, her father and their friends transported to the Scheveningen Prison. After many of her friends were released, Corrie and Betsie were transferred to Vught, a squalorous yet relatively secure concentration camp. There, every blessing was magnified. Whereas the family had always taken for granted the presence of a Bible, they were now overjoyed to receive one copy of the Scriptures--a banned book that must be hidden from the guards at all costs. During their sojourn at Vught, Corrie worked to manufacture radios for the German soldiers. That was one year of numerous accidents; most of these radios seem to have been skillfully wired with precise inaccuracy to prevent the Germans' work from effectively progressing.
Even the cruelty exhibited in Vught, however, could not be compared with the sheer brutality of Ravensbrück. There, prisoners were expected to assemble for a grueling role call. For hours, they were forced to stand at attention, often in frigid temperatures. Rations were so meagre as to render starvation common. The large barracks were alive with fleas and lice, much to the disgust of the prisoners. Dreadful, heartrending sights daily greeted Betsie and Corrie until the two were released, just before the beginning of the new year. Their moments of release are so remarkably different yet so deeply joyous that I shan't reveal them here. I would far rather force you to spend sixty dollars at Christianbook.com in a frantic effort to obtain the audio version of this magnificent work.
Biblicality, Brilliance, Brevity, Bunyan, and British English!
Is this conglomeration of unrelated terms beyond your comprehension? Have I successfully caused you to question your knowledge of writing, the English language, and this writer's level of linguistic lucidity? Very good! I have done my job. But lest you be forever inquiring about the elements of mastery in this work, let us analyze these concepts in logical order--if, indeed, logic is possible for one such as I.
All right, first thing's first: Biblicality! "But," you say, "such a word does not exist." Ah, but it does. According to Bethesda Lily, the word "Biblicality" may be written from 24 January 2009 to 25 January 2009. As the reader, you must simply endure my choice to follow the Literary License Rule. So, you ask, what is this concept of Biblicality? Simply put, it consists of the ability to present Scripture-based truths within a sound theological framework.
At this, The Hiding Place is successful in every way. From citing of Isaiah to heartfelt prayers, this work presents the Christian faith in the glowing, glorious light of wisdom and joy. Much later, Corrie remarked during speaking engagements that she "was never sorry [she had] asked Jesus into [her] heart". Although this seems almost a self-evident truth, I had never before considered it until I saw such marvelous faith lived in every moment of Corrie's experiences.
This work demonstrates exquisite, gentle lessons about prayer. At one point, Corrie and Betsie were forced to sleep in barracks intended to hold four hundred, but which actually "accommodated" over 1,400. The filthy bunks contained straw that crawled with millions of fleas. When a miserable Corrie turned to her sister and said, "How can we live like this?", Betsie responded with a soft, matter-of-fact prayer: "Show us how". And what do you suppose the solution was? Why, it is found within I Thessalonians 5:16 and 18: "Rejoice always. ... In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." So, they did: Together, Corrie and Betsie thanked the Lord for the crowding, for the squalor, and even for those unwelcome fleas. If, indeed, "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28), then these parasites, too, must serve to improve their lives. And, oh, yes! The fleas, too, were a part of God's perfect plan, for the guards never ventured into the barracks for fear of these pests. This rendered it possible for Corrie and Betsie to read the Bible openly with all who wanted to hear it. The filthy arrangement, though noxious in every way, provided for more joy and hope than if the guards had been venturesome enough to enter the prisoners' sleeping quarters.
With these and many similar stories, Corrie fills this wonderful book. Testimonies involving a hidden Bible and a bottle of vitamins are wrapped in eloquent phrases and surrounded by the most beautiful form of faith. Lessons regarding sacrifice, prayer, joy, and a multitude of other concepts fill each lovely page until I wish to read continually. I wish that I could do this work justice, but--alas!--my poor, faltering words are not nearly sufficient. Consider this: If you have ever read and enjoyed books by Joni Eareckson, Brother Andrew, Wess Stafford, or David Wilkerson, you will be filled with joy in the reading of this book.
