The Tale of a Widow
by Norma P. Dollaga
This article first appeared in the Union Seminary Bulletin, January 2007, year two, vol.1. Edited and used by permission.
What I will be sharing with you is more of a reflection than a theological discourse. I am not a theologian, for somehow my religious training has alienated me from the world of theology. My theological "trauma" is still troubling me. The orientation given to us is that to be theological is to be academic, logical, and intellectual--a domain traditionally presumed to be reserved for men. While there is nothing wrong with being academic, logical, and intellectual, there is something wrong with using misogynistic attitudes to invalidate the credibility of someone else's theology. I must honestly say I still have to recover from the "trauma" of being on the receiving end of these attitudes.
I have chosen a passage from the Bible as I reflect on the stories of two simple and ordinary women of today whose lives have made a tremendous impact on others. My immersion with hundreds of women in the churches and communities of the Philippines gives me the courage to reflect and write as I painfully but joyfully try to understand the Bible from the perspective of women and from a liberating point of view.
Scripture: Luke 18:2-5
He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"
With this passage in mind, come walk with me through the stories of these two ordinary and simple women.
Nanay Mameng is the current national chairperson of the Kalipunan Ng Damayang Mahi- hirap (KADAMAY), an alliance of urban poor peoples' organizations.
Nanay Mameng does not know me personally, but I have witnessed how her life has made a powerful impact on others. She is a living example, a symbol of undying love and passion for justice and peace. Nanay Mameng is a poor laundrywoman who is not afraid to speak her mind to expose social injustices, oppression, and exploitation that deliver deadly blows to the lives, limbs, and dignity of the impoverished majority of our people.
In a letter to Nanay Mameng, I wrote: "We do not know each other personally. But I am one of those who admire you. You do not have the glamour of an urbanized woman who 'shops 'til she drops.' You are a woman who has been bent over for many years and yet has found transformation through an organized will of the people to liberate themselves. Coming from an urban poor community and having suffered violence and extreme poverty, you have gained much character, an eagle-like strength, wisdom, unselfish love, and commitment to build, for coming generations, a future with peace and justice.
"Rather than passively watching events unfold in demolition and militarization of communities, you have stood firm and emerged as an empowered woman blaming neither God nor fate for the suffering you and the rest of our people are now experiencing. You have aptly and sharply analyzed that our situation represents the injustices inflicted by an oppressive system. You have articulated well that there will be poverty as long as powerful blocks of a very few people and a small number of nations hold monopolies and control the vast resources of the earth--a human practice that undermines the agenda of equality, justice, and abundance for all.
"This is what academicians, politicians, and religious leaders fail to explain. Yes, you have emerged as a transformed woman, able to synthesize personal experiences of daily tears, pain, and persecution into a joyful journey of struggle and of joining other people who suffer. You have shown the world that your organized anger, compassion, and devotion to liberation can lead people to the dawn of freedom. The fire and passion that mark your speeches have brought you popularity.
"You have remained steadfast. Your integrity has earned you the respect and admiration of people from all walks of life. (Because people thought that you earned silver and gold from that popularity, a snatcher has slashed your bag, only to get an old worn-out pair of eyeglasses for his efforts.)
"You are a symbol of power living a dangerous life--the life lived by those who shaped the past and continual herstory/history.
"You are one of those who has meaningfully challenged and contributed to the process of transforming our society. You share your life story with other women, named and unnamed, who risk their lives and dare to fight for life.
To you and to them my highest salute . . .
"And while reflecting on your life and on the lives of women who have dared to overcome the stereotyped roles assigned by a patriarchal society, I remember Jesus' parable of the widow and the unjust judge.
"You have inspired me to read this text in the light of your struggle and the struggle of other women and the Filipino people."
Ito po ang aking anak, "This is my son." She shows the picture of her son whenever she shares her testimony--her voice so soft, her face marked with pain and agony.
If tears could only ease the pain, we would have shared ours with yours.
At the heart of our faith journey, we believe in a God who knows the agony and anguish of many mothers, fathers, and other family members and friends over the unjust and brutal deaths of their loved ones. We hold the current president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom we expect God to judge at the end of her life, responsible for these deaths.
