Otherwise, the garden is finished. This is my fault. I should have planted some fall vegetables, but I didn’t. That’s all.
Yesterday was a wonderful autumn day, with a bit of fog followed by sunshine. After a few hours of computer work, I took #1 daughter to pick up her car, and went to the gym, where I finished Gilead on the treadmill, feeling a little silly about crying at the ending. Maybe other people have also cried on the treadmill, if only because they had the incline too high. Then more work, and then book club, which is always enjoyable and enlightening, and then more work at the computer. I made dinner, and then I took the evening off. I relaxed, even though that felt a little odd at first. I saw my husband off to his tournament. I did my homework, watched a movie I’m reviewing for Amazon.com, and knitted.
Sleep deprivation is my excuse.
My homework involved two different studies. In one, we were asked to calculate exactly how much time we had spent this week in religious contemplation, prayer, and study. I am not sure I can do that. In the excellent novel Gilead, contemplation of spiritual issues and theological questions is woven through the story and the thoughts of the narrator, and I think that is more how I go about it, and more how it ought to be done. After all, if I can say that I spent forty-five minutes in contemplation of spiritual matters, then that suggests that at the end of that forty-five minutes I closed my thoughts to such matters. One of the women at book club spoke of how wonderful it was that the narrator saw God in small things every day — caring for his son, rain, shelling walnuts — and how, if you are a religious person, your life ought to be like that.
Joanna Weaver’s book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World starts with a chapter describing Martha running around getting things ready for Jesus. This is a story from the Bible. In case you don’t know it, let me recap for you here.
Jesus and the disciples visit a family in Bethany. The family includes two sisters, Mary and Martha. At one point, Martha comes to Jesus and asks him to tell Mary to help her. In fact, she asks him whether he doesn’t care that Mary has left her to do all the work, and demands that he tell Mary to help her. Jesus tells Martha that she is busy with a lot of things, but that Mary has chosen something better, and that won’t be taken away from her.
Margaret Kim Peterson, in Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Life, points out that Jesus’s suggestion that the hospitable preparations are not that important is not the equivalent of a modern person’s saying, “Oh, that’s okay, Martha, relax, don’t go to any trouble for us.” Within the culture of the time, it was akin to another story of the New Testament, when a man says he will come with Jesus as soon as he has buried his father, and Jesus tells him to skip it. Hospitality was a big deal, and women were responsible for it.
Weaver envisions Martha running around barking orders at her servants and getting crazy with her preparations, wanting to carve Noah’s Ark and the animals out of cheese. This strikes me as silly, but then it always bothers me when people take a few verses from the Bible and construct elaborate stories out of them (unless they admit that it is fiction), including the thoughts and feelings of the people.
But it also bothers me that Martha is made ridiculous there. I think that most women, or at least most of us old enough to be responsible for hospitality, have felt like Martha sometimes. Her words to Jesus sound petty, and his assurance that Mary is in the right seem like a rebuke, but who among us has not been frustrated by how much there is to do and how little help we usually get?
In the discussion we had before reading this first chapter, it struck me that Jesus might not have been saying that Martha should shut up and do her work, but rather that there were lots of other people who could help. “Have Andrew help,” he might have been saying. Peterson points out that Jesus talks quite a bit about feeding and clothing people, and doesn’t at all seem to think that such work is unimportant or beneath him, let alone beneath us.
Weaver also proposes that Jesus wasn’t saying that Martha should settle down and quit fussing with all that stuff. He recognized, she says, that Martha couldn’t do that. It was in her nature to feel that she had to get everything done.
Weaver also envisions Martha feeling as though Jesus had added even more tasks to her to-do list — she not only had to see to all the domestic arrangements, but also had to find time to sit at his feet and listen.
The question about calculating how much time we’ve spent with God this week seems like that to me. I prefer Peterson’s suggestion that we can spend time with God while we are doing our work.