Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

She Glanceth from Earth to Heaven: The Phenomenon of Love Mysticism among Women in Antebellum Virginia and Maryland

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

She Glanceth from Earth to Heaven: The Phenomenon of Love Mysticism among Women in Antebellum Virginia and Maryland

Article excerpt

She Glanceth from Earth to Heaven: The Phenomenon of Love Mysticism Among Women in Antebellum Virginia and Maryland. By Laura Hobgood-Oster. (New Orleans: University Press of the South, Inc., 1998. Pp. [viii], 199. Paper, $49.95, ISBN 1-889431-32-X. Order from the press at 5500 Prytania St., Suite 421, New Orleans, LA 70115.)

"[T]he sweetest honey is sometimes extracted from the most insipid flowers!--God sometimes chooses to display his power by making the weakest instrument subservient to his purposes,--thus, Woman!--weak dependant Woman! Is oftentimes elected to carry on his vast designs ..." (p. 161).

Judith Lomax, one of the three evangelical women spotlighted in this thought-provoking study, wrote these words in her Sabbath journal in 1825. Her entry echoes the central premise of Laura Hobgood-Oster's study: while accepting their role as "weak dependant Woman" on earth, evangelical women, through their direct--and often passionate--relationships with God, also were able to envision for themselves a role as an "eternal being" in heaven (p. 181). Furthermore, women found "a place of spiritual power" even within the "hierarchical, male-dominated society" of the Old South, communing with God within the pages of their journals and acting as spiritual guides within the confines of their "little congregation[s]" at home and at Sunday School (pp. 181, 165).

By focusing on the lives of three women from the Washington, D.C., area--Caroline Homassel Thornton (1795-1875), Judith Lomax (1774-1828), and Letitia Grace McCurdy Douglass (1805-1877)--Hobgood-Oster uses a particular genre of women's autobiography, the Sabbath journal, to illustrate the impact of love mysticism on evangelical women. Written in response to sermons, Sabbath journal entries were not merely passive records of devotional exercises but rather active reflections on "the very Word of God" (p. 100). Indeed, contends Hobgood-Oster, evangelical women's writing in their journals constituted "a conversation with God," "a discourse between themselves and the divine" (pp. 97, 62).

These women detailed in their journals their intimate, even romantic, relationships with God. …

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