“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
-Saint Teresa of Calcutta
"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42
I read that Teresa of Avila would spontaneously fall into an ecstatic state at any time of the day or night, but “never when she was cooking her breakfast.” I burst out laughing. It so precisely illustrates the contrast between what we see as the spiritual life and the pedestrian “gotta-eat-something” life. St. Teresa was also much given to grabbing her sisters’ hands and leading them in spontaneous dance any time of the night or day. (But, again, probably not when she was cooking her breakfast.)
Much is said, and much is written, about learning to live “in the present moment” but most of us manage not to do much of it. We are so given to living in the past (if only my father hadn’t walked out on us…) or the future (as soon as I finish law school…) but of course this instant in this time is the only place we can live at all, whether it’s getting a work project in on time, diapering the baby, cleaning up after the dog, or sinking deep into sweet contemplation of the mysteries of life.
Let’s face it: We’re all both Mary and Martha and we have to be. Both are saints and they were engaged in equally necessary and good activities, Mary at the feet of her Lord, Martha working hard to care for her Lord. The difference? Martha was clearly not living happily in the moment, even though the Master himself was in her house. She was dis-tracted—off-track, literally off the rails—living in the past (maybe nursing old resentments) and/or in the future, anxious that everything turn out exactly as she’d planned. The problem wasn’t what she was doing, the problem was where she was spiritually.
Jesus was not scolding her; he was just pointing out the truth of her situation.
Only late in my life have I learned to love caring for my home. I was content for years to be among the most casual of casual house-keepers. As long as the kids were alive and things were reasonably sanitary, I didn’t sweat the cobwebs and the dust. I was much more Erma Bombeck than Martha Stewart. But in retirement I have found joy in doing the simplest things—cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, watching the squirrels and grackles duke it out in the backyard. The difference is not that I have more time now—I really don’t—or that I’m a better housekeeper; the difference is that my eyes are open to wonders unfolding as I go about my mundane tasks. These gifts are partly the blessed fruit of years, and partly things learned along the way from Jesus, Mary, and Martha.
This morning it began to rain as I set out to walk my little dog, Jenny. I grabbed an umbrella and we headed out the door. The rain fell straight-down hard as we made it halfway around the block. Then to the northeast, the sun began to peek through the clouds, even as to the west the skies were dark and grey.
“The Devil’s beating his wife,” my mother used to say when the sun shone during the rain.
Another short block and the skies had dramatically cleared and the rain ceased. As I approached a row of homes with a multitude of desert plants I beheld a rare sight: from the bottom of each spiky leaf rows of raindrops hung suspended at even intervals, the morning sun captured in their lens, as bright and carefully festooned as Christmas lights.
“Behold,” I thought to myself. In all my years I’d never seen anything like it.
At last Jenny and I meandered into the home stretch and there to the Southwest arced a rainbow.
I leave you with this poem by W. B. Yeats
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes, more or less,
It seemed so great my happiness,
That I was blessed, and I could bless.