Today is the feast day of Saint Martha, one of the few named women of the Gospels. You may remember her from the story in Luke, where she hustles and bustles with household chores and grows ever more exasperated with her sister Mary, who isn't helping.
For a theological approach, see this post. I've written about her frequently through the years. Today, I want to think about Martha and her lessons for those of us who are trying to carve out a life with more meaning.
At first glance, it's counterintuitive. Martha is not living a particularly creative life or a life with depth. How can she? She's much too busy trying to manage and micromanage. And therein lies the lesson.
Martha scurries around so much that she can't be present for Jesus. How often are our current lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of our daily life that we neglect to make time for what's really important.
Keep in mind that even though the story revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All humans must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the other kinds of nourishment that we need so desperately. Unfortunately, often the chores win.
I can hear some of us shrieking by now: "Yes, but those chores must be done!" Really? Are you sure? What would happen if you didn't vacuum this week? What would happen if you wore your clothes an extra time or two before laundering them? What would happen if you surrendered to the dust?
Jesus tells Martha that she worries about many things, and the implication is that all of the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t really important. It's a story many of us, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again--maybe every day.
We need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. For some of us, charging through our to-do lists is a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important. We forget to take time to work on the creative aspects of our lives that matter most to us.
Give up one chore this week and use that time to return to an activity that matters.
There's one other story about Martha that gives valuable instruction for those of us struggling to find our creative lives. We also see Martha at the story of Lazarus, her brother, who has been dead in the grave for several days when Jesus comes. She is convinced that her brother would still be alive if Jesus had gotten there in time. And she's worried about the smell when Jesus orders the grave opened. Here she is, about to witness a miracle, and she's worried about the social niceties. She wants a miracle, but she wants it on her terms.
I see the same thing in many a creative life. I've had chapbooks chosen for publication, but I yearn for a book with a spine. When I get the book with a spine, I expect to yearn for something else yet again. We live in a time where distribution of words is miraculously easy--and yet I often wish that someone else would do the hard work.
I've seen friends who finally get the book deal, and then they complain over items that seem minor to me, issues of copyediting which baffle me as I watch the battles from the sidelines. I see so many instances of creative types trying to micromanage the miracles coming their way.
I see similar dynamics in many a person's struggle to discern what's important and what's not--and in larger institutions too. We see institutions that wish to be larger, while neglecting to rejoice in the relationships that a smaller group encourages. I see people with an idealized view of family life who cannot relax into the family that actually exists around them. I know many a person who doesn't appreciate a job until it's gone.
I have hopes that our lives will follow the model of Martha. Even though she seems slow to understand the lessons of Jesus, he doesn't get exasperated and send her away. He continues to try to shape her, gently and insistently. He tells her that she worries about many things, but that her sister sets a good example.
The sister, Mary, is fully present. My hope for us all is that we, too, can be fully present to our lives, to that which needs us to bring it into the world.
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