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Telling Our Own Stories: Seven Women, Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

I am woman
I am African
My beads mark my presence
Beads of wisdom, beads of sweat
I am woman
I am Bota
The precious black bead
Skillfully crafted from black stone
I do not speak much
but I am not without a voice
The authentic black bead does not rattle noisily
I am an African woman, wearing beads ground
By Anowa and from the womb of Anowa
Other beads I have which do not belong to her
They have come from over the seas
They are glass and easily shattered
Created by humans they can be ground
back to powder and remodeled.
I am woman
I am African
Here I sit—not idle
But busy stringing my beads.
My beads mark my presence
And when I am gone
My beads will remain

This poem by the matriarch of African theology, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, reveals the profound yearning that African women have to become wholly themselves. It embodies and expresses a journey that all women take, a journey that moves women through hazardous fears and foreboding shadows. Every woman is looking for her true self – a beautiful self, endowed with dignity, and worthy of respect. Each is claiming her right to a place in humanity’s story. For the women of Africa who carry the heart and soul of Africa in their very being, the challenges confronting them include massive resistance on the part of culture, tradition, church, and the impregnable walls of patriarchy.

The recently concluded Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church Expert Seminar held in Nairobi, Kenya, was an experience of cascading new life. The seven beneficiaries of the CTEWC scholarship for the advanced training of African women in theological ethics represent the hope that beckons to all who still believe and hope in Africa at this time in history. On reflection, I see the seven women as metaphor for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – gifts to the church in Africa and the World Church.  I say this, because these seven women are a microcosm of the graces, charisms, and gifts that the Spirit confers on the community called church. In a unique way, they are a partial answer to Linda Hogan’s question to Archbishop John Onaiyekan regarding women: “What gifts might the church be missing by not including women in ordained ministries?”  I would add: what might the World Church be missing by not welcoming and celebrating all the gifts that women bring in Africa and beyond?

The African woman echoes the cry of all women whose hearts yearn to be fulfilled, fully and completely, and in the process reveal the glory and the beauty of the One who has created and formed them in love.  It was a joyful experience to hear the many voices of women at our gathering in Nairobi.  It gave me hope for the future of the African and the World church.  As Oduyoye remarks in her poem, “my beads mark my presence… beads of wisdom, beads of sweat”.

Through the labor and giftedness of African women, lay and religious, the beads of wisdom and sweat will bear fruit in the future.  These beads, these efforts, will not be lost but will remain as testimony to the gifts of African women’s minds and hearts.  The march is on: “Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Revelation 2:7). As African women in the World Church, our voice, our “authentic black bead does not rattle noisily….” but it is there!

Anne Arabome, SSS