Monday, July 22, 2019

Remembering Martha and Mary Along the Writer's Way

Many of us are familiar with the story of Martha and Mary, two sisters who hosted Jesus in the village of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). Martha bustles about the kitchen preparing a meal, slaving over a hot oven. Mary sits in the living room at the feet of her master, captivated by his every word. Finally, an exasperated Martha storms out of the kitchen and demands of Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”

Exhausted from a long journey which he knows is leading toward his death, Jesus has sought out two friends for solace and rest. Jesus needs a friend to listen. Mary understands this as he pours out what was probably his hopes, his dreams, his doubts. He responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

While the “lazy” one gets the praise, the woman in the kitchen suffers the master’s rebuke. At the same time, Jesus confronts Martha. Meal preparation, he reminds her, does not offer the sustenance of life that he, the Christ, is.

The Martha/Mary story is a favorite in Bible study. It opens a dialogue about temperament and priorities. Who are you? Martha or Mary? Are you distracted by minutiae or focused on meaning?

In the ten years since I started the Women’s Writing Circle, I have lost count of how many women have bemoaned that due to the distractions and commitments at home and in daily life, she must miss our writing circle. She asks when the next meeting is. When I tell her, the response sometimes...she won’t make that meeting either due to a prior commitment―her life is “too busy for writing.”

“But I want to write,” she insists. “I just can’t find the time.”

I have been there. The phone rings, cutting into my writing time. The bills wait to be opened and paid; a friend or family member unexpectedly drops by and needs a listening ear when I had other plans.

As we all know—churches and households—could not survive without the Marthas of the world. We do the cooking, the childrearing, the altar guild, the meals for fellowship, often working a fulltime job, too. This is noble and good. Yet, when does the busyness stop? When do we let go of the quest for perfection, of not having to be in control all the time? When do we trust ourselves that it is time to slow down, to contemplate in solitude and stillness what really matters?

In Mary’s case, being in the presence of Christ was the "good portion." In our own lives, it may be the realization that to devote a morning to ourselves could be a turning point toward a healthier, happier life... help sustain us from feeling overwhelmed.
With Dr. Asha George-Guiser

It is this being tied to mundane tasks that comes between the woman and her creative life.

It's been a long time since I thought about the Martha/Mary story. I thank Episcopal priest and therapist, The Rev. Dr. Asha George-Guiser, who this past Sunday, taught our Bible study on this topic at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Honey Brook, PA. Her reflections and teaching helped reacquaint me with the two sisters—and with myself. Questions she asked us to ponder:

Do I live in the tyranny of the urgent?

Do I look down on the 'Marys' of the world who seem far less driven and less efficient than me?

Am I unable to do one thing at a time, including 15-30 minutes in a day with God and his Word without multi-tasking, or my mind going over my tasks?

Is duty (I must, should, ought) not desire (free choice) my driver?

Do I usually experience 'Sunset fatigue' so that by the end of the day, I have no energy for relationships or meaningful conversations with God or others?
Writing is a spiritual endeavor. When we light the candle in our Women's Writing Circle and shut out the distractions of the outside world, we lift both the one who gives and the one who receives. There is a sacredness to sharing our stories with others―and offering them a listening ear.

I like to think I am Mary. I am older now, aware  that setting aside time for solitude, reflection and stillness nourishes me. Yet, I also know that Martha is a part of me, too. She hovers in the wings, waiting to swoop in and make me anxious and distracted from what really matters in my life.

In my work-in-progress memoir, A Woman Alone: Lessons from the Writing Life, I write about a trip I took to Maine.

In the woodsy trails high above the Atlantic, Maine offers solitude and utter stillness. As I walk, I long to quiet my soul. I am exhausted from the endless news cycle, the anxiety that comes with aging and living alone.

“Listen and attend with the ear of your heart,” Saint Benedict said. This is the joy of our writing circle. In one story, in one sentence, we open our hearts to hopefulness in a weary world—a world filled with unexpected joy and new ways of looking at ourselves, and at others, on an ordinary day, if only we take the time.

Are you Martha or Mary? How do you stay focused on your writing and devoting time to yourself? Your comments and thoughts are welcomed.


Nancy said...

Our sermon yesterday was based on the Mary and Martha story, too. I decided that I am a combination of both those women. Probably many others would agree. I know what I should be, but part of me knows I must be doing the mundane things in life, too. Perhaps we are all still a work in progress.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Hi Nancy, Thanks so much for stopping by the Circle and sharing your thoughts. I agree! We are all works in progress.