1920s devotionals still ring true

Published 7:49 am Saturday, March 15, 2014

Three months after Mrs. Charles (Lettie) Cowman died on April 17, 1960, members of the Sunday school class my husband and I attended in Columbia, S.C., gave us a copy of her book, “Streams in the Desert.” It was a farewell gift from the class when my husband received orders to Germany. I cannot count the years we used “Streams in the Desert” daily devotional readings along with contemporary devotionals such as “The Upper Room.” At times, we completed it at year’s end and started over again in the New Year.

I was curious why the author’s name was listed as Mrs. Charles Cowman. I never took time to find out why. Then I took “Streams in the Desert” in hand again as one of my 2013 devotionals. The referenced selections in the book were works from the late nineteenth century evangelical movement. Last year, I found myself still wondering not only about Mrs. Cowman, but also about others whose work she included with many unreferenced paragraphs of her own.

I had always thought that the content of the book was by Mrs. Cowman’s husband. Research proved me wrong. The couple served in evangelistic work in Japan for 16 years, but returned to Los Angeles when Charles Cowman collapsed from physical exhaustion. He never recovered. One reference said he worked himself to death. During the six years of his illness before his death, she collected her favorite passages from the Bible and Christian literature by noted evangelists from the late nineteenth century evangelical movement. She compiled them under the title, “Streams in the Desert.” To begin with, she put it together for her own benefit. I think her husband’s name with the title made it more acceptable to the public in 1925, the year of publication.

Now as I read, I often stop to look up those quoted and find some fascinating facts. For example, she quoted Susanna Spurgeon, the wife of the famous Charles Spurgeon in a March devotional. My research revealed that when he completed the first volume of “Lectures to my Students,” Susanna said she wished she could place it in the hands of every minister in England. After Charles challenged her to do so, she took money from her housekeeping account and a personal account to place 100 copies of the work. It sparked the beginning of a fund that furnished hundreds of copies to needy ministerial students through the years.

I loved the picture the September 23 writer painted about an Aeolian harp (a wind instrument): “And as the breath of heaven floats over the chords, it is said that notes almost Divine float out upon the air, as if a choir of angels were wandering around and touching the strings.” I found and listened to the delightful sounds of an Aeolian harp on the Internet.

Isn’t it amazing that what Mrs. Cowman compiled to help herself in a stressful time long ago continues to touch so many lives even up to now?