The announcement of “New Publications” back in August elicited queries about The Way of the Sevenfold Secret. Who were the Sufi mystics for whom she wrote this book? How did she make their acquaintance? What drew her to this particular group of people? How was this work received by members of the Sufi brotherhood? What significance, if any, does it have for us today?
Lilias’s love for the Southlands began soon after her arrival in Algeria in 1888. On her first major expedition South (1895) she made acquaintance with Sufi Mystics who would capture both her heart and her mind throughout her years in North Africa. From her very first contact, in Tozeur, she sensed in these “sons of sunshine” a “lovely spirit of listening” as they would gather round and beg her to read from scripture. Several years later (1900) during a visit to Tolga, another Southland village, she was invited to a fraternity house of the Sufi brotherhood – a rare honor for an outsider, a European – moreover a woman. “Up a winding stair we went into a big booklined room, the floor spread with great camel skins – round the skirting boards were solemn, white-robed figures, sitting or squatting round. We had coffee & talk & promised them a Bible for their library.”
Thus began an intentional relationship with them that would evolve throughout her decades in North Africa. The artist in her responded to the artist in the Sufis, their great writers of old being as much poets as philosophers. Her heart responded to their efforts to seek after God and planted in her heart the passion to address their soul hunger for things of the spirit that went beyond the cold formalism of orthodox Islam. She sought to understand their beliefs and to establish effective dialogue with them.
Toward that end, at the close of her life, she completed The Way of the Sevenfold Secret – arguably her magnum opus – written specifically for the Sufi Mystics. Lucid, elegant, strong, it appealed to the common ground shared by Christian and Sufis alike: the discovery of the secrets of divine truth and divine power. Addressing the Sufis’ means of seeking divine union through a succession of seven spiritual states, which in the end still may not please what they see as an arbitrary God, she presented an alternate path “wherein we have found joy and peace from the first step.” Lilias took the seven sayings of Christ about Himself contained in John’s Gospel and explored how each offers the “secret” for which they long: Satisfaction (Bread), Illumination (Light), Access (Door), Leadership (Shepherd), Life (Resurrection and Life), Progress (Way), and the ultimate Union (Vine.)
Within three years of publication, it went into six new editions in four languages – Arabic, English, French, and Persian – creating a spiritual resonance with its mystical nuances grounded in solid Biblical truth. A member of the Algiers Mission Band relates bringing this book to the Sufis over the years to the much-repeated comment, “This is our book.”
It is relevant today, in the opinion of many, as a singularly comprehensive and succinct presentation of the Christian life for seeker and believer alike. But discover for yourself. Read this little volume, now resurrected in book form, for what it may offer you. Consider gifting it to someone who – in the words of missiologist, Dr. Miriam Adeney – “aches for something more.”