That said, there do exist elements that may render this work less than desirable to those of certain denominations. The gifts of the Holy Spirit as discussed in I Corinthians 12 are unabashedly discussed and embraced throughout this work. Both Corrie and Betsie are given trying yet glorious visions; however, these are discussed with much wisdom and not considered necessary for salvation. Similarly, a number of miracles occur within the concentration camp. These are discussed so frankly that the reader may almost surmise that Corrie and Betsie never considered any idea to the contrary. I firmly believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available for modern Christians; however, I acknowledge the ideas of those who do not and by no means feel that these manifestations are necessary for salvation. Simply be aware that miraculous events do take place within this work and make a decision accordingly.
Biblicality: check. Let us examine the brilliance that shines through every page of The Hiding Place. First, though, allow me to ask you a question: What is an editor?
Likely, you envision a woman who sits behind a computer screen replacing commas with semicolons and interchanging "then" and "than". Ah, but John and Elizabeth Sherrill are so much more! Although Corrie spoke English fluently, she likely was not comfortable writing in the language--particularly as her book involved traumatic episodes. Corrie, therefore, selected two extraordinarily capable people to serve as co-authors. She and the Sherrills visited the former watch shop, discussed Corrie's family, and generally allowed their lives to become entwined until The Hiding Place emerged as the exquisite result.
Primarily because I am distinctly aware that the problem is avoidable, I cannot tolerate poor writing in a Christian work. On the contrary, Christian works should be among the best-written. Scripture and personal experience must be woven seamlessly into a well-developed narrative; repetition should be used only occasionally as a literary device; and dialogue should be kept realistic at all costs. That said, Corrie and the Sherrills succeed perfectly. Very, very few modern works come close to the development of this memoir: for, though entirely factual, the work is written in a manner so engaging as to resemble a novel. During the first few chapters, I had a very clear image of the watch shop and the secret room that had been constructed therein. More vivid still was my image of the inhabitants: gentle, faithful, artistic, and industrious Betsie; Mr. ten Boom, with all of his compassion and innocence; Corrie, whose need to help refugees outweighed any danger to herself--these people and the details of their lives create a rich tapestry equaled by no other modern work.
Speaking of brilliance, what may we say of our next item--Bunyan? Only this: The Hiding Place seems to have become one of those great and beautiful standards without which a personal library is sorely lacking. The book has been made into a film, adapted for children, and even transformed into a Radio Theatre drama. Well it should be, for this work of prose is as perfectly-crafted as Herbert's volume of poetry. Yes, dear reader, purchase a hardback copy of this work and place it lovingly upon the most prestigious shelf between The Pilgrim's Progress and Tozer's The Attributes of God.
Exemplary though this work is, however, there do exist certain linguistic discrepancies of which readers may wish to be aware. The mentally-challenged are frequently designated "feeble-minded", a term that has long sense fallen out of favor. However, Corrie writes of such individuals in the kindest and most respectful terms, even suggesting that they taught her as much as she had ever taught them. This is a minor issue of semantics that should not deter the reader from devouring each lovely page.
No work, no matter how carefully developed, reflects perfection. With the exception of the Scriptures, all works carry inherent flaws. Sadly, ten Boom's work fosters one great, glaring discrepancy that prevents it from epitomizing the superb magnificence of my standards. All pieces of literature must exceed five hundred pages in order to achieve that designation. That said, The Hiding Place is simply too concise. I wanted to know every detail of each year of ten Boom's life. I wanted to hear her cries of praise in English, in German, in Dutch--yes, even in French. I wanted to know about each prayer, absorb every moment of Scripture reading, hear each whispered song. I wanted to participate with Corrie's family in the concerts that were once freely broadcast on the family's radio. I yearned to experience the intricate repairs of one watch--even though that would, of necessity, have involved mathematical principles. Above all, I would have been delighted to travel with five-year-old Corrie to a peaceful field where she first devoted her life to Jesus Christ. Although much detail creates a beautiful portrait of the ten Booms' devout existence, I wanted yet more elaboration--detail, detail, detail, until I could take no more. Yet, would that day have ever come? Is a book ever "too long" for Bethesda Lily? Likely not, so I shall content myself with this work's 272 pages. (Sorry, for those who, like myself, consider math their enemy, this number is CCLXXII!)
