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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…

 

Pre-dawn raindrops glisten the leaves of the viburnum shrub outside my study window as the sky lightens and clothes the backyard with color. Another morning tiptoes with expectations for more cardinal feedings: their chicks, newly winged and feathered, beaks ravenous for more mashed seeds. Last evening, the chicks flitted around the nest like little princesses at their first ball. Such was their beginnings as fledglings.

Hours pass. No flickers of red/brown wings zoom toward the nest. No brown tail hugs its side. No breezes disturb the branches of the viburnum. All is strangely quiet, unlike other mornings the past ten days, alive with feedings, zinging back and forth. A sickening sense grips me: the cardinal family is gone. It was their time.

I am both impoverished and enriched. No longer will I squeal in delight with beak-to-beak feedings. No longer will I marvel at their alighting and takeoff, branches trembling with movement. No longer will I study their symmetrical wings, preening in the sun.

But I’m also enriched. My psyche will forever carry the imprint of the cardinals’beauty, their chirrup, their instinctual caring. They knew to abandon the nest for the continued rearing of their chicks, its usefulness completed.

Other lessons gleaned from these winged creatures also enhance my practice of CPA’s Twelve Steps: accepting life on life’s terms, willingness, teachability, letting go, trusting in the continued feedings, from wherever they come.

And Jesus of Nazareth loved birds: Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:26)

Whole-hearted surrender must follow…

 

At times, I falter before the enormity of my coming transition. Hospice authors frame it within the verb, cowering—craven fear. Yet, it’s coming. More symptoms attest to this reality, and my body is imperceptibly failing. Because Twelve Step practice, meditation, and blogging have brought this experience home, my faith feels grounded like a pair of sturdy Oxfords. Six months of hospice care have also enhanced this new learning.

To my delight, I continue receiving nudges for the next blog to compose, and with it, new vistas to explore. This one moved me:  

 Knock upon yourself as on a door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on that road, you cannot get lost, and what you open for yourself will open.

…from the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, filled with Gnostic sayings of Jesus Christ among first-century Christians—It was found among thirteen leather-bound papyrus codices buried in a sealed jar in a cave near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.

 

 

This saying amplifies an earlier one found in Matthew’s gospel 7:7-8:

…Knock and the door will be opened to you…For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 This pair of similar sayings engages seekers differently: Matthew’s directs their needs toward Jesus Christ for fulfillment; whereas, Thomas’s, toward the seekers themselves whose spirits, already blessed, have everything they need to maneuver their tangled humanness. To access this grace, humble prayer is a critical prerequisite.

So I’ll keep knocking upon myself/door and walking the straight road, wearing my sturdy Oxfords. It’s already been working…

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