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Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography Paperback – March 14, 2017
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About the Author
Harold Ivan Smith is a bereavement specialist on the teaching faculties of Saint Lukes Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, and the Carondolet Medical Institute, Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
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"In the mid-1930's, a young child asked to name the President responded, "Franklin Eleanor Roosevelt."
This is a very insightful look into Eleanor Roosevelt's life from a child to her death; what influenced her spiritually and how that shaped her life. She was strong, courageous and easily beset by doubts. I thought that was an interesting insight into a great leader. Everyone has setbacks and low moments. "You must do the things you think you cannot do."
The book is interspersed with history, quotes from Eleanor and quotes from friends and close acquaintances. I learned a lot about her lonely childhood, drunk father and jealous mother. Not to mention the meanness of her grandmothers. It's a wonder that Eleanor was able to grow and make such an impact on the world, both here in the states and abroad.
I was moved by her words and courage many times while I read. At times I found myself wanting to do better in my own life. I especially want to do better by my children so they have a happy childhood!
One thing I did miss was more about her children. I'm not sure who raised them. There were hints form the author about her possible thoughts or reactions or even possible liaisons. I would rather just have the facts then possibilities but it was an interesting book and lots of reaearch and thought went into it.
Thanks to netgalley for the early read!
This is truly an outstanding look into the spirituality of a remarkable player on the international stage. Eleanor Roosevelt discovered early that her narrow Episcopal faith could not contain her growing acceptance of the many faith traditions that she encountered. She believed that since we were all created by the same God that we should treat each other as brothers and sisters. She believed as did St. Paul, “That we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The one glaring flaw in her spirituality was perhaps due to her strict Protestant upbringing and the aristocratic family circles in which she moved. She had a strain of anti-Semitic misgivings. She overcame them to a large extent later in life. She always regretted not doing more for the Jews.
Eleanor had a truly miserable childhood. She was forced to become her own person. She had the saying from Saint Francis of Assisi posted above her desk and she carried another copy in her purse, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” Eleanor’s brand of personal Christianity won her unfaltering condemnation from the religious fundamentalists who were certain that she had not been “born again.” According to Smith, “Eleanor took the Bible too seriously to take it literally.” Although FDR’s unfaithfulness hurt her deeply, they came to an understanding that allowed them to become the world’s most influential couple ever. Louis Howe is the one who saw Eleanor’s potential and helped her hone her skills as a leader. He was also a major player in FDR’s success.
Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography, may get a little wordy at times; however, it is an outstanding work.
Eleanor Roosevelt's spirituality and personality were shaped by events and people in her life. She suffered major losses early. Both parents died while she was young. Her mother's mother took her in, exposing Roosevelt to religion and a chaotic, dysfunctional home life that she was glad to escape during teen years at Allenswood school in England.
Roosevelt blossomed at Allenswood, under the influence of her mentor Marie Souvestre who encouraged her to think and interact with others with confidence. Roosevelt's many questions where welcomed and she explored what she believed, discovered life and her own spirituality, different than her grandmother's religiosity. After leaving Allenswood, in 1903, Roosevelt was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and lived a faith modeled after Jesus' teachings to care for "the least of these" for the rest of her life.
Smith examines Roosevelt's faith with thoughtful, well-researched descriptions of what she believed and how she lived during a turbulent economic and political environments. He wrote that she called "attention to injustice and inhumane conditions that diminished beloved children of God." Her bold stances, advocacies and writings made her friends and enemies. Roosevelt was criticized for not being a true Christian according to conservative standards. She was also accused of being an instigator of racial unrest or of being a communist, among other things.
Smith writes that Roosevelt believed Jesus taught tolerance and compassion for others and she
passionately advocated for individuals, organizations and governments to live out these teachings. She lived her faith.
'Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace' -- words she had framed on her bedroom wall. Eleanor's life was prayer in action.
I liked learning more details about Roosevelt's life and work in Smith's easy to read book. Some of the vignettes of the times that tried Roosevelt were shocking. They revealed ugly episodes of racial and religious prejudice that prodded Roosevelt into action. Reading how Roosevelt responded and resisted injustice brought her to life in new ways for me, not just as a major historical figure, but as an example of one who obeyed Jesus' teachings on justice and compassion. Although she has been dead many decades now, the example of her life and faith can continue to inspire today's readers to take seriously Jesus' call to love others.
Disclosure: I received access to an electronic edition of this book for review purposes with the understanding that I would write an independent and honest review.