The Widow's Mite = the Widow's Might
The parable of the widow’s “mite” (a small, rough-cut, nearly worthless coin) from the Gospels tells is usually mentioned in the context of fundraising and commitment. The story is that after all the wealthy and middle-class members of the church donate gold and silver from some portion of their income, perhaps even the glorious tithe (10%!), a destitute widow at the end of the line hands over two tiny pennies – all that she has. In this interpretation, it’s the person who has nothing who is generous, giving literally her last coin. (The story’s also interpreted lots of different ways, including as a justification for anti-Semitism ... hey, not everyone chooses to play nice with the Bible).
I've seen this happen, and I've done it myself. Folks who are poor often have no trouble giving – those who have, understand how to “spend” some on one thing, some on another, building a reasonable budget from categories. Those who have nothing know that things and categories are irrelevant. They’re grateful, and they have, literally, nothing to lose.
And so, a few weeks ago as I consulted with my own minister about the call I heard to serve in Unitarian Universalist ministry, to lend my skills and gifts to the church which has given me so much, and to which I’ve given fairly substantial financial gifts (when I was facing bankruptcy and radical economic straits myself), I found that she and I had come to a fork in the road.
She mentioned she was stunned to see three young widows in her own flock who’d gotten as far as I had. One was ordained last year, the first from our congregation to complete her training and don her own mantle; another enters seminary this fall, and I was at that moment sitting with her in a restaurant trying to find whether this direction is the one that speaks to me most clearly, the one where I can have the biggest impact.
My beloved minister marveled at the phenomenon. Of how many people called under her gaze? -- not dozens -- three have been women, widowed young. She wants to get us all together for a lunch or something, so she can observe, what is it that unites us? What is it about the three of us that makes us all think this next journey should be the one to develop us? Because ministry is a very difficult path. In a recent sermon, she called ministry hard, thankless, unremunerative work that asks us for our strongest effort, for sacrifice, for stretch and reach and flexibility.
But see, I don’t find us three remarkable at all. Because the young widows and widowers I know are extraordinary, unlike anyone other group of people I've ever met. Not only are we deep and hilarious, we have perspective, we’re tough, and like all mothers, we’re tender and warm at the drop of a hat. We expect hats to drop, and the second shoe, too. We love fiercely, we’ve learned what works for us, and we brush off difficulties more easily than we did when we were young. We’re hopeful and we are pretty sure things will never be as bad as they were. We’re always moving forward, even when we’re nursing injuries. I think of young widows as momma wolves.
I know the other two widows in this clutch and we’re all quite different in most other ways. We’re united only by loss, and thus by our stage of life.
Of course, I’ll plan the lunch, it will be fun, and I’m sure I’ll learn something. But I’m not surprised at all to find widows on this road.
With this emptying of her pocket, the widow’s mite becomes the widow’s Might. When she has nothing left, still she digs deep. She's already given her all, and found out there’s more. Something that’s been there, all along, that she can see once there’s no more static. We each find something different, but we’re all changed radically after loss.
Maybe breaking has helped us to tune in to the pain of all the world. Maybe we learned to rise back up, singing. Some find they have the power to lead others to light. The widow is sure she can hold her child through a dark night and laugh as the dawn comes. Grief has forged us and we burned until we began to shine.
A widow has found the riches within her, invisible to others. And sometimes, she may be moved to share, knowing that if others haven’t been tested yet, they might need to see that penny as proof. (And fortunately, they can buy one on QVC...)
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