38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
- Luke 10:38-42
Biblical teaching is such a part of my childhood that its tenets bother me regularly. ‘Bother’ may be too mild a word. It has become more and more popular to espouse the benefits of seeking and protecting the satisfied, peaceful inner life. What a wonderful endeavour. But can we just take a minute to acknowledge the one who makes it possible for Mary to sit and contemplate, to learn and heal, to develop that well-balanced restfulness? It’s not Jesus. It’s bloody Martha.
Of course, Jesus wants Mary sitting at his feet listening to every word that comes out of his mouth – he’s a bloke. He’s a nice bloke. He’s done well for himself – got himself quite a following. And while he criticises Martha for wanting help in the kitchen you can bet your firstborn he’ll be enjoying the benefits of her labour. He may even stop talking long enough to get some food in him.
Before the theologians start coming at me with a Barclay’s let me state that I do understand the meaning of the story. It is better to rest, take time to consider, meditate, recharge, than to fill one’s life with busyness. In fact it is healthier, laudable even, to develop and nurture that inner life rather than get on with the business of living surviving. So, if Martha-ing is the lesser of the two occupations, if we’re all to aspire to be Mary, who the fuck is going to do all the donkey work? Martha’s burning out from compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion but that’s only because she’s not looking after herself? Give me fucking strength.
I’m beginning to think that the normal brain idle for the average person sits at about 3000rpm and you can smell the fuel. But we’re all lying about it. We are so mired in pop-Buddhist, post-hippie, nobility-of-suffering rhetoric that no one dares raise their hand to say: ‘I try to meditate but can’t stop thinking about porn and macaroni cheese.’ You can’t tell me those things don’t cross Mary’s mind.
Maybe it’s time we started accepting that not only are desperation and living not mutually exclusive, they can and often have to coexist. That all this emphasis on healthy bodies and healthy minds is detrimental to those who find getting out of bed every day their greatest achievement. And remember, the next time you need something you can bet your troubled arse it will be a Martha loving and nursing your inner Mary.