catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 4 :: 2005.02.25 — 2005.03.10


Late night thoughts on necessity

Jesus said, ?Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion.? Luke 10.41-42a

When Jesus came to the home of his beloved friends Mary and Martha (Luke 10.38ff.), Martha felt obligated to multitask more and more as her sister Mary seemed to do less and less, finally doing nothing but sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching. All us Marthas, much taken with multitasking as the sign of our competence and productivity, virtually recoil at Mary?s passivity. How odd then that Jesus should commend Mary for attending, in that moment, to the one necessary thing, relationship with him. While Karl Barth was no doubt right in saying, ?Only the doer of the Word is its true hearer,? that truth is not a spur to unending doing. Indeed, it presupposes Mary-time taken for deep hearing of the Beloved?s word to us.

Elsewhere, Jesus (Luke 4.4), quoting Deuteronomy, said that humanity does not live by bread alone. And again, in our Abraham Maslow ?Pyramid of Needs? sophistication about basic human needs, we may be tempted to smirk, ?Well, we sure don?t live long without bread.? But there is something more basic than our needs for physical nourishment, and that is our need for meaning born of relationship with God and others. It is the necessity, which Mary was receiving while attending to Jesus? words, that makes clear the relevance of other essentials like food and shelter.

If Maslow were right that basic human needs, conventionally defined, must be met before we can move on to the higher matters such as art and religion, would not the poor be excluded from those? I would argue beauty and creative expression in any of their myriad forms are not contingent upon having all the basics. Victor Frankl in Man?s Search for Meaning

was closer to the truth in affirming it was those who clung to the quest for meaning amidst the horror and deprivation of the Nazi death camps who had the best chance of surviving. And how is it that children there?cold, hungry, afraid?drew butterflies on the barracks? walls?

In no way do I want to romanticize suffering and deprivation as the womb of creativity and art. Rather, I want to say that what we often assume to be the basic necessities of life only come to their meaning in light of relationship with God, and that the lack of same does not preclude such relationship.

An energetic young minister serving in Appalachia was intent on helping his congregants improve their economic wellbeing. While visiting a poor widow with several children who knew too much about hunger, he noticed she had a beautiful profusion of flowers growing around her dilapidated front porch. In their conversation, the widow said she?d bought a couple of packets of flower seeds along with her vegetable seeds in order to have the flowers. The pastor chided her gently saying the flower seed money really should have gone into more vegetable seeds to help meet her family?s need for food. To this, the widow responded, ?Even poor folks need pretties, reverend.?

I?d take even odds her name was Mary.

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