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“I’m seeing His face,” gasped Basil of Antioch as he emerged from his dream of the Last Supper; the beardless one, in the center, seemed to school his slender fingers as they tooled the damp clay into an astounding likeness: wise, discerning eyes set apart beneath the broad forehead, the long nose, the briefest of smiles that masked a tortured spirit.

Basil’s commission had been to fashion a circlet for the handcrafted pewter cup from which Jesus drank during His final meal, with the twelve in the Wall of David. He was to recreate this scene in silver, superimposed upon grape leaves. Arduous travels around the Middle East produced likenesses of all the participants save that of Jesus. Enemies of the Way were already mushrooming in the first century.

Such a narrative unfolds in Thomas B. Costain’s historical novel The Silver Chalice (1952). Its tattered blue cover, streaked with watermarks and smudges, opened me to the enthusiasm of Jesus’s first followers, alive with His teachings, in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome. No matter the dangers, even death, that courted them on all sides and compelling them to live in secrecy and poverty. In hushed tones they greeted each with “Jesus is risen!” My heart burned within me.

So why does Jesus’s simple message create persecutions that continue into our times, especially in Middle East Nigeria and other countries around the world? The Internet lists such atrocities.

Why the aversion to live His Way in humility?

It does work! It really does!

 

 

 

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Such is the perspective of Leah Friedman, octogenarian author of this slim book of essays that is available on Amazon; its sepia photo of a framed drying bulb, one taken by her, portends to the richness found on each page.

Through the lens of seasoned wisdom, she counters the strictures of ageism with anecdotes from her kaleidoscopic life as an academic, wife, mother, widow, grand- and great-grandmother, photographer, author, lecturer, friend. Beneath them, stirs a vibrant and inquisitive spirit, because of which her aging readers readily identify with her. In unvarnished words she lays out the terrain of her sixties, seventies, and eighties, each with their tasks and challenges, not without losses and unexpected surprises. Referencing poets, psychologists, and theologians nuances her impressions within a larger frame.

An adept with life-long change, she can now say, “On one level I am awaiting my demise, while at a deeper level I am continually in the process of discovering who I really am.”

 

A recent luncheon at the St. Louis Women’s Exchange, in its seventh location since its 1883 beginnings, piqued my curiosity. The food was unparalleled, but the hand-stitched children’s clothes, especially the red cherry dress—the Exchange’s signature piece for over fifty years—gave me pause. My great niece wore this dress in 2014.

 

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But of more interest than the dress was learning about the history of this movement as researched by Kathleen Waters Sander in The Business of Charity: the History of the Women’s Exchange Movement, 1832 -1900, (1998). Her extensive research, corroborated by copious footnotes, takes the pulse of philanthropic nineteenth-century women, chafing at societal constraints and forming hundreds of social clubs; its networks spawned numerous volunteer endeavors. One of these took place in Philadelphia.

In 1832 Elizabeth Stoot and her sixteen wealthy associates addressed the plight of the “decayed gentlewomen”—women like themselves, but reduced to poverty because of their husbands’ falling on hard times. Their hand-stitched goods, offered on consignment to the Registry as it was then called, afforded them financial breathing space. What appeared to be a charitable enterprise turned out to be a women-run business. And after the Civil War this model was established in over seventy cities and opened to all seamstresses from whatever background.

Next week, we will review the 1883 founding of the Women’s Exchange in St. Louis, the work of Ariadne Lawnin (1840 – 1915).

 

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Available on Amazon

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