There is a special energy when women on the coast get together. Maybe it is because it does not happen very often or maybe it is because there is extra joy in having someone to help with the dishes, but whatever the reason, I am always glad to participate.
A few weekends ago, fellow Coast Seeder Larisa and I became part of that energy when we were invited to participate in a Women’s Conference hosted by the Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean in the Marialabaja area. Instead of only focusing on spirituality and church, although there is an over-abundance of that, the conference also encourages the women to leave with a new, practical skill that they can use at home. In past years, the women have learnt how to make caramel sauce, jam, and even to quilt.
This year, Larisa and I were invited to teach something from our cultures and communities. Being the good Canadian and Mennonite that I am, I decided to teach the ladies how to make, wait for it, DOUGHNUTS!
We gathered together in a backyard and began to make dough. I tried to explain Tim Horton’s culture, but I’m afraid it’s hard for non- Canadians to grasp. Things went a little more smoothly as Larisa and I explained how dough can be a metaphor for life: it’s a process that takes time, there are many ingredients that go into life, sometimes, you have to wait and sometimes you have to be active. As the dough rose, Larisa gave a brief meditation on how the strength and resistance of women on the coast parallels the strength and resistance of women in the Bible. It is not always flashy and obvert, but it is always constant and present.
Then we deep fried things! The women got really excited, not only making doughnut shapes, but dinosaurs. Everyone discussed frying techniques and what fillings could be used to make the doughnuts even better. We laughed and laughed.
However, as this was a church conference, church did play a main role. Services were held each night, special fast services took place in the morning, and each woman was encouraged to rise at 5am to take part in a special devotional and prayer time. Services were intense. The Holy Spirit has a large role in many churches, and among women in San Pablo, there are almost no other members of the Trinity. As soon as the music starts to play, women start to sway. The drums start beating and women flock down the aisle, flailing and jumping under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to dance it out.
Just as it’s hard for those living outside Canada to understand Rrrroll up the rim to win, it is often challenging for me to understand spirituality and faith in a context and culture that are still foreign. It’s hard to engage intellectually with a belief system when that system appears to rationally consist only of jumping up and down; the more yelling there is in a sermon, the more the Holy Spirit is speaking. I feel out of place and genuinely do not often understand what is going on and how I fit in.
I become scared- if I can so easily deconstruct what is taking place here, just by observing from the outside, how easy would it be for someone to deconstruct and poke holes in my worldview and belief system? And, why not save that person the trouble, by deconstructing and poking all the holes myself?
Throughout this process, I am learning to see women using church as a place of release, community and comfort in a context where life is often very difficult. There is no other place in their lives where they are free to express themselves and momentarily find escape from the daily hardships of poverty and violence. Music and rhythm, dance and motion are cultural staples in this part of Colombia. Children can dance before they can walk. Instead of owning fridges, people own speakers the same size as fridges. Partying is a lifestyle. However, Christians operate under a radically different culture; anything worldly, including dancing, non-Christian music, drinking and the partying culture are seen as sins. Church is really the only place to let loose, get drunk on the Holy Spirit and enjoy the pleasure of moving to music within a supportive community. Intuitively, they know what they need and how to participate.
I’m still trying to figure out what sociological significance my own beliefs hold and how to find a balance between rationality and intuition. But what I do know is that there is joy and love and laughter to be cherished within this group of women and it is a gift to interact with them. Sometimes, the best response might be to put aside all of those differences and questions and just deep fry things for awhile together.
Check out Larisa’s reflections on the weekend.