In the New Testament, the story is told of Jesus visiting two sisters: Mary and Martha. Mary hangs out with Christ, listens to his stories, has a great time. Martha is in the kitchen doing the work. She gets all bent out of shape because Mary is having such a great time and she’s trying to get supper ready for her guests. I always sort of assumed that Martha was the older sister, who believed wrongly her little sister had it so much better than her. Jesus told her simma down and the evening was back on track.
For years, as the younger sister, I was content to leave the story there: sibling rivalry. Lately, I’ve begun to think of it differently. I recently read the book Eat, Pray, Love and I was struck by a passage about how author Elizabeth Gilbert and her sister approach faith and grace differently:
A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.
~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
I’m a casserole kind of Christian. I hear of bad things happening to good people and I can organize like nobody’s business. I can pull together a dinner for 200 homeless people in a few days, if needed. I can gather clothes and toiletries for victims of disasters. If called upon, I can run a mini Red Cross out of my kitchen. This is not my way of bragging, it’s just how I’m programmed. Unlike Martha, it doesn’t make me mad when others spend time doing other things rather than service. I was raised not to care that much about what other people do.
My issue is sitting still. For any length of time. It’s uncomfortable for me. I’m good with service, but I really have a hard time with anything other than action. Prayer and worship are particularly tough pills to swallow. I’ve got things to do. But sometimes nothing is exactly what we are called to do.
The search for God is a reversal of the normal, mundane worldly order. In the search for God, you revert from what attracts you and swim toward that which is difficult. You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope (the mere hope!) that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up. Every religion in the world operates on the same common understanding of what it means to be a good disciple – get up early and pray to your God, hone your virtues, be a good neighbor, respect yourself and others, master your cravings. We all agree that it would be easier to sleep in, and many of us do, but for millennia there have been others who choose to get up before the sun and wash their faces and go to their prayers. And then fiercely try to hold on to their devotional convictions throughout the lunacy of another day.
The devout of this world perform their rituals without the guarantee that anything good will ever come of it… but to even believe at all this is an act of faith, because nobody amongst us is shown the endgame.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
I’m a planning, check list, facts and figures kind of girl. As much I want to believe, as much as I was taught to believe, as much as I do believe, sometimes it’s really hard for me to just believe. I envy people, like my own sister, who writer Rick Bragg described as those who “believe in God the way they believe walking in the river will get you wet.”
I find myself in a place lately where all my lists and schemes aren’t enough. I had some plans that haven’t quite turned out the way I thought. It leaves me feeling like a flake. I’m in a place of self-doubt and don’t know quite how to fix it. Believe me, I know this is a thoroughly middle class problem. A crisis of confidence is hardly a Dickens tale, but if I can’t trust my systems, my intuition, my time lines, my plans, then what can I trust? All I’m left with is my faith, the kind it’s hard for me to wrap my head or my heart around.
I yearn for blind devotion. Unthinking. Unwavering. A cause, a thing, a principle worthy of absolute loyalty. A truth self-medicating, a love un-abating. Something, anything to which I relinquish all personal responsibility.
Semper Fi. Till death do us part. In nomine Patris. Let’s go, Mets. To the true believers, the lucky few, of thee I sing.
~ In Plain Sight
Perhaps what I’m supposed to learn from the story of Mary and Martha is not to get over my anger toward others (I’m really pretty good in that area), but to get over myself and all my energy and action and just… wait. It’s time to have a little faith in something other than me.