Friday, April 01, 2016

"Fierce Convictions" - A story by Karen Swallow Prior

Not long ago I finished a biography of Hanna More, a writer and social reformer born in 1745 in England. And I was thoroughly charged and inspired.

Her life's circumstances were varied and through them all she influenced innumerable people, accomplished great things, and made ripples still impacting our world today - all as a truly feminine, wholesome, God-fearing woman. She never strived for acceptance, didn't elbow her way into a place of influence, honored men completely, and lived a life of devotion to God. I found her fascinating.

Her poetry and play-writing caught the attention and admiration of the giants in the literary world of the day, and she found herself welcomed into a segment of society above her station, for she was born into a culture that had clear bounds. You were either poor or well-to-do with little to no middle class and little mobility of station. Yet not only did she move into this literary society comprised of the well-to-do, but she did so as a woman; it was a male-dominated circle. She became privy to their gatherings, often the only woman in their company, discussing new publications and theater productions. They eagerly heard her voice on all subject matters.

Through these connections she met men, and women, of great influence and became true friends with the likes of William Wilberforce, John Newton, David Garrick, and Horace Walpole, to name just a few.

As she grew in stature, her faith became more focused and was the sole driving force in her life; she was a woman compelled to engage her culture and transform it. She and her sister single-handedly instigated an educational reform movement among the poor, finding great success and transformation. Her writing of poetry and political/moral essays awakened much of England to the abolitionists' cry to put an end to slavery in Britain. And her life's final chapters would find her successfully impacting the prevailing morality of the upper crust as well as the lower classes through the writing of novels and pamphlets, the precursor to short stories and the serial magazine stories of Dickens' fame.

She tackled big things, hard things, addressing issues that left her vulnerable to public slander and accusation. She fell prey to depression at times but God would lift her up again. And her gentle, sincere approach revealed her genuine love and interest for people and allowed her voice to be heard.

She was a woman's woman without that being her goal. It was merely the outworking of a life surrendered to her God - her life, a woman's life. Underscoring a Biblical understanding of male/female relationships and roles, she embraced her God-given womanhood as the good and wonderful thing it was. She was a whole person, embodying the sentiment of Elisabeth Elliot: "The fact that I'm a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I'm a Christian makes me a different kind of woman."

Above all I think I was struck and encouraged by her lack of striving to be great or accomplish much merely for the sake of finding life's meaning. Her desire was to do something to help those around her. She longed to impact her world for the sake of others, always with a knee bowed in devotion to her God, her life-long love.

She was truly a Christian feminist, not because she was attempting to make that point or because anything was done out of frustration with the status quo. She simply cultivated her personhood, loved others, and honored God above all. She was a truly liberated woman and inspirational in so many ways.

I pray that my final chapters will be lived with such focus and devotion.