By Marika Hanushevsky Hull, MDiv, BCC
Neomi DeAnda, who wove personal experiences into her plenary talk at the 2013 NACC National Conference with humor and ease, reflected on her understanding of what she called “lo cotidiano,” literally, “daily living.” She emphasized the importance of “acknowledging and appreciating the grace-filled moments in the messiness of daily life.”
The Latina theologian spoke of the contextual understanding that is the essence of chaplaincy and brought her own personal, social, cultural, and theological experience into the mix in a disarming and effective way. Ms. DeAnda sees her work as part of an effort to contribute to social justice by regaining voices that have been lost, and particularly recapturing Latin American women’s voices.
Ms. DeAnda, a Tejana, (a Texan of Mexican descent) is a faculty member and director of the Oscar Romero Scholarship Program, and the Hispanic theology and ministry Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, IL. She holds a doctorate in constructive theology from Loyola University Chicago, where she wrote her dissertation on the writings of Sor Maria Anna Agueda de San Ignacio (Puebla, Mexico, 1695-1756). Sor Maria was a religious in the first Mexican Dominican community in which women were allowed to enter without a dowry, and she became its first prioress.
The framework of Ms. DeAnda’s theme for the April 14 plenary session at the Pittsburgh, PA, conference, as also for her work and her life, is that context matters. It is a philosophy that resonates with chaplaincy work, and Ms. DeAnda tied it into the theme of the NACC conference, “Three Rivers Converging: A Call to Faith, Identity and Action.” Out of this contextual perspective, DeAnda highlighted three ways of spiritual experience: savoring, nurturing, and procuring faith. She explored these three paths in light of her doctoral work and her theological understanding of the writings of Sor Maria Anna Agueda de San Ignacio. Sor Maria was an early 18th-century Mexican religious whose writings Ms. DeAnda has investigated and brought to light in her doctoral work. Sor Maria’s writings focused on a theological understanding of Mary’s breast milk.
Ms. DeAnda’s first thematic “river” was “savoring.” In Spanish, the word is sabor, which literally means “how something tastes.” Ms. DeAnda related the two experiences of tasting, sabor, and knowing, saber (to know). She asked the audience to think of a favorite food, to remember the last moment when you ate the food, and to relive the experience of smelling, tasting and feeling. Ms. DeAnda stated that when we savor our faith we do it through our bodies in the context of our communities.
-From Ms. DeAnda’s translation of Las Marabillas Book 1, Chapter V.
Ms. DeAnda’s second thematic “river” was “nurturing.” She sees nurturing as “embodied tradition.” She shared that the long tradition of Catholicism is her “favorite part of being Catholic.” Ms. DeAnda wants us to experience this tradition not only with our intellect but also with our bodies. In her words: “When we do theology from this perspective, we are paying much more attention to our own humanity, as well as the grace-filled moments which our bodies sense in the daily routines of our lives.” Ms. DeAnda is drawn to images of real human bodies and how the lactating Mary was often depicted in the Middle Ages. The theologian understands Mary’s role as central to the Trinity: Mary as daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Bride of the Spirit. As an interesting aside, Ms. DeAnda mentioned that the images of Mary with Jesus in her arms from the 17th century served as a kind of public service announcement to encourage breast-feeding for upper class women.
According to Ms. DeAnda, when we become re-acquainted, (re) conocimientos, with the different parts of Catholic histories and traditions, we become reacquainted with the many streams of thinking about and experiencing of our theological framework and other waterways that connect and diverge from the three rivers of our theological understanding.
“Procuring faith” was the third thematic “river” in Ms. DeAnda’s presentation. Ms. DeAnda understood the hope of faith, in the words of Maria Pilar Aquino, a Latina feminist theologian, as the Empapamiento of Hope: “A hope of faith which is so drenched and saturated that those working toward otro mundo que sí es possible (another world is possible) know that they will grow tired, sick, chafed, disheartened but will continue luchando en la vida (fighting in life).
The conclusion of the theologian’s presentation was the highlight of her talk. With the conference’s liturgical dancer and Ms. DeAnda on stage, the audience swayed enthusiastically to the music and the words of the song “Color Esperanza” by Diego Torres.
|Saber que se puede||Know it is possible|
|Querer que se pueda||Desire for it to be possible|
|Quitarse los miedos||Remove one’s fears|
|Sacarlos afuera||Throw them out|
|Pintarse la cara||Paint one’s face|
|Color esperanza||The color of hope|
|Tentar al futuro||Tempt the future|
|Con el corazón||With one’s heart|
Ms. DeAnda tied together an embodied way of looking at faith and relationship with God out of her own cultural context with Sor Maria’s theological perspective and the conference theme of “Three Rivers Converging.” With Ms. DeAnda we learned of the desire for the possible, of the
Empapamiento of Hope, through engagement with our five senses, in the context of our ethnic and cultural communities and our communities of faith. In sharing her sense of embodied faith, the importance of cultural context and her academic interests, the Latina theologian brought us a taste of the richness of diversity and theological experience in our Catholic tradition.
In the words of one of the conference organizers: “Dr. DeAnda, thank you so much for stretching us.”
Marika Hanushevsky Hull, a chaplain at Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, MA, is a member of the NACC’s Editorial Advisory Panel.