Readings for the feast day of four pioneers of emancipation: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman, Friday, July 20, 2018:
Our first reading today is from the Apocrypha, rather than the Old Testament, written around the 2nd century BCE, and clearly describes Wisdom as a “she”. Most likely this was influenced by the Greek notion of Sophia as Wisdom. What really jumped out for me today was verse 27:
“Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;”
The four women we celebrate today–Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Bloomer–all illustrate how Lady Wisdom, or what we might call the Holy Spirit, embodies herself into those holy souls that become friends of God and prophets. Although each of the four was most active in one form or another of emancipation, and each might have had different views and attitudes regarding how that was to be accomplished, in the end, their overlapping lives had all served God to the greater good.
As African-American women, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman were clearly most involved in the emancipation of slaves, and equal rights for African-Americans after the Civil War. Yet at the same time, in later years they were able to embrace the women’s suffrage movement. Both could have rested on their laurels, but chose to focus outward. Over time, they recognized that they needed to branch out beyond “their” cause. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer were at one time involved in abolitionist causes as well, and Amelia Bloomer was also involved in exposing the subtle ways women were subjugated in society through what men deemed fashionable. Their path through life, however, was the opposite of Tubman and Truth, who “branched out”. Stanton and Bloomer “funnelled in” more deeply into the issue of women’s suffrage. Their methods differed as well. For instance, Sojourner Truth willingly spoke publicly about the evils of slavery. Amelia Bloomer, coming from a mindset that women speaking in public was branded under the umbrella of “promiscuous behavior”, chose instead to use the pen to speak her truths, as the first woman who owned and operated a news outlet for women. As it turns out, both approaches were needed.
I am also reminded that the acts of those whom Lady Wisdom touches do not die out with their own generation. God’s truth and God’s justice gets carried from person to person, from generation to generation. Perhaps it is not in its original form, or something goes dormant only to be picked up again several generations later, but it does not disappear. It is part of the mechanism of how God’s love is always revealed in the end.
Their overlapping work–and the diversity of how they accomplished that work–is a reminder that in the Episcopal Church, our theology strives for “both/and” rather than “either/or.” We subscribe to the belief that what we do at the Eucharistic table is the greatest expression of our faith, rather than our individual beliefs. We subscribe to the belief that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation, but leave it up to God, and how God works on that individual, to discern what parts are necessary for any given person’s salvation. And when it comes to moving God’s reign of love into the world, it means we need it all. We need people who spend time in prayer, we need people who pray with their feet, we need people who pray with their pen, and we need people who simply try to practice God’s justice one day at a time, one person at a time. Every Christian struggles with their own feelings and biases about how we see Christ in everyone, and we need grace and room for those who don’t see it “our way”. Thanks be to God, we need it all!
When is a time you struggled that someone you knew or love “wasn’t following Jesus your way” and discovered you both ended up being part of a greater good? How did the Holy Spirit “use it all?”
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as Interim Pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.