Now, what about that British English? Surely, I was intending to reference the Dutch language; this is, after all, a book set in Holland. Ah, but you are overlooking one Nadia May. The link for this work suggests that an unabridged audio version is available. It is--to an extent. If one orders from Christianbook.com, this work is available on seven CDs. Ordering from Christianaudio.com will result in a set of MP3 CDs. Do not confuse the two, or you may be very disappointed. One more word about the availability of this edition before I speak of the quality of the work itself. There is currently circulating a dramatized copy of The Hiding Place, performed by Focus on the Family. This copy generally states that it is a Radio Theatre production and that it is abridged. Despite its reduced price tag, do check to ensure that you are actually purchasing the Blackstone Audio, Nadia May, unabridged, seven-CD recording; otherwise, you will be very, very disappointed.
Now, then, enough drivel about the availability of this work and its superiority over other "narrations". Who is Nadia May? Ms. May narrates several works for Hovel Audio, including The Pilgrim's Progress. Her strong British accent charmingly captures the quaint, European nature of the work. Ms. May speaks at a moderate pace with inflections characteristic of the Queen's English. When pronouncing the word "Mama", for example, emphasis is placed on the second syllable.
Notwithstanding its Dutch setting, Ms. May makes no effort to reflect Dutch accents. For this, I am quite grateful; when a native speaker of English attempts to adopt a foreign accent, the effect is difficult to understand and may be taken as mockery. Neither does this version incorporate music--another point in the narration's favor. If I want my stories accompanied by music, I will turn on the television! I seldom watch television; does this tell you how I feel about instrumental accompaniment in spoken works? Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I see music as an attempt to interpret a book's content--a privilege that I would rather reserve for myself. Be that as it may, though, know that this edition remains unaccompanied.
The exception lies with Ms. May's singing. At one particularly trying point, Betsie begins softly to sing an old Dutch hymn. Without attempting to display overwhelming talent, Ms. May gently takes up the melody and provides the listener with the most beautiful moment of gliding, graceful notes. Lovely!
Within other works, Ms. May has attempted to create various voices for each character. This became quite difficult when this proper, lady-like narrator characterized a man. The effect could easily be considered grating. The Hiding Place marks an exception to this. There is little or no vocal interpretation, much to my relief.
FAITH, HOPE, LOVE
For many, this reference will be familiar: "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13). The Hiding Place exemplifies these treasured gifts in the most beautiful, artistic fashion. Corrie's faith shaped everything that she did, while hope filled her heart and those of her hearers with prolonged peace. Love reigned supreme--love for God, love for the prisoners, and--yes, ultimately, love for guards.
When discussing the establishment of a home for those in need, Betsie proposed that a garden be planted. Former prisoners could tend the flowers and find healing at this house, for "there is such therapy in growing things". How very true. And, dear reader, for those for whom watering lilies fails to be an option, there exists therapy within the covers of this book. For those seeking a Christian devotional of sorts or a personal testimony, I cannot recommend this book more highly. Even if you do not hold to certain Christian teachings, this is an excellent story of love and comfort during a trying time. Although the account is often painful to read, this may serve as an excellent source for those seeking information about the Holocaust and citizens' attempts to alleviate some of the suffering. In other words, this is a work suited to every occasion and nearly any reading preference.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I must ponder the existence of a small watch shop in the heart of Holland. Is it still there? Has it been transformed into a museum commemorating Corrie's faithful service? Ought I to visit it if I ever tour the Netherlands?