Hannah Coley is a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize, for the next few months check out #JVStories as she examines the way women in Scripture have given her clarity and resolve as a women in the Catholic Church. This month we will explore femininity, spirituality and social justice through the experiences of the Widow, Martha and the Infirm Woman.
By Hannah Coley
The Infirm Woman
Prayer and reflection upon the story of the Infirm Woman prompted many questions, such as, what is my role as an advocate for other women and for others experiencing marginalization back home and in Belize? What does solidarity look like for me as a temporary international volunteer?
While the process to reach complete solidarity is a seemingly impossible aim, we as a collective can aim for other things that feel more attainable: a decrease in the gap of alienation and relational distance. To work toward mending this gap is to work toward building relationship. Relationship built on intentionality and the recognition that the whole of humanity shares a common desire for love and relationship.
There was a woman there who for eighteen years had been possessed by a spirit which drained her strength…When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are free of your infirmity.” He laid his hand on her, and immediately she stood up straight and began thanking God.
The Infirm Woman’s Protest
She bore the brunt of comments and judgments of the public. What must it feel like for your gaze to be drawn downward, stooped and hindered after years and wear on your physical frame? What would it be like to have someone meet her at eye level? To have her eyes looked in to, her pain read for the first time in such a long while?
A young Canadian feminist poet by the name of Rupi Kaur verbally illustrated, “Our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry.” Women wear their stories and experiences. Through pregnancy and the stretching of skin. In the artist’s touch and the stains of fingers and chipped nails. In the calloused hands due to instruments well played, burns due to pots too hot to touch and stomachs too hungry to wait. The infirm woman is an example of a story told many times over in the lives of women. The women Jesuit Volunteers serve and the women who serve with JVC too have their stories.
The Infirm Woman Lifted and Renamed
It was in her desperation and her tiredness of despondence that the Infirm Woman left the safety and isolation of her home to see if the healing care of Jesus was true. When Jesus saw you, he called to you, and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity… he laid his hands on her, and immediately she stood up straight and glorified God.”
Women have never been lifted or healed by men, but rather through their own sense of self-worth and valued identity, because of this truth, the infirm woman acts as a reminder. A reminder to all women, that our movements and efforts to raise up female spirituality must work to not only recognize the needs and desires of our marginalized sisters, but also to advocate for alongside them. To recognize our struggles are connected. To allow one another to feel the weight of our shared struggle and to lift one another up in the areas that we each feel the aches and pains of the world and the struggles we carry.
This recognized connection in identity helps us to create meaning in Scripture and make tangible the kind of love Jesus sought to manifest on earth. Infirm Woman, where were your community members in your moments of greatest need? Jesus’ message of love and commitment to the marginalized is universal for the most marginalized among us to encounter spiritual rootedness. In this passage, Jesus challenges each of us to consider the ways we each sustain systems of inequality and create spaces of limitation for our fellow sisters.
rm Woman, the Worthy Woman, shows us the ways in which a marginalized woman navigates systems of oppression. She shows us the resilience in moments of isolation, helplessness and despair. She reminds me of the worth of every human being, but also of my responsibility to make this recognizable to all I encounter.
Calling upon the experiences of these women in Scripture helps us to reflect upon the various experiences of womanhood in our world today. These women encourage me and empower me to approach my ministry as a Jesuit Volunteer with a new perspective of interconnectedness and reverence for all of the experiences, challenges and feats that women in my communities both here and back home endure.
Hannah Coley graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2016, prior to signing the covenant as a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize for the 2016-2018 program year! She serves as a Youth/Liturgical Coordinator at St. Peter Claver Parish.