Martha, Mary and “the martyrdom of equilibrium”

Image: Lorenzo Zapp

by  Costanza Miriano

It is now after two o’clock in the morning. I haven’t been able to decide whether to say today’s Office of Readings (that is yesterday’s, the one I ought to have said around twenty hours ago) or if it would be better to act as if nothing had happened and nonchalantly turn to the Office for tomorrow (which is actually now today). By this I mean the one they will say in the monasteries before Lauds, just a few hours from now (in Italy at least, where I am writing). But, who knows? Perhaps with the time zone for Japan I am a little less behind (or not, actually I don’t know, I can never remember whether I need to count forwards or backwards).

Nothing particular has happened today to make me late: rather it was a normal day, an impossible day like all average days. Full to the brim with things to do: obviously all of them good, all of them lovely, all of them useful. More, it has been a day in which I lost very little time. I didn’t even have to queue at the traffic lights: it’s Saturday and I didn’t go out to work. On the other hand, I have cleaned, checked homework, cooked, cleaned again, finished off an article ready for sending, played, cooked again (how many times do these children of mine eat?), prayed, watched TV with my husband, and amongst all this, made phone calls, gathered information (I am in the midst of an audacious industrial espionage plot, trying to choose a high school for my son), invited friends for dinner (haven’t I already cooked?), washed up and probably two or three other things which I must have done on automatic pilot because I don’t remember them (I believe I went for a run).

In short, I’ve done a lot of things, but the Office of Readings? The fact is that being a layperson always entails this tension, entails being on a cross whose extremities tend in four uncomfortable directions: upwards, God; downwards, me; and sideways, towards the people we love, the obligations of our state, and other calls with which life, people, circumstances – which is, once again, God but with another face – question us in many ways.

I am far from wanting to make a top twenty, or a “cross contest”, out of this but I think, if I may say so, that for consecrated people there are far fewer variables. There are other demands, other types of self-denial, other ways of losing oneself, but not what I like to call the martyrdom of equilibrium. That is, the duel between God and egotism is the same for consecrated people, but for us lay people it is more like a “tri-el”: God, my egotism, and the thousand things to be done, the obligations of state and the needs of the people who have particularly, especially, eminently, been entrusted to us.

Evidently it is all about seeking God, not in spite of, but rightly through the things we do. The crucial point is, obviously, to do these thousands of things while remaining as much as possible in Christ, to the point of obeying St Paul who tells us, ‘whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ so as not to make all our efforts become vanity.

Now, these are beautiful words. Very beautiful.

But allow me on this point to draw attention to the difficult situation of the working mother of many who (remembering every day to give thanks for the great fortune of having a job, which can in no way be taken for granted) while remembering this, is obliged to run from one part of the city to another, who ends up forgetting by turns keys, appointments, number of children; forgets to eat, forgets where she’s parked her car and many other fundamental things; as well as being permanently stuck on numbers twenty-eight and twenty-nine of the daily to-do list, such as buying tights that don’t fall down. This will never achieve the status of something which has actually been completed (only the first eleven or twelve items on the list ever are) which means that you shouldn’t be surprised if, on meeting me, you notice I walk in a strange way (my tights are falling down). Allow me to say that being a laywoman is, moreover, a little different from being a layman, because it is known that a woman takes charge of the problems of all those who fall within her reach, she offers unsought advice even to third and fourth cousins, and is the only person in the house who knows where to find objects which are necessary for the survival of the whole family (note to my husband: if I die, the thermometer is in the Mellin biscuit tin). A man says, “Darling, I’m going to bed,” and six or seven minutes later he’s out of the shower and, stepping over toy cars and balls, he’s under the covers. A woman, from the moment she plans to go to bed until the moment her head hits the pillow, inspects the whole house several times, tidying up toys, folding shirts, removing make-up and applying cream (she has to justify her bathroom cabinet), puts away blankets, packs schoolbags, writes shopping lists and cheques, and sends one last urgent message of encouragement to a pregnant friend. And after only two hours, she can sleep.

Far from criticising healthy, masculine lucidity I, as always, admire my husband’s capacity to get straight to the point. When it’s time to do something, he does it, without getting distracted. It is important, sometimes, very often, not to respond to all the stimuli of reality, to adopt a sort of creative disobedience, to know sometimes how to choose, like Mary, the better part. God, in effect, does not coincide with reality and it is necessary to use one’s brain in order to manage (the brain, although at times we tend to forget it, is God-given: he created it, and he wants us to use it in the best possible way). So sometimes we have to ignore stimuli, learning to leave something aside and putting prayer first, not as an end but as a means to drawing closer to God, who can, if he wants “give sleep to his beloved”, and without which we get so worried, believing that everything is in our hands.

We must really seek Jesus in our little, inner monastery, which also needs reserved time and space in the confusion of daily life. We must do this, not because we are obliged to, but because there is no greater sweetness than seeing the face of the Lord, who shows himself to whoever truly seeks him.

To look on Him makes us more and more like Him, who teaches us His sweetness first of all. With this, we learn to be on the cross without rebelling, to be good, to accept without speaking the things which others do which wound, irritate or offend us, just as Jesus did. This is what touches God, distances the prince of the world, casts him out, because the devil has no weapons in the face of humility. Look on Him because He is the Logos, the meaning of the world, the logic of everything, and only fixing our gaze on Him will allow us to tidy up our lives and make them truly fruitful.

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