Friday, July 23, 2010

Finding Balance in the Mary/Martha story in Luke 10

The story of Mary and Martha is found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, verses 38-42. Five short verses always manage to spark the flames of controversy and tension among women young and old, with or without siblings. I'm no exception. This passage strikes a particularly tender, sensitive chord within me because the three primary characters are two sisters and Jesus. The dynamics between Martha and Mary are precisely the same between my older sister and me.

I've heard two sermons preached on this and skimmed through a book called "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World" by Joanna Weaver. Yep. I'm a Mary. It's a personality style. I'm wired to be reflective, to contemplate, and to listen.  Maybe there are more "Marthas" than "Marys" in the world. Most women I know resonate with Martha.

What I've come to discover for myself is that it's okay to be a "Mary." For most of my life I've wrestled with the guilt and shame of not being a "Martha." 

I would be clumsy and awkward at throwing a meal together for a large group of people, even though scripture commands us to be hospitable. Just the idea of laboring over every detail of an exquisite cuisine, no matter how delicious, is enough to send me fleeing to McDonald's to take comfort in a simple burger. Food planning, preparation, serving and entertaining is clearly not my gift. I can disclose that without shame today and stand in awe and admiration of the women for whom hospitality comes more naturally. I'm not saying I couldn't or wouldn't rise to the occasion if I believed that's what God was asking me to do. Spaghetti would be on the plate because it's quick and easy. Pasta from a box. Sauce from a can. (Make mental note: do not come knocking on my door if you expect a five star three course meal made from scratch.)

Hospitality is not about wowing guests with the latest "Martha Stuart" (pun intended) inspired concoction. Guests aren't there to critique the meal. They hunger for meaningful conversation and that's not as likely to happen if the host is too stressed about overcooked broccoli or dry turkey. I think that's the point Jesus was trying to make to Martha. He probably would have been content with canned soup, Doritos and water for his purpose in visiting at that time.

This story is not about proving Martha "wrong" and Mary "right."  On the contrary, they're both right. God does call us to action. The church needs people to serve. In fact, right before this scripture is the Good Samaritan parable where Jesus is trying to instill the truth that everyone is the Christian's neighbor.

Instead, we might learn to find the balance between quiet, reflective listening to Christ from Mary's example, and getting the errands run, the dishes washed and the laundry done from Martha's example. Yes, this is difficult to do and how to go about doing exactly that is the premise of "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World." (next week's blog) It's about respecting and honoring each other's differences and helping one another find balance. The "Marys" could gently encourage "Marthas" to slow down while reassuring them that what they have done is indeed appreciated. If a "Martha"  could just gently interrupt my reflecting and remind me to get the cake out of the oven, toss the salad, and pour the drinks, I would be ever so appreciative.

Friday, July 9, 2010

See me by the sea

It's the distant rumble of another wave about to land. It's the sound the water makes against the sand as it recedes. It's the way that the waves swell and fold in to each other just before release and crash onto the sand.  His dance and His melodies seduce me. His voice calms me.

We met in the mid 1990s, when my parents owned a time share in Cancun Mexico, where we spent some of my college spring breaks. This wasn't my first introduction to the beach. I had been to Captiva Island on the Gulf Coast of Florida and the southeast coastline, but it was the Carribean who spoke to me in a way that I could not ignore.

Some family and friends from the Midwest still roll their eyes with skeptical looks when I fly to Des Moines from Pittsburgh for reunions and declare that my final destination will be some coastal city or town - in part because I've been talking about it for about 10 years and still haven't moved. (But hey, life isn't over just yet.) While I cannot deny a certain amount of pride about being raised in Des Moines and have nothing against family and friends who chose Iowa, Minnesota or Kansas as a place to raise their families, I could, but chose not to ignore the strength of the undertow pulling me toward the sea.

Some Midwesterners tend to associate beaches with an elite, overindulgent lifestyle, but it's not about proving myself "better." It's not about becoming a beach bunny, showing off a bikini or scoping out "hot bodies." It's not about physically distancing myself from family or escaping my values. 

It's about moving toward the Sacred and Holy.

W. Phillip Keller, author of "Sea Edge" (1985) explains it so well in his opening dedication: "To those who love the sea edge and sense God's presence there." Exactly. I can experience the full essence of the Almighty through every sense by the sea. Keller writes of the healing powers of the sea, due to its chemical compounds. "The sea water itself  is a marvelous healing agency. Cuts, wounds, abrasions, sores, and skin blemishes are sterilized, cleansed and enabled to heal with great rapidity. Even injured joints and torn ligaments, if bathed in the sea, then exposed to the warm therapy of the sun, will mend in wondrous ways. Just walking barefoot on the sand, letting the ocean waves play about one's feet and legs is beneficial. The splash of sea water on the skin makes it throb and tingle with exquisite delight as the blood comes racing to the surface of the body . . . the Spirit of God reminds me that similarly He is my great Healer. It is He who restores my soul. It is He who renews my spirit. it is He who restores to my life the health and wholesomeness of His own character."

Anne Morrow Lindbergh has written insightful meditations on life inspired from the sea in "Gift from the Sea" originally published in 1955 renewed for its 50th anniversary publication in 2005.

Not only are the rhythms of the sea soathing and healing, but the sun creates millions of diamonds when it shines, making it a precious jewel, and more meaningful to me than stained glass windows, an altar and a pulpit. I fall to my knees in the sand and praise God for the gift of the sea.