Sunday, July 21, 2013

In search of my inner Martha

"My God," my mother said generously, "You're the worst housekeeper I've ever seen."

That comment resounded in my head during today's Gospel reading about Mary and Martha.  Martha is the housekeeper, the practical, capable one. Mary is the mystic, the student, the dreamer.

Mom's comment was made during my first, short-lived marriage, which took such a rapid downturn that cleaning hardly seemed a real priority. I was young, I was a college student, I was ... hardly in the mood to scrub.

I should explain that my mom was a real fan of cleanliness, and she took a dim view of anyone who wasn't. She cleaned relentlessly. Spring and fall housecleaning were real in my childhood home, not the vague memory that they have become in my own. Mom took down the venetian blinds once or twice a year and scrubbed them in the bathtub, then carried them out to the clothesline, where they flapped helplessly until dry. I never saw a dish in mom's sink; I thought sinks were intended only for dish-washing, not (as I do now) for dirty-dish storage. Mom never had a dishwasher, and never wanted one. She would have scoffed at the very idea. I would rather lose a limb than give up my dishwasher.

I have not, in this matter of cleaning house, improved with age. Mom has been dead for many years now, but I still hear her voice, puzzled, wondering at my shiftlessness. "When was the last time you wiped down these baseboards?" she often asked.

Baseboards? What are baseboards even for? They simply collect the dirt that would otherwise fall straight to the floor. Then you could (theoretically) vacuum it all up at once. If, let's say, you were in the mood.

 But I'm not. I'm a Mary, you see. Look around for the person with a book and a Diet Coke. Who's that, writing in her journal? Who's that, laboring over a blog? Giving a pass to the dirty laundry for one more day, because there's a really good, nerdy science program on PBS, and you really can wear those jeans one more time? Oh ... it's me.

I must have a little Martha in me somewhere, since we're all an admixture (aren't we?) of active and contemplative tendencies. This is how I read that Gospel story, in any case. Both the listener and the cook are important: all the disciples wanted to sit at Jesus's feet and learn from him, but they also had to eat.  Mary and Martha both had important tasks. And I'm looking for that happy medium, that Mary/Martha state. That good balance between action and contemplation, prayer and service. I hope I can find it one day.

But don't hold your breath about the baseboards. 

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