I have always chafed at the Mary and Martha story—it seems as though women in traditional roles can’t get a break. It takes so much skill and subtlety to host people, especially groups of people, in a way that is unobtrusive and hospitable, and preparation and execution take a lot more work and planning than many people know. [I think there are several people in our congregation who know this in their very bones…] And for women in Jesus’ time, I’m pretty sure that there weren’t a lot of males in the household who had had made the leap to kitchen work and what we might see today as egalitarian enlightenment in housework.
But then if I am honest, I am a person who likes to both be in charge and get things done. I’ve noticed over the years that family members may not ask me if I need help because I typically have said no, or given them the work, maybe like cleaning out the garlic press, I really don’t want to do that doesn’t have the deep satisfaction of completion attached to it.
Of course I don’t know Martha’s whole situation, but I will say that she apparently is not feeling gracious in her hospitality, nor is she able to let her guests feel well served. She is complaining and angry that her sister won’t help. If I were in her place, Chris might suggest that I cut back on the foods that I had planned to offer…which would not solve the problem, because the problem is elsewhere, in my own heart, self identity, and misplaced busy-ness.
I think that this wonderful observation by Thomas Merton gives a healing perspective for those of us who like to conquer the mountain of tasks we take on. I can see that there is violence in my intensity and focus to conquer tasks that can be dampening to the spirits of those who wish to serve with me. Merton says:
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times.
And this line from Psalm 127:2-3 is a blessing and insight. In the past few years I have been practicing getting enough sleep (gasp!) and leaving things undone when I’ve put too much on my plate (don’t tell anyone!).
It is but lost labor that we haste to rise up early and so late take rest, and eat the bread of anxiety. For those beloved of God are given gifts even while they sleep.
Finally, this will be my prayer for the coming week as I lay myself down and get ready to turn out the light:
it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
In your name we pray.
–Rev. John Williamson (in the Book of Common Prayer of New Zealand)