Abuelita Faith came into my life after hearing the author, Kat Armas, on the Next Right Thing podcast. As she spoke, I could hardly believe how much of what she said aligned with my experiences related to the formation of my faith and beliefs about the church.
Similar to Kat, I was raised by an immigrant woman as part of the Roman Catholic church. When I explored different Christian religions as an adult, I saw that little attention and respect was given to my mother’s kind of faith, one built out of survival and cultural traditions, even though I believed that faith was full of wisdom, persistence, and strength.
Unlike Kat, I am not a Bible scholar and did not go to seminary, which is why I loved this book. She skillfully weaves stories from the Bible with stories about women in modern times facing comparable circumstances. She brings to light often overlooked examples of women’s faith, love, and struggle throughout history.
As someone who has gone to church and listened to the Bible being read to me almost every week of my life, I was shocked by the number of stories and people she referenced that I have never heard before! Beyond that, with a scholar’s expertise, she explains the nuance of stories that have been glossed over and shallowly interpreted over time.
One example is in 2 Samuel, the story of Rizpah, King Saul’s mistress and mother of his two sons. Saul unjustly murders Gibeonites and King David is asked to vindicate Saul’s actions so that God would end the famine. He decides to hand over Rizpah’s two sons to be killed. Instead of burial, they are left exposed on a hill to rot where Rizpah, in an act of love, keeps vigil with their bodies for about six months.
“Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done…They buried the bones… and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.” – 2 Samuel 21:10-14
The story immediately reminded me of the mothers of Black children who have been murdered in senseless acts of violence, like Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton. In the midst of pain and grief, they have often become outspoken voices in the fight for justice.
In the book, Kat explains how Rizpah is not unlike Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. In Argentina from 1976 to 1983 the military targeted and kidnapped those they deemed “ideological dissidents” many of whom were university students interested in activism for human rights. The mothers (madres) of those abducted began gathering in the plaza every week to bring attention to what was happening, even though public meetings were illegal. Hundreds of children were found due to the efforts of the madres, but many were tortured, killed, or are still missing. (One story is highlighted in Stories of a Generation with Pope Francis on Netflix).
Even if you are not a Bible reader, Abuelita Faith thoughtfully shows why the acts of women of faith, especially women of non-dominant cultures should be learned, respected, and treasured. Kat organizes her chapters by showing how faith is manifested through everything from healing to sewing to gathering to dancing.
Her stories are so close to the stories that I want to continue to share about the beauty, love, and faith of my own mother – stories that are valuable, provide wisdom, and should not be forgotten or hidden any longer.