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Finding God’s Wonder and Purpose in Many Beautiful Things

  • Ryan Duncan blogspot for and Ryan Duncan, Entertainment and Culture editor
  • 2016 Mar 11

There’s a small footnote in the journals of Lilias Trotter where the author reflects on the nature of flowers. The flower, she muses, does not bloom for itself. Their beauty and scent are not for their own glory, but to attract the bees who help pollinate the garden. Though it shall ultimately fade, the flower knows it has been used for a greater purpose than itself. The same is true for those who dedicate their lives to the service of God.

If you have never heard of Lilias Trotter you’re not alone. Even among missionary-minded Christians, Trotter has remained something of a mystery. Only now, through the efforts of a few dedicated scholars, has the life of this extraordinary woman finally come to light. Many Beautiful Things, the new documentary by D.C.-based filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson, tells the story of how one woman gave up her most cherished dream in order to pursue Christ’s Great Commission. Both charming and heartbreaking, Many Beautiful Things is a testament to the immeasurable love of God, and the wonder found in His creation.

Born in 1853 to an upper-class London family, Lilias Trotter showed a talent for painting at an early age. Her skill with watercolors was so profound that her mother even sent a few pieces to the famed critic, Johnathan Ruskin. Ruskin, at that time, was a leading authority on art and culture in Victorian England, and Trotter’s work challenged his presumptions about female artists. Taking Lilias under his wing, Ruskin promised she could become the world’s greatest living painter, but only if she gave herself completely to her art. Trotter refused.

Trotter believed God was calling her down a different path, and resolved to “seek first the Kingdom of God” by becoming a missionary in Algeria. Accompanied by two other women, she traveled to Africa where she spent her life sharing the Gospel with the poor and downtrodden. She died there in 1928.

There is so much to say about Many Beautiful Things that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The film is beautiful, just as its name implies, and Trotter’s artwork adorns the narrative in breathtaking strokes. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery serves as the voice of Trotter, and her conversations with Ruskin (voiced by Lord of the Rings star John Rhys-Davis) are deeply moving and filled with emotion. However, the film’s strongest asset is easily Trotter herself. It’s hard to imagine how such an exceptional woman of faith was almost lost to the pages of history.  

Like many Christians, Trotter struggled to discern God’s will for her life. The internal battle between her love of art, and her desire to serve, is something believers can relate to. Similarly, her observations on nature, hope, suffering, and beauty will captivate viewers. Such honesty and simplicity transform this mere documentary into a potent work of art.

Currently, Many Beautiful Things is available to order on DVD and digital download. Though a modest film, Trotter herself believed small things in nature held the greatest significance. When we discover how vast this world truly is, our minds are opened to the majesty of God, and we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by so many beautiful things.

*Published 3/11/2016