Humility, Piety, Pride

Review by Grace Sears

My Own Worst Enemy
How to Stop Holding Yourself Back
By Janet Davis. Bethany House. Pp. 256. $13

Do women in general — or Christian women in particular — hide their light under a basket they mistake for modesty or good manners? In My Own Worst Enemy, Janet Davis illustrates ways women conceal their gifts, drawing not only on her own experience but also on that of women she has counseled. On one occasion Davis was invited to speak on the book of Ruth and felt she had a lot to say. But when offered the floor, she uttered a few short sentences and sat down: “when I rose to speak, it was as if a heavy wet blanket began to shroud my whole being.” Just who do you think you are? she asked herself.

Davis describes others stymied by the same internal script. Each chapter opens with the struggles of a contemporary woman, turns to the story of a woman in the Bible who faced related issues, and then applies biblical insights to the contemporary experience. Questions for discussion follow each chapter, and would work well in a women’s Bible study or support group.

Women’s Inspirational Daily Prayer
Following in the Footsteps of Female Saints and Holy Women
By Suzanne Haraburd. CreateSpace. Pp. 400. $15.95

Women’s Inspirational Daily Prayer may not be a memorable title, but it describes what Suzanne Haraburd’s book accomplishes. Of the many guides for daily devotions, Haraburd’s strikes me as among the best, especially for women who worship in liturgical churches. It is structured both on the themes of the liturgical year and the seasons of the calendar. It gains additional depth by including feast days of women saints, from Hilda of Whitby to Catherine of Siena, as well as proposed “Holy Women,” from Elizabeth Seton to Fanny Crosby. Each reflection starts with a verse of Scripture and ends with a brief prayer. The voice is intimate, honest, personal.

Haraburd became dissatisfied with other prayer guides while sending daily prayers and Bible verses to a friend with breast cancer. Her friend needed assurance of God’s love and hope in the midst of suffering, not admonitions to be diligent or humble or penitent. So Haraburd drew on her long experience with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to reflect on Scripture and offer simple petitions. She writes, “Joy in relationship to God is the goal of these prayers.”

Barefoot in My Heart
Starting a Fresh Conversation with God
By Jill Briscoe. Lion Hudson. Pp. 172. $13.99

Lovely photos illustrate this little hardback book, perhaps most appropriate for a woman just beginning to develop a life of prayer. British author Jill Briscoe’s lively voice distills wisdom won through 56 years of ministry in multiple countries, arranged in a set of 40 reflections. Through her verses and conversations with her Lord drawn from her journals, she shares spiritual turning points and insights.

As a new believer, Briscoe had realized three truths: God’s children are chosen, loved, and anointed. Later she taught these insights to Dalit Christians in India.

“Where women are devalued, these special teachings brought light, life, and liberty,” she writes. Throughout the book, Briscoe explains how other women can begin their own conversations with God.

Mothers, Sisters, Daughters
Standing on Their Shoulders
By Edwina Gateley and Sandra Mattucci. Orbis. Pp. 192. $20

Edwina Gateley, a Roman Catholic activist, has produced a feminist hagiography of women whose lives “brought some light into our world.” Line drawings by Sandra Mattucci and brief biographies are followed by Gateley’s poems, often ending with a blessing: “Blessed are you , Rachel [Carson].” The unfamiliar names are intriguing: Annalena Tonelli, Annie Dodge Wauneka, Sister Karen Klimczak, Lucy Wisdom. A few medieval saints and biblical figures thrown into the mix imply that 20th-century women are comparable models of spiritual power, though they may be from other religious traditions. For example, ex-Catholic Pema Chödrön, an ordained Buddhist nun who established a Tibetan monastery in Canada, is addressed as a “spiritual warrior, wise woman, guide and teacher.” Gateley asserts that “we are capable of tapping into the energy of individuals who have gone before us” and hopes that these “great souls” will assist us “on our own stumbling journeys to God.”

Five Women
Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah
By Christianne Meroz. Translated by Dennis Wienk.
Wipf and Stock. Pp. 82. $11

In Five Women, Christianne Méroz reflects on the lives of the matriarchs in Genesis, noting that Christians neglect them for Mother Mary, and feminist commentators dismiss stories from Genesis as reflections of a patriarchal society. “One cannot, without doing injury to God, … use this as the pretext for no longer reading [Scripture], studying or being inspired by it,” Méroz writes. She enriches our reading by mining the Targum, the Midrash, Zohar, and others for Jewish traditions about each woman. Her empathy for her subjects is engaging, but may sometimes overreach, as when she asserts that Sarah engages in “a laugh of joy, a laugh of faith” upon hearing that she will become a mother.

Christianne Méroz is a sister of the Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland, which follows the same rule as the Community of Taizé in France. She writes in French, and the Rev. Dennis Wienk, a priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, has produced a very readable translation.

Grace Sears is a longtime leader of Daughters of the King and a TLC board member.

Image: Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham, via Wikimedia Commons

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