Life and Beliefs
Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although said document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights. It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed. Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all. In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent. “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.” This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.
Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living. Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule. She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion. Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim. She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”. Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others. She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada. Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career. Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.
Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War Ii. While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong. As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII. Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman. Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.
More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice. Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement. Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue. Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us. They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live. With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China. Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break. Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.
Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s. Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.
Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim.
One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:
“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”
March is Women’s History Month so today I have dedicated this post to women of great faith. Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes. These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs. The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith. After all, why do we believe if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?