Who is Nanay Maxima Punzal? Nanay Maxima is a 71-year-old vendor in Payuma, Norzagaray, Bulacan. She is quite old and fragile, so she lived with her son Leodagario Punzal, who looked after her. Leodagario was a member of the Anak Pawis Partylist, a legal political party representing peasants and workers.
On September 13, 2005, while her son was making a streamer inside their house, Nanay Maxima suddenly heard a blast. She immediately looked up at the ceiling, thinking at first that it was an electrical explosion. When she looked down, she saw her son with a gunshot wound to his face. She hurried to her son, embraced him, and held him on her lap: "I raised his head, but he was shot again in the back," she explained. She cried out, even while the guns were still aimed at her and her son, and said: "Why? Why did you shoot my son? He did nothing wrong. Is it a crime to earn a living in our house?" When the assailants noticed that a lot of blood was oozing from the body, they knew Leodagario was already dead and they left the house.
Leodagario is gone. He can no longer feel the warm embrace of his mother. The lullaby of Lucio San Pedro and Levi Celerio's Sa Ugoy ng Duyan can no longer soothe his wound. His life was senselessly snuffed out because he was a humble servant of the people in his lowly community.
Policemen came and asked Nanay Maxima what happened. She told her story while her son was still on her lap. Then she pleaded with the policemen to please get a vehicle to take her son to the hospital, but a policeman replied, "He is already dead." Her son was taken to the morgue.
Whenever Nanay Maxima shares her story, she bursts into tears and is almost voiceless as she remembers the goodness and kindness of her son. She tells people that her son committed no crime and offended no one. She has shed so many tears that the anguish has deeply marked her face. When you look into her eyes, you see her deep pain.
Certainly God's heart is crushed with the story of Nanay Maxima.
The Tale of a Widow
In Luke, a widow's persistence, vigilance, and militancy were characteristics that challenged even the most heartless, unfeeling, and callous of judges. She banged the walls of a court dominated by men of power and influence. She raised her voice so loud that they could do nothing to make her quiet.
Who would not be afraid of such a widow? The first impression she gives is that of a woman full of rage and anger. Those are negative emotions that should be suppressed and met with antagonism. But looking deeply into the story, we can see that her life was filled with love and hope. What she fought for was right and just. Her life was not filled with anger and rage but love and life. One cannot fight for life and justice without hope and love.
Patriarchy has taught women to be meek and patient, virtuous and plain. And when confronted with crisis and contradiction, they are taught that the best thing to do is to wait and be passive.
The widow in Luke's story contravened and subverted the tradition and role assigned to women. She became dangerous and subversive, but by her being dangerous and subversive, justice was served.
The tradition of women who subvert the partriarchal mold is an important reminder to women today. The ability to resist and defy patriarchy shows that a woman's place is not only in the kitchen, the bedroom, and the market--a woman's place is in the struggle! Only those who struggle can hope, and those who hope can struggle.
Nanay Mameng, poor and unlettered as she is, is able to speak out loud about people's lives, struggles, and hopes.
Nanay Maxima, though in great pain, did not allow her pain to immobilize her. She tells the story of her son; she demands justice.
Nanay Mameng and Nanay Maxima are senior citizens, but they inspire youth and young adults. Their wisdom is not less powerful because of their age. They may look fragile and old, but the experience that has marked their lives is not wasted. In the midst of turmoil and distress, they have been able to rise above the storm. They are the crones whose shining strength and hope encourage both young and old to form a movement for the cause of justice. They can bang and bash the judicial system and whether they are heard or not, this we know: they have not let up in their struggle. Nanay Mameng struggles for the urban poor, and Nanay Maxima, pursues a quest for justice for those who have been extra-judicially killed by government forces.
Like the widow who was marginalized but pursued what was justly hers, these women went out and participated in causes that truly count. With inner strength like a river that never runs dry, they have been consistent and persistent.
Thousands of Women
Like the widow in Jesus' story, who militantly and persistently demanded justice of the unjust judge, women today militantly expose and denounce the representatives of a corrupt, fascist, and oppressive system. They will not stop until justice is served. May the example of the widow and these two ordinary women continue to inspire us to persevere and weave our herstory/history until we give birth to a society of shalom.
Norma P. Dollaga is a deaconess serving The United Methodist Church in the Philippines.
Date posted: Nov 01, 2008