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Susanna Wesley, Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks and Other Ordinary-Extraordinary Women God Used to Change the World

October 19, 2015

This article was originally posted on The Christian Post; to read it on their website, click here.


NEW YORK — In Seven Women, author Eric Metaxas offers up little­known details about the inspiring lives of seven women, including Susanna Wesley, mother of vastly influential Christian ministers John and Charles Wesley; Joan of Arc, the teen martyr who changed the course of a war with claims of being guided by “voices;” and Rosa Parks, whose decision to say “no” led to her becoming the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Wesley, known as the “Mother of Methodism,” was a dedicated homeschooler who created her own textbooks. She “was manifestly methodical in raising her children,” Metaxas writes. Wesley’s methodical approach to child­rearing included setting strict schedules on everything from eating and dressing to sleeping. She also taught her 10 children (nine others died in infancy) early on to fear God, seek His blessings and to treat others with kindness.

The foundation Wesley laid for her children proved especially pivotal in the lives of her sons, John and Charles, the former of which founded the 80­million­strong Methodist denomination while the latter is credited with writing nearly 9,000 hymns (the Christmas favorite “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is one of them). John and his politically­minded Methodist movement were instrumental in pressuring the British government to abolish slavery and child labor and to enact penal reform. The religious movement also led to the “establishment of countless private societies and organizations dedicated to caring for the poor and suffering.”

One particular aspect of the Wesleys’ lives that may not be common knowledge is that for a brief time, the family lived with what the historical record presents as a rather cantankerous poltergeist. This “spirit” or “apparition,” as Susanna described it in one letter, was likely a “demonic disturbance,” according to Metaxas.

Then, there is Joan (Jeanette) d’Arc, a poor 15th century Roman Catholic teen who was moved to abandon her family’s simple farm life to lead soldiers on the battlefield during a brief segment of the Hundred Years’ War. At the age of 12, Joan became convinced that she had been receiving “messengers from Heaven” who at the onset encouraged the young girl in her faith, according to Metaxas. Years later, a 16­-year­-old Joan believed the “voices” were now giving her specific instructions on where to go and whom to speak about liberating France from England’s military advances.

Her voices were correct and her mission proved successful, mostly for her homeland but not very much for herself. Joan was awarded for her sacrifice and obedience to God by being labeled a heretic, a witch, a blasphemer, and other choice names by a malicious contingent of religious and political leaders.

Metaxas suggests in Seven Women that envy and a thirst for revenge on the part of the judge overseeing her “sham” trial was the motivation for Joan to be burned at the stake. The 19­year­old former peasant girl died with her eyes resolutely focused on a cross. The last word witnesses claimed they heard her utter as she burned to death was, “Jesus!”

“She was wise beyond her years and yet innocent; she was strong and vulnerable; she was bold and humble. She was all these things at once, and she seemed to embody France itself, and hope itself too,” Metaxas writes.

It would take 18 years for Joan’s case to be reviewed and nullified, while it only took only about another five hundred years for the young Roman Catholic martyr to be beatified and later canonized as a saint.

There are no doubts about Joan of Arc’s exploits, as they are well­documented. So presumably, there should be no doubts about her heavenly messengers or the source of her voices — or doubts about what Metaxas suggests was a demonic disturbance in the Wesley’s home.

But how can a skeptic get something meaningful out of a story belonging to someone like Joan of Arc, whose entire testimony is framed by the supernatural?

“I think the issue is that we can’t worry so much about the skeptics that we don’t report,” Metaxas told The Christian Post. “You have to report what people [experienced] when there’s incredible corroboration for these things. When something can be corroborated by so many eyewitnesses, I think the onus is on the person who is being skeptical or doubtful to say, ‘Well, then what do you make of this? Did they all lie? Did they all perceive things wrong? What do you make of it?’ Because I say that these things, it seems that they did happen.”

In Joan of Arc’s case, “it’s either God speaking through the angel … or it’s demonic forces,” he added.

Metaxas went on to draw a parallel between Joan’s experience and that of Christ’s on the Mount of Transfiguration. The biblical account (in Matthew 17) tells of Jesus being seen by some of his disciples talking with two figures described as Moses and Elijah, who died thousands of years prior to Christ’s own birth.

By all accounts, Christ was talking with dead people, although the Christian faith asserts that there is eternal life, or life after death.

“When you look at Joan d’Arc and you look at all the other details, it argues that there’s something there that was of God because there’s so much about her that is focused on Jesus. It doesn’t seem that this is a demonic deception. But again, I would say to people, keep an open mind, on both sides. Look at it critically,” said Metaxas, who is also author of the popular book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life.

