Remember that time I was a guest on Ann Bogel’s podcast, “What Should I Read Next?” In that episode, Ann told me it seemed I like to read books with a strong female character as the lead. I hadn’t thought about it before then, but when I made an assessment of the books I’d told her were some of my favorites (Bossypants, These is My Words, and Brown Girl Dreaming), I recognized the theme for myself.
A Long Line of Strong Women
My dad has always told me I come from a long line of strong women. When he says it, he affectionately draws out the words long and strong. I think something in me wants to see these women affirmed in the books I choose to read. I’m especially drawn to stories of young women told from an historical perspective.
On the podcast, Ann recommended three books for me to read. They were, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Life in Motion, and The Invention of Wings. Each book was perfect for me and, this week, when I read Michelle DeRusha’s book about Katharina and Martin Luther—their lives as a nun and a monk, Katharina’s escape from the monastery(!), Luther’s decision to become a monk and then the personal journey toward his own and subsequently the church’s reformation, their unlikely marriage (and even more unlikely proposal), the way they built a life together, the community they nurtured, the children they raised, the work they did, and the lasting impact of their partnership—I felt myself drawn to this woman, Katharina, and the quiet, dignified, strength she exuded.
As it turns out, Katharina’s story fits right in with my other favorites. She’d get along well, I think, with Tina, Sarah Prine, Jacqueline, Francie, Misty, and Handful.
Michelle and I are friends. You know that. And so, it’s natural I’d want you to read her book. And it’s natural that I’d be proud to recommend it to you. But, here’s the thing: we live about a mile from each other and, every day while Michelle was writing the book, I knew exactly where she was. She was in the library at the University of Nebraska, wading through what she refers to as a wall of tomes written by and about Martin Luther. I listened as she recounted the defeat she felt when looking at the stacks and stacks of books already in print and I heard her as she wondered what she had to add to the conversation. And then, back she’d go, into those stacks, to faithfully research and dissect and annotate and transcribe and flesh out the story of Martin Luther’s wife—a woman most of us familiar with the Reformation rarely give more than a passing consideration.
Full of Life
As Michelle writes in the book, only eight letters remain that were written by Katharina von Bora, the woman who would become Martin Luther’s wife. There wasn’t much information to go on as Michelle set out to introduce us to this woman who worked beside her husband—a man who, in many ways, saw her as his equal—during a time of transition and, what some might consider, upheaval, in the church. But Michelle has made the story come alive! Do not be fooled into thinking this is some dry, dull, historical piece that you’ll have to slog through. With rich detail and a truly delightful cadence, Michelle sets the story of this runaway nun and renegade monk into an historical context and presents the players as people you will come to know and appreciate as their story unfolds.
This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church, ushering the Reformation. It’s easy to look at an act such as that, at a time such as the one we’re in now, and wish we had some of that gumption; some of that pluck. But Martin and Katharina, as you’ll see in the book, were ordinary people, with ordinary concerns and cares, hopes and fears, who simply did they best they could with the time they were given. For those of us who dream of modern-day revolutionaries, this book is the perfect historical examination of the extraordinary results of faithfully living out our ordinary days, with fidelity, a good sense of humor (we can thank Martin for some of the chuckles in these pages), a great deal of resourcefulness, and a sliver of faith.
Katharina and Martin Luther: the Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk releases January 31, 2017. It’s available to purchase wherever books are sold.