Back in 1981 Chariots of Fire brought us the true tale of Olympic athletes Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. The dramatic and stirring Wings of Eagles brings us a partly true, but also quite heavily fictionalised account of the next part of Eric Liddell’s story. Eric had always had his eyes on his calling to go to China as a missionary and, following his extraordinary Olympic win, moved to China in 1925. In 1934 he married Florence and they started a family. Slowly the war moved closer and the Japanese began to invade, and there’s a moving scene where Eric says goodbye to his pregnant wife and two small daughters as they set off for England, promising it won’t be long before he sees them again. The film then portrays his challenging time in the internment camp. Here is the trailer for the film, now out on DVD.
Back in 1987, I found myself in a kind of mild form of lockdown due to catching chicken pox, a bit like Jonah trapped in a big fish’s belly, thankfully without the stench and stomach acid. During that time I read a biography of Eric Liddell, The Flying Scotsman by Sally Magnusson. As I read this book I was really struck by the compassion and kindness of this true athlete. He was even more dedicated to his faith than he was to his running, and when he was interned in a Japanese internment camp, his practical faith shone through. On one occasion he put up some shelves for a prostitute in the camp. She said to him afterwards that it was the first time a man had done anything for her without wanting anything in return. Also, he had always been dedicated to not running on a Sunday, setting aside that day for God (as shown in Chariots of Fire, when Eric switched from the 100m to the 400m due to the qualifying heats being held on a Sunday). But when he saw the youngsters in the camp running wild on Sundays, because of a lack of anything to do, he set aside his lifelong principal and started engaging them in sporting activities. Wings of Eagles certainly communicates the faith and compassion that formed such a fundamental part of Eric’s life.
Reading The Flying Scotsman turned out to be a significant experience for me. There is a moment in Luke 24 verse 32, when two folks who have just spent time with Jesus talk of the way their hearts had burned within them as he spoke to them. Well, it felt a bit like that as I read this book. As if Jesus were speaking to me in some way through Eric’s life, about the priority of kindness and the way it bears fruit for God. Here was I, decades after Eric had lived, being inspired by his compassion and dedication. Who knows what we might do today that will last and encourage others in the future. I also loved the way Eric drew on life’s down-to-earth realities when he spoke about his faith. I’ll leave you with this great scene from Chariots where Eric is speaking to a crowd of fans after one of his races. Keep running. One step at a time. No matter how slowly…
Great post Dave. I have always found Liddle’s story fascinating and inspiring. When I see the film I will be looking at how the film portrays his Christian faith. I say this because the BBC, for example, often ignores and downplays the Christian faith of people like Elizabeth Fry, Josephine Butler and many others. Much more to be said here but work is calling…
You must also feel his pleasure when you mime and act and bring comfort with your kind heart and beautiful encouraging words .