In her pressed jeans and blue blouse with its round clerical collar, Reverend Irma Alvarado is the very essence of calm. As I set out my recorder, she extends her small brown hands on the table. An intricate flower ring graces her finger, a gift, I presume, from her spouse, who is also a Salvadoran Episcopal priest here in El Salvador.
I ask Irma to describe an experience with God, and she responds, “God is always present, but there are moments of greater intensity.” She meets my gaze with eyes that are black and thickly lashed as she tells me about a time when her son, Josue, was six years old and diagnosed with leukemia. “The bone marrow exams were very painful, muy doloroso.” She describes how her son, curled in a fetal position, received the jab of a thick needle the size of a nail. How hard it was for her to watch his face tense in pain and know that after months of high fevers and swollen glands, it had come to this: leukemia.
“With all the love and hope that one has for one’s child,” Irma says, “I began to pray.” On the eve of the third round of bone marrow tests, after leaving the hospital to put her infant daughter to bed, Irma prayed for her son’s life. She lost all sense of time as she wept, wrestling with God. Suddenly, she felt an intense calm enter her heart. “I felt within my heart this certainty, this tranquility, that everything would be okay. So strong was her feeling of certainty that she was able to sleep peacefully.
“The next day, when I went to the hospital, I told my husband, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’ That third round of tests came back clear, and there was the miracle: el milagro de Dios [the miracle of God].” While Irma and her husband continued to bring Josue back to the hospital for continued monitoring, he remained healthy and is now twenty-six years old.
More recently, Irma felt immense calm and certitude after praying for her grandson, who was born two months’ premature. Irma’s own mother, watching the infant struggle for oxygen, commented that he would surely die. Irma describes how his little ribbed chest heaved, how his throat emitted a sound like a mewing kitten, even as he slept. “He was so very fragile—tan indefenso, tan fragil—especially his lungs. His tiny chest shuddered with each breath.” Irma says she laid her hands gently on his chest and began to pray, weeping.
Recalling this moment, Irma’s eyes gleam with the mist of tears. “I don’t know how long I knelt there, praying over him—maybe for an hour or two—but then his little chest calmed. Again I felt the power and that certainty that everything would be all right. When my daughter came home from her classes, I told her that her son would no longer have difficulty breathing. I felt that certain. ‘He might have other illnesses,’ I told her. ‘But his lungs are healed.’ And now he’s five and attending kindergarten. It is another of God’s miracles.” Irma wipes her eyes. “Because God is merciful.”
When I ask Irma if she sees feminine aspects to God, she answers emphatically, “Yes. God’s attributes of love, compassion, forgiveness are like those of a mother. I’m a mother to my two children. As bad as my children behave, I love them—por muy mal que se porten, los amo. I can’t say, ‘No, I don’t love them because they disobeyed me or didn’t tell me where they were going. They’re my children. I love them. God is like that. That’s the feminine part of God.”
Excerpted from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine
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