Sacred Legacy, by Myrna Grant
Cicero once said that those who know only their own generation "remain always a child." In Sacred Legacy: Ancient Writings from Nine Women of Strength and Honor (Baker Books, 2003), Myrna Grant rallies a handful of female builders of Christ's church and showing shows how each one courageously embraced Christ's ecstatic call to "Come, follow me," thus bringing the experience of ancient generations to speak to the challenges of people today. These were indeed brave-hearted women, and Grant allows their bravery to mentors our lives.
Those easily bored by history will enjoy the fresh approach of Sacred Legacy. Grant introduces each historical woman by identifying a modern problem that they, too, encountered. Once the human context is established, Grant allows their writings and life work to flow naturally into our own situation, forming a natural friendship across the centuries.
The chapter on Dhuoda (803-847), for example, begins by a description of Grant's own mother, who was diagnosed with tuberculosis and quarantined in a sanitarium, where eventually she died. Grant recalls her childhood visits to the sanitarium, where she would stand on the front lawn and wave to her mother, a tiny figure on a distant balcony. Now a mother herself, Grant understands the devastation any mother would face when isolated from her children, unable to protect or guide them. In the 9th century Dhuoda, too, was separated from her children, at that timebut by political intrigue. Eager to protect her son, she wrote a manual on "how to live [a] faithful Christian life at court." Grant's chapter includes selections from Dhuoda's manual to her son, complete with advice on prayer, on kindness to those great and small, on reconciliation of sin, and on reciting the psalmsPsalms. One can imagine Dhuoda writing her manual, just as one can imagine Grant's mother writing her daughter from the sanitarium, infusing each sentence with the self-sacrificial love of Christ as he faced the Crosscross.
Grant's sweep of church history includes Perpetua and Egeria from the early church; Hildegard of Bingen; Mechthild of Germany; Marguerite of France; Julian of England and Catherine of Sienna from the Middle Ages; and Teresa of Avila from the Counter-Reformation. The roll call of women represents reformers, mystics, theologians, and scholars.
While While at times Grant's work lacks theological critique (for example, her selection from the writings of Marguerite Porete exhibits elements of Quietism, a tradition that was eventually condemned by the church), it is whimsical, personal, and profoundly spiritual, .there are times it lacks theological critique. For example, her selection from the writings of Marguerite Porete exhibits elements of Quietism, a tradition that was eventually condemned by the church.
What is clear, however, is that eachEach woman was is celebrated in all her humanity, as a unique saint and as a flawed human. Each carried her cross and followed Jesus with courage and grace. Like Mechthild of Germany, they often confronted barriers to the gospel—even when those barriers were erected by the church itself. And each woman presents us with a challenge: How can the power of the gospel within our own lives deepen our humanity and service to others? Grant illustrates how these women resisted patriarchal culture and the greed and domination of their rulers, believing instead, as the Beguines did, that true authority rests in a pure spirit, on the power of Christ and his call to evangelism. Their life and writings nourish ours soul, sharpen ours mind, and steel our courage.
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality, a nonprofit organization with members from over 80 denominations who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all racial and ethnic groups and all economic classes.