It’s an extraordinary piece of footage.
A grainy black and white image of the Epsom Derby, 1913. In the space of four seconds, a tiny figure ducks under the white barrier, gets onto the racecourse; positions herself in front of the king’s horse who, unable to stop or jump, charges into her and knocks her to the ground.
Blink and you miss it.
Play it again. Yes – that is what happens as unbelievable and downright foolish as it is. She doesn’t hesitate or falter. She stands boldly in front of the horse holding something up as he speeds towards her. The scarf she holds has recently been revealed as saying ‘Votes for Women’.
By that evening, the footage was being shown in cinemas across the country. Four days later one of the key leaders of the suffragette movement, Emily Wilding Davison was dead. In her paper, the Price of Liberty, published posthumously, Davison wrote: “To lay down life for friends, that is glorious, selfless, inspiring! But to re-enact the tragedy of Calvary for generations yet unborn, that is the last and consummate sacrifice of the militant! She will not hesitate ‘even unto this last’.” Whether she intended to kill herself or not, she paid the ultimate price for something she believed in, leaving a legacy for which I am truly grateful.
The courage, tenacity and verve of the suffragettes is one which should inspire us all. It was far from the cheery song and dance as portrayed satirically in Mary Poppins; it was a tough battle during which the women were repeatedly beaten, imprisoned and force-fed. In the face of abuse, torture and public disdain, they held fiercely to their cause.
As I’ve reflected on Emily Davison’s remarkable life, 100 years to the week when she died, I’ve asked myself ‘what would I run under a horse for?’ which leads me pretty swiftly onto the next question: ‘would I run under a horse?’ The answer, and it doesn’t take me too long to work out is ‘no’. It is after all a ridiculous thing to do. Just like a woman to think of something that crazy.
The easier question is what do I believe in? What will I fight for? What will my legacy be?
Jesus was the ultimate activist; his words entirely congruent with his deeds. He was a living manifesto of the kingdom which he loved to talk about. Each step he took brought transformation and renewal; his was a life of purpose and total sacrifice. He might have been a fan of that famous suffragette slogan: “Deeds not words.”
God calls us to be a transforming power in our own individual situations. I’m not recommending running under a horse or breaking the law but through small everyday actions, we can bring change. On the simplest level, we can choose to love in a world that tells us everyone is only out for themselves, speak hope in situations that seem irredeemable and treat everyone we meet as Jesus did – equal and as children of God. In this we become a manifestation of the kingdom and help bring heaven to earth.
Beyond that we will all have our own unique callings and dreams. Some will be called to teach, some to work in the city, some to be actors or activists. You might feel called to politics or parenthood or church leadership, to become a doctor or footballer. The themes of your life could be justice or service or advocacy or all of the above and more. You might be the next Emily Davison standing up for women’s rights in this country and abroad, campaigning for equality and true representation. We can’t all wave the banners for everything and it’s best not to try. The thing is to make sure you wave the banner for something.
Sometimes the hardest part is working out what it is that God wants us to do. This requires patience, prayer and lots of long conversations. But it doesn’t take forever. The famous German writer Goethe wrote: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it! Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
And once you have begun, do it with passion, do it with all of your heart, wave the banner high.
Spend a few minutes asking God what He is calling you to and praying that He will give you the boldness to run with that dream.