Allison's Book Bag

Current Read #46: 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha

Posted on: August 23, 2017

Everyone wants and needs role models. One handy reference guide is 50 Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha. Published in 2014, the selections begin with the early 1100’s and end with the mid-1900s, and they include figures lesser known to me such as Dorothy Day along with those more familiar to me such as Madeleine L’Engle. What I most appreciated is that DeRusha dedicates an average of six to eight pages to each heroine. This allows her to weave a story, while at the same time provide enough detail to encourage further reading, which one can do by looking up her sources that our listed in the back pages.

One featured Christian woman who I intend to read more about is Dorothy Day. She grew up in a home where neither parent was religious but, after attending a church service, Dorothy fell in love with the Psalms and with hymns. This conflict in values would be one that remained with her throughout her life. During high school, Dorothy became engrossed in the American labor movement, and found her purpose. The problem is that at the time she saw the church as lined up with capitalism, while she felt driven instead by social justice. After five years of searching for a way to reconcile the two, a knock came at her door. A French immigrant and soapbox philosopher by the name of Peter Maurin wanted to establish a newspaper dedicated to helping the poor and unemployed, and he believed Dorothy was the right person for the cause. May of 1933, one part of his plan came to fruition when 2,500 copies of the first issue of The Catholic Worker were printed and distributed. Yet the conflict in values continued for Dorothy, for on one hand readers rallied before the publication and on the other hand she received criticism for helping drunks and freeloaders. Three things in her biography resonated with me. The most obvious is that she followed the path of journalism. Another is that she struggled with reconciling her faith with her calling in life. An ongoing passion of mine is animal welfare, one that isn’t necessarily top priority in religious circles. The third reason I appreciated her story is that her life wasn’t squeaky clean, and I relate most to those who rather than being saints are ordinary people.

It’d be remiss of me to not highlight a female Christian heroine and ignore Madeleine L’Engle. She’s one of my favorite authors and her books helped me stay strong in my faith during high school. At age forty, Madeleine quit writing after yet another rejection from a book publisher. Deciding that the rejection was a sign from heaven, she covered her typewriter and decided to make cherry pie. The irony is that at that very moment, she found herself also busily working out a novel in her head about failure. Fast forward four years to 1963, after A Wrinkle in Time was rejected more than two dozen times, the novel found a home. It also won the Newbery Medal. As with Dorothy Day, Madeleine wasn’t always a person of faith. For the first years of her marriage, neither she or her husband attended church. With the birth of two children and an adoption of a third, she discovered that she wanted her children to know God. But she also realized that she couldn’t very well send her children to Sunday School without attending herself, and so began her road back to God. Writing and faith quickly became intertwined. I appreciate L’Engle, because used her creativity to explore her religious questions.

There are plenty of examples from Christian women who pursued other vocations too such as singers, teachers, nurses, missionaries, and preachers. I admire all of them, to the extent that I’ve been checking out the sources DeRusha listed in the back pages. A year ago, I pulled back from regular reviews so that I could pursue more personal reading passions. I’m now keen on reviewing the biographies I can find of those featured in 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.

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