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Shining stars

"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee." Isaiah 60.1

In the early modern firmament two stars arise and shine with particular vibrancy. Anna Maria van Schurman was a Dutch prodigy, whose intellectual abilities brought her celebrity status. Madame Jeanne Guyon was uneducated but her spiritual insights and her personal integrity earned her the admiration of bishops and nobles at the court of Louis XIV. Both women suffered for their pioneering insights and radical convictions, yet their influence continues to reverberate around the world and in unlikely places, such as the feminist movement.

Unlikely because, rather than asserting the self, they taught that the highest aspiration for humans was union with God and that this was only possible through the denial of self. What pushed the boundaries and got them into trouble was their insistence that this self-abnegation should be driven by sheer, unadulterated joy. In a way this rendered them and their followers "bomb proof" because the greater the pressure exerted by their adversaries the more they must sacrifice and higher the intensity of their joy.

Anna Maria and Madame Guyon transcended the struggle between Catholics and Protestants and, drawing on the insights of ascetics and mystics from Augustine onwards, paved the way for the Pietist Movement which would eventually blossom into Pentecostalism. Does their example offer us bread for the journey towards a more sincere and compelling expression of what it means to follow Jesus in our own day? Can it point through the denominational jungle that entangles and restricts contemporary Christian witness? Will its inspiration refresh our own desire for God rather than self-satisfaction?



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