The purpose of this stop of the “Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith” bog tour is to review chapters 1, 2, 10, 11, and 12. Before I begin, there are a few preliminary things I want to say: First, thank you to Bob and Susan for allowing me this opportunity, it is my (and Chelsea’s—see below) privilege to be invited to participate in the blog tour covering the release of Sacred Friendships. Second, I must confess I’m cheating a little in my assignment. I have asked one of my former college students, Chelsea Huizing, whom is now in our school’s graduate Counseling program (specifically, the Master of Arts with an emphasis on Counseling and Writing), to help me in this process. I think it only fitting that someone like Chelsea be a part of this process. For in her educational preparation for future vocational ministry, she is in many ways standing of the shoulders of the heroes of the faith highlighted in Sacred Friendships. Moreover, she is a talented writer with a keen mind and she does an outstanding job with her assignment. So, a big “thank you” to Chelsea
Therefore, in the division of this task, I (Bill Higley) will introduce and review chapters 1 and 2, and Chelsea will cover chapters 10-12. Here goes . . .
Chapter 1 – So Great a Cloud of Witnesses: In Her Own Words.
Chapter 1 of Sacred Friendships is crucial to understanding not just the content of this text, but also its presentation. In this first chapter, Bob Kellemen and Susan Ellis introduce us: 1) to their research process and intent; 2) to what we might call their “hermeneutical process” or “paradigm” for interpreting that research; and, 3) to the format with which they will present their findings.
To understand these three aspects fully, I would recommend you go back and read Dr. Kellemen’s previous works, Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends, in which he carefully presents the foundation for his philosophy of counseling, and Beyond the Suffering , where he applies this counseling model to the spiritual history and contributions of the African American church in America. Sacred Friendships is built on this same philosophy of counseling and application model.
That being said, it is necessary for the authors to reintroduce (or, first introduce) the Soul Care and Spiritual Directions counseling framework used for this book, and that is the purpose of chapter one. In their Introduction, they describe their approach as a: “. . . Cross-based, four-dimensional model (sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding) of soul care and spiritual direction as a grid to map the marvels of historical women’s ministry. This four-dimensional model is the traditional, time-tested, and widely-recognized pattern for understanding Christian spiritual care” (p. 2). Therefore, because it is so crucial to one's appreciation of this text, the authors dedicate chapter one as a sort of crash course in this counseling model.
Without this brief introduction to the Soul Care and Spiritual Directions process the reader would be lost. As a matter of fact, Kellemen and Ellis call it the “Treasure Map” they will follow in their walk through the history of the contribution these women saints have made to the church (pp. 11-12).
In presenting the model in this first chapter, Bob and Susan provide a helpful overview of the Soul Care and Spiritual Direction process on pages 14-15. The rest of the chapter is a more careful unfolding of these concepts; through which they give further explanation of how they will use the model to decipher and apply the contributions the women heroes of the faith featured in Sacred Friendships, have made to the church.
Most significantly, through this approach, Sacred Friendships combines the “grace and truth” perspective of Christian counseling and spiritual formation process, and skillfully uses it as an interpretive grid from which to read—and apply—these historical examples of the women they will introduce us to. Thus, chapter one introduces this quite helpful, “Treasure Map,” which will guide the reader through the rest of the text.
Chapter 2 – Handmaids of the Lord: The Forgotten Church Mothers
After the necessary introduction of the controlling metaphor of the book, chapter two wastes no time in taking us to the first line-up of the stars of this work. In this case, five “forgotten” (or maybe, more accurately, historically ignored) mothers of the church.
First, in this chapter we meet Vibia Perpetua, whom is the author of “the earliest know document written by a Christian women” (p. 27). Perpetua was an early church martyr. But it is her example of persistence and boldness in Christ that marks her contribution to the church.
Bob and Susan show the influence and power of their interpretive construct, when they conclude with this statement about Vibia Perpetua: “Here we witness not only Perpetua’s courageous example of persistence, but also her model of biblical confrontation. She provides riveting testimony to Christ’s power at work in the inner life of a Christian woman whose spirit could never be overpowered” (p. 30).
