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. An invitation into the spirit of womanhood and the solidarity that is built up by woman in communities around the globe is where we venture to first.
By Hannah Coley
Solidarity in Womanhood
March was Women’s History Month. Communities congregated and women celebrated their femininity at marches, protests, through prayer, spoken word, work, motherhood and sisterhood. Even from a ways away, I feel moved by the ways my communities back home lift up the feminine voice and the various realities of womanhood throughout the month of March. I feel moved by the ways certain movements sought to recognize the intersectionality and complexity of womanhood across race, sexuality and religion.
The movement back home rekindled a spirit of intentionality, intuitiveness and empowerment within my work. Both in my role as a youth coordinator and my relationships with the women of my community here in Belize. I continue to seek meaningful ways to engage in this female spiritual movement.
A couple of months ago, my female community mates and I decided to participate in La Ruta Maya River Challenge. It is a canoe race that extends 170 miles on the Belize River. The river itself serves as the route of communication and trade for the ancient Mayans and the route the Pallotine Sisters of Belize took to reach Belize City. Our movements and efforts are all part of something much greater than ourselves.
It was not until the late weeks of February and the beginning of the women’s movement in the states, that I began to think of this canoe journey as a spiritual quest. A way for three female community mates and sisters to lift up the feminine spirit alongside four other female teams participating in the race. To race with intention. The creation of our own movement of resilience, strength and bond.
I carried a long list of intentions and prayers with me in the canoe. Along with hopes of peace and prayers for the influential women in my life in the USA, as well as here in Belize. Amidst all of those, were the names of the women found in the book “Soul Sisters,” the women whose stories are often belittled in the Bible. The women whose experience are so similar to those of contemporary females.
In this month of April, we will look at the experiences of the Widow, Martha and the Infirm Woman – all of whom uniquely protested systems of inequality and injustice.
The Widow’s Protest
“He glanced up and saw the rich putting their offerings into the treasury, and also a poor widow putting in two copper coins. At that he said: “I assure you, this poor widow has put more than all the rest. They make contributions out of their surplus, but she from her want has given what she could not afford – every penny she has to live on.”
In protest, the Widow approached the treasury and gave all of her savings, the two copper coins she gripped between her finger and thumb. Perhaps the Widow gave these with hesitation after mustering up the strength with the reassurance of prayers. Or perhaps she gave those two coins with certainty and confidence.
During the life of Jesus, Widows were among the poorest, most vulnerable and voiceless members of society. In addition to coping with grief in the loss of a loved one, a Widows’ security, property and protection were also stolen by the rich and powerful male aristocracy. In the story of the Widow, I recall the struggle that individuals experiencing homelessness, particularly women experiencing homelessness, undergo. These women are often forced to succumb to change and socioeconomic oppression because of life circumstances that are often unintended and inescapable. Circumstances of the oppressed and marginalized are often taken advantage of by unjust socio-political systems. However, within these women, I see resilience. I see the face of the women in Scripture. Holiness and light. God.
By contributing her two coins to the collection, the Widow confronted a system of economic and social oppression. She demanded that her presence and contribution be seen worthy. She demanded that her presence be recognized by Jesus and the other men that surrounded her. “I have something to contribute. My coins and my faith.” Her gifts did not make significant noise when they hit the bottom of the treasury box and they did not catch and reflect light like gold. But you see, the ‘poor’ Widow is misunderstood. She is not poor at all. She is rich in boldness and bravery to break social barriers in her loss, in her pain, in her struggle. She is full in the spirit of sacrifice for the sake of her belief, for something greater than herself. The Widow is beyond a hero or a selfless giver who gives until it hurts. She represents the resilience and strength that is within every individual who is caste into a deceitful system that sees worth as monetary and exclusive.
Lent and Sacrifice
Just as Anna the Prophetess exemplified unconditional trust and faith in God, the Widow too shows an immense amount of trust in her God. The Widow gives her only coins in hope that her contribution may manifest a certain kind of kingdom. A kingdom of peace, love and hospitality.
The Widow gives not for herself. The Widow makes her presence and experience known not for herself. In giving her two coins, the Widow advocates for the capability of other women and individuals who experience hardship and socio-economic limitation.
For me, this is the purpose of the Lenten season. To give so that others can be filled. To give and be emptied so that you, too, can be filled by the generosity of others. As a volunteer and community mate to three other volunteers, I have learned a great deal from the Widow on the lesson of love and sacrifice. My loved ones back home have formed the particular ways I give love and prefer to receive love. Our particular preferences of giving and receiving love are learned through relationship.
As a member of my volunteer community and my larger community of Punta Gorda, I am called to receive and give love in different ways. We must be vulnerable to the possibility of transformation in the experience of loving the other. Vulnerability is required in the experience of loving and receiving love in new and unfamiliar ways. Like the transformation of the human heart, sacrificial love holds the potential to also heal and transform the unjust systems of our day.
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.