by Kat Armas
Story is the heartbeat of the human experience.
Narratives motivate and inspire but more than that, they connect us with each other. Listening to someone else’s story has the ability to transform us, open up our minds and our eyes to perspectives that we otherwise may not be aware of or familiar with. Stories also shape identity and culture.
Growing up as a daughter of immigrants in a city made up primarily of immigrants, meant that storytelling was a central part of my upbringing. It was common for us to sit around la mesa, or the table, and listen to my abuela, my grandmother tell stories of her life in Cuba.
Weekends were spent in the garden with our fingers in the dirt. During these times, Abuela shared sacred stories of her island: how its white sands and blue skies nourished her. As we strolled passed the mango and avocado trees in her yard, I’d listen to how she found solace within the stained-glass windows in St. Dominic’s church those lonely and uncertain months as a single mom in a new country.
Abuela loved to tell stories of God’s people in movement: like the story of Israel headed out of Egypt to the Promised Land, or Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Mary’s story was her favorite, and it soon became mine. Sure, the detail of a virgin birth was interesting, but what captivated me was the narrative of a young woman on the move, pregnant, in search of safety. It offered us a source of comfort and solidarity—the fear and uncertainty Mary must have felt for herself and her family felt familiar to me, to us.
I love the Bible because it’s full of narratives like Mary’s. However, the older I got and the more I began to learn about the Bible from those with degrees and formal ordinations, the more I noticed that it was the miraculous, the grandiose stories that were often told, retold, and investigated both in church and in seminary. We didn’t so much learn about God from the narratives of poor women than we did from the narratives of powerful men who kill giants with single stones (1 Samuel 17) or lead armies around city walls (Joshua 6).
And while these stories are important to the narrative arch of Scripture, there are many stories that often go unnoticed—equally powerful stories in which the powerless struggle for survival. The more I paid attention to the stories of unnamed women in the Bible, the more I began to understand the meaning behind the parable of the mustard seed, and how it speaks to a majority of the marginalized world.
One of my favorite examples is that of the bleeding woman in Mark 5. In this story, we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who came to Jesus in a crowd and touched his clothes at the thought that this might heal her. After he felt someone touch him, Jesus asked “who touched my clothes?” The woman, came forward, terrified, to which Jesus replied, “your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:34). What makes this exchange so powerful is the fact that just a chapter before this scene, Jesus is found rebuking his disciples for being of little faith while on the boat during the storm (Mark 4:40).
Another example can be found in Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). In this short narrative, Mark tells us that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick in bed. Jesus goes to her, heals her, and immediately after, she gets up and starts serving them. This is significant because just a few chapters later, in Mark 10, the disciples argue over who will sit at Jesus’ right hand in glory, to which he responds, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).
Similar to the bleeding woman, Peter’s mother-in-law does the very thing the disciples refuse to do, and exactly what Jesus kept calling them to as they continued calling greatness unto themselves.
If you look closely, this is a common pattern in Scripture.
There is a lot to learn from stories of God working within and through faithful people in our midst. But just like the narratives in the Bible, we often miss the stories of unnamed and overlooked people, particularly women, who have the greatest things to teach us about the kingdom of God.
These stories taught me that while God can certainly work through those with power: kings and leaders and miracles thereof, the most powerful aspect of the kingdom of God is that—like the mustard seed—it comes from small, unassuming things.
Abuela didn’t lead an army to victory nor did she defeat a giant with a stone. Instead, like Peter’s mother-in-law, the bleeding woman, and so many other women in the Bible, it was her struggle for survival lived out through her faith in God that makes her story so powerful. Learning to look for these narratives in Scripture and beyond has proved to be my greatest teacher and perhaps it can be yours, too.
Kat Armas is a Cuban-American writer and podcaster from Miami, FL who holds a dual MDiv and MAT from Fuller Theological Seminary. She is currently working on her first book, Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence and Strength, (forthcoming Summer 2021 with Brazos Press) where she writes at the intersection of women, Scripture, and Cuban identity. She also explores these topics on her podcast, "The Protagonistas", which centers the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color in church leadership and theology. You can check out more of her work at www.katarmas.com.