Next we meet three women who demonstrated powerful spiritual influence towards three of the most significant early church Fathers: Macrina the Elder, grandmother of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa; Nonna, the mother of Gregory of Nazianzus; and, Anthusa, the mother of John Chrysostom. Bob and Susan introduce us to each of these special ladies, and in so doing, show us how each modedl
Appropriately, the chapter closes with an introduction to the mother of the most influential of all the early church fathers, Augustine. In their writing, Bob and Susan give us a needed context from which to better understand Augustine. In Augustine’s work, “Confessions,” we learn that his mother Monica “…. stands out above all others as the spiritual guide and anchor, indeed, as the determinative relationship in his life” (quoting Ranft, p. 37). How influential was his mother Monica on Augustine? She was his “best spiritual friend” (p. 40).
This chapter leads us right to the heart of the message of this book. And in it, we are introduced to five huge spiritual influencers in the lives of the early Church Fathers. In all these cases, the legacy of their contribution to our soul care and spiritual formation would eventually run through their sons or grandsons— who are all recognized as pillars of the early church. And each one of these men was influenced significantly in their spiritual development by the ladies featured in this chapter.
We do well to learn more about each of these women, for in so doing; indeed, our own souls are care for.
Chapters 10-12, Sacred Friendships (Reviewed by Chelsea Huizing)
The careful consideration given to each woman of the faith in chapters 10 thru 12 of “Sacred Friendships” quickly makes the book personable yet informative to the reader. The authors touch on several names that the reader is probably not aware of directly, but the connections to famous men make the names at least vaguely familiar. There is no fooling around or unnecessary introductions; the reader delves directly to the ‘meat’ of the stories, learning more about these women who had their hands on the development of the impressive men they were connected to.
Each woman is looked at in detail, starting with her own personal life growing up and the spiritual background from which she came. It almost feels like you are reading a history book, capitalizing on spiritual influences and educational background that each woman had. The familiarity this attention to detail gives quickly serves to bring the reader to a personal, self-searching level of connection with each character. If you do not see elements of yourself in each person described, you almost certainly know someone who is similar in character or circumstance to at least one of the women within these chapters. And these connections keep the reader going, eager to learn more about these women and the potential they have for teaching lessons even today.
The authors make no attempt to hide the faults of these women; indeed, the faults are described in full, perhaps to help the reader understand that they were merely human, as well, simply living day to day as best as they could, and seeking God all the while.
The hardworking mother with overwhelming duties; the happy and forgotten housewife; the woman who is constantly fretting over things she cannot control; the neglected friend; and the companion who never ceases to struggle for and serve others, all the while battling thoughts of uselessness and depression. Such faults in women of faith did not serve to hinder their ministries, but rather drove them closer to the Lord.
Details about the circumstances of their Sacred Friendships, and the specific ways that the Lord used them in the lives they ministered to, serve as gentle nudges to the spirit as one reads the accounts. Not one of the women was the same as the other, and these differences are highlighted; yet not diminished. What the authors describe as “spiritual soul care” takes on many different faces, as different as the personalities that these women displayed, and as varied as the roles they played. These differences serve as encouragements as you read further into each story: if these women can be used, and be used so greatly, by the Lord, than anyone can be.
At the end of each description, you feel as though you have sat down and read a letter from the life of each woman; there is no disguising of words, no mincing of emotions. Many sources are used to give color to the stories, both facts from history books and quotes from personal letters; they serve to paint ever clearer pictures of how these women lived, loved and ministered within their friendships and companionships.
No matter the era, the culture or the background of each woman, God saw fit to use their humanness and His Grace in their lives to draw blueprints for what can rightfully be called Sacred Friendships. Chapters 10 through 12 serve as more of a challenge and exhortation to the reader than anything else: If God can use these women, with their faults and trials, in such a mighty way, perhaps anyone can be used. The authors’ challenge throughout the chapters is clear and valid. The women in these pages are not meant to be merely a history lesson or a sympathetic letter to whoever will take the time to read, but rather a nudge in the right direction on how to develop Sacred Friendships in our own lives.
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