It’s a blessing to know that my theology was shaped by the women in my life. The first person who taught me how to pray was my mother and we prayed the Rosary. When I asked what heaven was, she told me that it was a beautiful place where we were one with god and my grandmother was there.
As a child of pragmatically devout Catholics – who adopted their devotion to spreading The Word among their fellow Sicangu so the nuns and priests would leave their daughters unmolested and without physical scars of abuse – my mother acknowledged her privilege throughout her life, but also recognized she and her sisters did not escape unharmed. What she taught me at 17 when I asked if she would be offended if I sought confirmation was a lesson I did not learn until I entered recovery from alcoholism and addiction: take what you can and leave the rest.
What she took from Catholicism was a surrender to the divine that gives hope in the darkest of times. What she gave me was a foundation of respect for women that has guided me, although not without struggle, through difficult times. This year, I bounced up the steps to the Basilica of St. Mary again, hearing the drums of the Aztec dancers. I walked in to see them circling the statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe. As they processed, we all sang “Quien es esa Estrella?” and by the verse that translates, “We are your children, you are our mother; Look at us, our Lady, do not abandon us,” I knew that centuries of tradition in elevating the divinity of women in my culture and in other indigenous cultures was truly right and just.
The second woman who formed my theology was the White Buffalo Calf Woman. In our Lakota traditions, she is not just a savior, but a power that gave us a connection to the prayer life we practice now. In a time of great need, she told a hunter to prepare a place for her at camp. He told us she was coming and during her visit, she gave us the gift of the cannunpa (the pipe) and taught us how to make use of this in our prayer. When she left, she demonstrated to us her divinity by changing form into the buffalo as she left camp.
In a time of need, La Virgen appeared to the descendant of the Aztecs and offered a message of hope. She reminded us all that she was indeed our mother and that she would always be there for us. In Catholic theology, we venerate Mary because in order to give birth to the son of god, one must be perfect and without sin. She is the one who makes our faith, our hope and our salvation possible. It was with this knowledge of faith that my Grandmother Susan was a Marian and my mother Lorraine was a Sodalist. It is why I do my best to honor the place of women not just in faith communities, but in life.
As men, we make it oppressive for women in the world. If you need an example, simply look at the results of the last U.S. presidential election (that was the one were a former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State lost to a narcissistic megalomaniacal confidence man). But despite it all, they continue to give us life and encouragement when things are at their worst. They continue, despite pains and oppression that would level any man, to lead us to our better angels. Beyond the elevation of one woman, I can never grasp my church’s obsession with barring women from leadership; I can never understand why the men who lead my church need to be hit in the face with the voice of god almighty before they’ll include women in all aspects of faith and secular life.
As I stood, watching the other brown faces leading the procession of La Morenita, I was moved again to tears. It will be the brown faces who grew up like I did who will bring about the change we so desperately need in our faith life. It will be the faces of women who will guide us to justice, hope and compassion. Why do I believe that to be so? Because they’ve been the only ones who have ever taken us there before.