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Who is this woman serving Jesus in the home she shared with her siblings Mary and Lazarus, outside of Jerusalem? Why still venerated among Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Eastern Orthodox Catholics whose feast day is celebrated today?

Her name is Martha, derived from the Aramaic, “the mistress,” or “the lady.” Outgoing, practical, accustomed to hard work, she recognized something special about Jesus and was the first to offer hospitality. A frequent guest when needing respite from teaching, he enjoyed her friendship and meals. However, his attraction to Mary’s spirit irritated Martha and drew her feisty complaint, recounted in Luke’s Gospel and still viewed as pejorative.

However, there’s more to Martha. She, it was, who first understood Jesus’s statement, “I am the resurrection and the life.” following the death of Lazarus in John’s Gospel. Instinctively, she knew who he really was and blurted, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into the world.” Unlike her sister’s mysticism, hers was grounded in the here and now.

On this day, I also celebrate my younger sister Martha who takes after her namesake. Quick to discern others’ needs, even quicker to offer practical help lightened by humor, she has supported my diminishing health with nightly phone calls. When in town, she has completed errands, sat with me in emergency rooms, drove me to appointments, bought special foods, even cut my hair several times. And always, the “Do you remember when…” stories that deepened compassion for our past and our having survived it.

Martha is currently sitting by the bedside of her former husband, receiving hospice care in a Toledo, Ohio nursing home. That’s what she does…

 

Fluff! was my initial reaction to the opening chapters of Helen Simonson’s comedy of manners, The Summer Before the War (2016). It is 1914, set in the coastal village of Rye, East Sussex, England.

Slowly unfolds a view of waning Edwardian society, with its opulent mores defining attitudes and behaviors of its residents. Comic touches abound, exposing their eccentricities and gossip and prejudices. Detailed descriptions of feathered hats and gowns, the annual Hops Festival, the Fete Parade, the society funeral for the only son of the Earl North, trench warfare, the grimy feel of railway stations, and so much more, afford texture of place. Like other comedies of errors, dialogue is precise, stilted, disguised, but at times compelling.

Only when the voices of matron Agatha Kent and the village’s new Latin teacher, Beatrice Nash, lay bare the gamey shenanigans around them was I compelled to read on; and of the later voices of the servant Abigail and the gypsies, as well. And I’m glad I did. Also affording context to this novel is the suffragette movement, the changing role of women in society, and homosexuality. I grew to care for Agatha and Beatrice, both venturing into vital experiences that deepen their sense of woman and quicken the worlds of others.

What follows is the rude interruption of the village’s predictable world with the onset of the Great War—Their summer of balmy channel breezes was not supposed to be like this.

I pray that this is not the summer before the war. Given rains that freshen greening leaves and lawns, I hope such waterings will l dampen fires of global discord and enhance critical changes confronting us—with God’s help. No one needs another war…

 

 

“Sing God a simple song/ Laude Laude/ Make it up as you go along/ God loves all simple things/ For God is the simplest of all.” So begins Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (1971).

These lyrics come to mind while perusing the slim volume of poetry, Coral Castles (2019) composed by Carol Bialock, RSCJ; its simplicity moved me to silence, within which I seek words to compose this blog.

Intimate with the Word and receptive to its imprinting upon her psyche for decades, Sister Carol channels ordinary experiences into poems, replete with metaphors; their simplicity dismantles crusty outcroppings in psyches and brightens skies. One- and two-syllable words couple themselves into indivisible wholes that implode within the reader/listener—like biting into a ripe peach that juices the palate with summer’s color. Single-stroke pen and ink drawings intersperse the pages—again, nothing superfluous—and give needed respite before entering the next poem with its revelation.

What appears so effortlessly composed, however, emanates from the poet’s life-long practice of loving the unlovable around the world: in homeless shelters, prisons, and hospitals, wherever she found them. Indeed, all of creation opens onto the Sacred. Through simple poems, Sister Carol Bialock enriches us by making this connection.

I am deeply glad—So will you if you avail yourself of this treasure, Coral Castles, available on Amazon.

 

 

Available on Amazon

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