In addition to Joan of Arc and Susanna Wesley, there is the profoundly instrumental act of Rosa Parks, who died in 2005.

Parks refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus might be viewed as a “simple act” by some, but her polite and resolute refusal to budge was the fuel for the 381­day long Montgomery Bus Boycott and, as Metaxas notes, “catapulted Martin Luther King Jr. to fame.” Parks’ stand was also the catalyst for the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Parks was a loyal member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and credited her grandparents with getting her accustomed to daily devotions that included Bible reading and prayer. A young Rosa also learned early on that the Christian principles her family held dear did not always play out well in her everyday life.

Among some of the gems Metaxas recounts of Parks’ life was her fated encounter with bus driver James E. Blake. Many might recall that it was Parks’ stand against Blake’s demand in 1955 that thrust her into the spotlight of the Civil Rights Movement.

However, the pair had a similar encounter 12 years prior, when “Blake forced (Parks) off his bus because she had refused to obey his demand that she pay the fare at the front door and then get off the bus and reenter through the back door.” Parks relented after observing that Blake “looked like he was ready to hit me.” The encounter was so off­putting, that Parks vowed never to again board any bus driven by Blake. As history would have it, her resolution was made in vain.

Claudette Colvin, a pregnant and unwed 15 year old, was actually the first person arrested for not giving up her seat to a white bus rider in Montgomery under Alabama’s segregation laws. According to the local NAACP chapter, Colvin just did not fit the kind of image activists felt they needed to project in order to win their federal lawsuit challenging the bus segregation law. But it was the testimonies of Colvin and four other women that eventually led to the law being affirmed as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Metaxas recounts that when Parks, 42, showed up about nine months after Colvin’s own arrest at the courthouse to stand trial for refusing to obey the bus driver, “a young girl shouted joyfully, ‘Oh, she’s so sweet. They’ve messed with wrong one now,'” apparently confirming that Parks’ demure personality was the exact face the NAACP legal team needed for its cause.

“She seemed tailor­made for the role. She was a churchgoing woman, decidedly dignified and decent,” Metaxas writes. “Nobody could say she had done anything to deserve such wretched treatment — except to be born of black parents.”

Parks’ engagement in activism did not start or end with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In fact, she was involved in Black Power protests in the 1970s, took a stand against South Africa’s apartheid system, and participated in the 1995 Million Man March. Parks, the first woman and second black American to be laid in honor in the Capitol rotunda, recounted in her biography Quiet Strength, “As a child I learned from the Bible to trust in God and not be afraid.”

In addition to Joan of Arc, Wesley and Parks, Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness also recounts the stories of Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova (Saint Maria of Paris), Corrie ten Boom, and Mother Teresa.

Metaxas’ latest book compliments his popular Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, in which the author profiles George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson.

Metaxas also authored the best­selling book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It might be fair to say he has a slight obsession with telling other people’s stories.

“Well, it seems like that right? For me, I think we lack heroes in our culture and it’s really harming us. Young people need to have heroes. We all need to have heroes, to say, ‘What is the life of somebody who lived a great life and what does that say to me about my life?’ I think that heroes automatically and dramatically inspire others, and if you don’t hear those stories you won’t be inspired,” Metaxas told CP.

“I think we’ve lived in a time in our culture in the last 40 or so years where the heroic has been denigrated and we’re not telling people the stories of these heroes very much. I think it’s lacking and it has affected us as a culture. I think it’s just very important for us to [do] that.”

The seven women whose stories are featured in Metaxas’ book were simple, ordinary women who God nonetheless used to do extraordinary things. Though gifted, perhaps by grace, these women were not superhuman. They persevered, gave of themselves and, compelled by their faith (the apparent “secret of their greatness”), lived by their convictions.

“I say this all the time,” said Metaxas, “that God is always watching us and we need to understand that what you do today, how you treat another person, all these things, they count for eternity and you have no idea how that’s going to affect someone. And you need to have faith that God calls us to do the right thing. He’ll deal with the details. … You just need to know to be obedient and do what He calls you to do. Anything can happen.”

Consider Susanna Wesley, he said, who “was just being a good mother, and she changed the world.”

“This woman changed the world,” Metaxas said. “She never knew she was changing the world, but that’s what happened.”

If your faith brings you to the right thing “and you do the best you can, you have no idea what the results could be,” he added.

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