A Review of
Abuelita Faith: What Women on the
Margins Teach Us about Wisdom,
Persistence and Strength
Reviewed by Noemi Ortiz
In Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence and Strength, author Kat Armas packs a punch of female power and wisdom. The book serves as a type of unveiling, as it allows for women to step out of the theological shadows into the spotlight, giving them the proper space from which to have their voices heard and affirmed. It tells the stories of various women, within biblical narratives to everyday women, each sharing similar struggles, but also sharing similar positive characteristics. Though women as a whole have endured some type of bias because of their gender, the author mainly focuses on women of color. Overall, the collective voice of strong women reverberates throughout. Armas offers an effective theological lens through which to examine and appreciate the female presence in the Bible and in the world as a whole.
Speaking from her own experiences, upbringing and familial background, Armas shares about her rich and exuberant Cuban culture and the landscape that she lived in. She recounts her grandmother’s stories, and how the hardships she endured shaped the person she became. Much of the wisdom that she received from her grandmother came from interactions at the kitchen table or while tending to her fruit trees. This fertile wisdom that came from her grandmother has also been shared by countless women throughout time, passed from generation to generation.
There’s a liminal space amidst the dominant masculine theological voices, and that space is primarily occupied by women. The author regularly refers to this as interstitial; although the space is partially hidden, its force is nonetheless formidable. Women have possessed wisdom, courage, strength, fortitude and pure grit. Things have not always been nice and tidy as conventional society would like them to be. While some people may look down on certain actions deemed inappropriate or questionable that have been undertaken by women, many women had no choice in their actions. They have endured various types of hardships and injustices, ending up in desperate situations. Consequently, women were forced to resort to harrowing means to achieve their intended outcome. Many times, their only motivation was mere survival. One of the most significant things to note in this book is that God blessed these women nonetheless. God sees what no one else sees or cares to see; for God is a God of justice and fairness.
With what seemed like minor roles or even cameos in the biblical stories, the author does an excellent job of drawing these women out and highlighting their roles. In many of the biblical narratives, men typically get the recognition and praise– for example, Boaz as the kinsman redeemer. However, in this book, the author elevates these women (not so that they can be better than men, for we should be equal with men), but so that we can gain a better focus. Thus, women find their proper place and are able to stand on their own. Through the author’s strategic lens, we get to grasp and understand situations from the female point of view, and often we can derive meaning that has otherwise been pushed aside. We get to appreciate the stories of women like Joanna and the daughters of Zelophehad. When we really listen to women’s stories without bias or support from the male point of view, we can start to truly see just how significant a woman’s actions and decisions can affect history.
Within this exploration of the marginalized comes the inevitable topic of discrimination and injustice committed by dominant figures. Not only do we have injustices, but also questions of identity. Some of this stems from the effects of colonization; for example, the way that the colonizers have often thrown the baby out with the bathwater. That is, if some particular rituals were held questionable, those in dominance completely did away with them. The reality is that culture is inextricably tied together with people. This stripping away invalidates the dominated peoples, causing them to question their own self-worth. This is an important topic that warrants reflection and discussion all its own, but the author touches upon this area well as it is relevant to marginalized women. Though all people should have equal share in the goodness of God– as we are made in the image of God– the only thing that I will caution against is that we must be careful not to impose our culture onto God. This is a fine line that cannot be discussed in the span of this book review but that is something that I feel is important to mention.
Unfortunately, there are still issues of discrimination and suspicion plaguing women even today, and these issues still rear their heads even in some churches. I would even go as far to say that those who suppress and disrespect women have to give an account before God for their irreverence. Women were also made in the image of God; they are not simply objects, but creations of worth and value who play a large role in accomplishing the will of God and bringing his kingdom to fruition. Jesus regularly affirmed women, giving them the time of day and even providing healing to their bodies and souls. He recognized them as beloved daughters of God.
Overall, the book is a strong testament to the role of women, past and present. As women, we share a rich and lasting legacy. Having also been shaped and influenced by strong female figures in my own life, I can resonate with the sabiduria (wisdom) that does not come from education or erudition, but from lived experiences and a deep sense of intuition. Women in the Bible, women throughout history, and women today not only possess this wisdom, but they have the capacity to apply it to their lives. These women are profound avenues of knowledge and wisdom, given by God himself.