I have never been to a Sari Bari unit, though someday I surely do hope to have the privilege of doing so. Yet, the many pictures I have seen of the women sitting on the floor sewing, eating, playing or celebrating paint a beautiful picture in my mind. When I began reflecting on what it is I would contribute to this blog series what came to mind almost immediately was the image of another woman who also chose to sit on the floor in a posture of freedom and hope. There was a certain Mary in a brief story in the gospel of Luke that sat on the floor at the feet of her friend: a somewhat unique carpenter, teacher, some would say blasphemous rebel, and others a prophet from the unimportant town of Nazareth.
Mary made a choice. By sitting at the feet of Jesus, she broke with centuries worth of expectations of gender roles placed upon women in that particular time and place of history. Cultural and religious customs dictated that sitting at the feet of someone to listen and learn was a place reserved for male disciples who typically sat at the feet of their master to receive instruction.
Despite the patriarchal expectations and social pressure that Jesus must have undoubtedly felt as a Jewish rabbi, he praised Mary for choosing this posture. It’s a very powerful and subversive image indeed. Jesus also broke with the traditions and customs that placed women in an inferior socio-religious position.
This deconstruction of gender roles and stereotypes finds greater fulfillment and meaning when done not for it’s own sake but for the sake of human freedom. In Mary’s case, Jesus encouraged her bold decision to become a learner, a disciple. In other words a person who not only would listen to Jesus’ words but who also determined to live them out in daily life.
Can we imagine how this posture might have led Mary to deepen her friendship with Jesus, to love him more? What must have it been like for her to freely choose to sit close and hear the inflections of his voice as he spoke, his laughter or the passionate and committed tone of his words? What a risky yet liberating experience it must have been for Mary and for Jesus as well!
The seed of hope is planted in us when we are able to listen to the voice of Love that calls us beloved even before we have done or accomplished anything. Hope is affirming the humanity of the other in all its grandeur and shortcomings as well as our own. Hope is recognizing our capacity for faith and love, the mystery of the divine imprint in each of us. Hope may mean believing that, in faith, God wants us to feel God’s gentle touch, sense in our being Jesus’ compassionate gaze and hear the Spirit’s loving words for us.
In life, the place I have found to hold and create a great deal of hope is sitting around the table. Recently I sat around a table sharing a simple meal and celebrating a friend’s birthday. As I looked around the table, I saw people with different life experiences and backgrounds, some of them very tragic and violent coming together to receive from others and to give of ourselves. Hope nourished by a sense of belonging was made tangible by the genuine relationships that were represented around that simple table.
Sharing meals at table can allow us to catch a glimpse of the hope and power of the new reality of transformed relationships that was so evident in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Henri Nouwen, one of the 20th century’s great spiritual writers once said, “When we invite friends for a meal, we do much more than offer them food for their bodies. We offer friendship, fellowship, good conversation, intimacy and closeness…we offer our guests not only our food and our drink but also ourselves.” The shared moments of being at table bear a beautiful and divine witness to hope.
For the past 15 years Walter has worked for Word Made Flesh, a community that bears witness to hope by serving Jesus, in community, among the world’s most vulnerable. He lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and serves as the South America Regional Coordinator and has two daughters, age 11 and 6.
On the Web: www.elverboentrenosotros.org
Facebook: Walter Forcatto