Posts Tagged ‘Martyrs’

Martha’s problem- too busy, or too unhappy?

July 16, 2016

Pentecost 9

Luke 10: 38-40

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who values and delights in each of us in our own way and desires that we are true to ourselves. Amen.

We all hate martyrs don’t we? By this I don’t mean that we hate those who are martyrs in the true sense of the word – those who have given their lives for their faith, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Oscar Romeros and so on. People such as they rightfully command our attention and our admiration. No I mean the martyrs who are martyrs of their own making. Those who demand that we notice how busy, how put upon, in short how “good” they are. I mean those who take on things that they would rather not and then whine and moan that no one helps them or that no one recognises how much they are doing/how much they have to do. Such people have no joy in the task in which they are engaged and very often suck the life out of those around them. The reasons for their taking on more than they really want to could be the result of any number of things. They might think that they will receive recognition and thanks, a sense of importance in the eyes of other for doing something no one else seems to want to do. Sadly, because they take no delight in what they are doing, the effect of their overwork is the opposite of that they had hoped for. Instead of being commended, they are seen as kill-joys at worst and attentions seekers at best.

The interpretation of the Mary/Martha narrative with which I grew up and one that has haunted more than a generation of happily busy women, suggests that because Jesus commends Mary and censures Martha, that he values contemplation more than work. How often have you heard someone (usually a woman) say rather guiltily, ‘I’m only a Martha’ as they uncomplainingly pour yet another cup of tea at a Parish function. This view has been very damaging to many women in the church who are left feeling that their contribution is somehow lacking because it is not spiritual enough. At the same time their contribution has been undervalued, because making jams for the church fete and ensuring that churches and halls are kept clean has not been seen as the real work of the church[1].

A better way to view the story is to see it as an illustration of need for balance in our lives, to understand that it teaches that our times of busyness will be more fruitful and less stressful if they are sustained by prayer, and that a healthy spiritual life is one in which time is spent with God informs and guides what we do, so that what we do is not banal and empty, but infused with the presence of God. Martha and Mary are opposites who demonstrates that action and contemplation are both necessary for a life lived in the presence of God.

A feminist view of this account identifies the fact that Luke effectively silences both women. Martha is censured for feeling burdened and Mary’s silence is commended. Neither woman is given a voice, which is interesting given that in John’s gospel both women play prominent roles in the community.

Then there is, to me, the most compelling interpretation. It is not that Martha is too busy or that Martha is not holy enough. Jesus problem is that she is not happy enough.

Jesus has apparently dropped in on the pair unexpectedly. Hospitality was an important cultural norm. The women would be expected to provide Jesus with food and shelter. That didn’t mean providing a feast, it simply meant sharing what they had. Why then is Martha so upset, what are the “many tasks” that are driving her to distraction? We can only guess that Martha is not so much focused on making Jesus at home, but on impressing him with her culinary and housekeeping skills.

Martha appears to be doing more than is required. The problem is not what she is doing, but that she is getting no pleasure from her endeavours. She has taken on too much and no one seems to have noticed or if they have, they don’t care! it appears that what Martha wants, is not just to ensure that Jesus is fed and comfortable, but for Jesus to appreciate her efforts, to commend what she is doing and to confirm what she believes – that it is she, not Mary, who is doing what is necessary.

Martha does not have the insight to recognise that both she and Mary have a choice as to how they exercise hospitality. Mary has chosen to listen to Jesus first and to worry about other details later. Martha has given other things priority and now that those things have overwhelmed her, she looking for someone to blame for her distress and is wanting to draw Mary into the maelstrom of her distress.

It is important to recognise that there is nothing wrong with being busy If no one did anything the world would grind to a stop. So the issue here is not that Martha is working rather than listening, but that what she does is driven by a sense of self-importance or a desire for recognition.

Jesus’ interaction with the two sisters is a reminder that there is not a tension between prayer and work or that one is superior to the other. Both are necessary and it is our task to find the balance that works best for us. Underlying the narrative is the reminder that our faith is intended to be a source of freedom, peace and joy. Faith is not, and was never intended to be a burden, a struggle or an imposition.

Martha’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that she needed to earn Jesus’ recognition and regard. Mary’s better part is not so much that she prays rather than works, but that in contrast to Martha she knows without needing to be told, just how much she is loved and just how little she had to do (has to do) to warrant that love.

[1] This despite the fact that many Australian churches have been built on the sales at church fetes and many continue to rely on cake stalls for their survival.

 

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Practicing our faith more intentionally

October 31, 2015

All Saint’s Day – 2015

Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us all to live with courage, faith and faithfulness. Amen.

One of the consequences of the Reformation was that the various churches that formed as a result either stopped or curtailed the worship or recognition of saints. The Anglican Church belongs in the latter category. Reformers on the Continent and in England felt that the Church of Rome had overlaid the practice of the faith with a vast number of things that could not be justified with reference to scripture. Some of these are listed in Article XXII that, (in what today would be considered inflammatory language), states: “The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond things vainly invented, and grounded up not warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”

The worship of saints was considered a distraction from the worship of God who, through Jesus, was now directly accessible to every individual through prayer. There was no need for intermediaries, no matter how holy. Anglicans were still happy to recognise that there were among the faithful those who lives were so exemplary that they provided a model for others, but they seriously culled the number who were so acknowledged and since the Reformation have only formally added one person – King Charles I – to the list of saints recognised by Anglican Church.

That is not to say that Anglicans do not recognise that there are those among us whose lives of faith are so outstanding that we might wish to continue to remember them or to follow their examples. To that end a number of people have been acknowledged as “holy men and women” without the requirement of a lengthy process to determine whether or not they have been responsible for a pre-determined number of miracles. Within Anglicanism there is freedom for each Province to add to their yearly Calendar persons of particular significance for their part of the world. There is also within our tradition the possibility of adding to our liturgical year those whose faith-life is deemed to have universal significance – whether or not they belong to the Anglican tradition.

These include a number of twentieth century martyrs – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran), Oscar Romero (a Roman Catholic) and William Wilberforce (an Evangelical Christian). In Australia we pay tribute to many who have made a significant contribution to the life of faith and of the church in Australia. These include – Sister Emma[1], Eliza Darling[2], William Broughton,[3] and John Wollaston.[4][5]

One holy woman whose writings and spiritual direction were a significant part of the twentieth century is Evelyn Underhill. Though a layperson and a woman, Evelyn was much in demand as a Retreat Leader and Spiritual director. She was also a prolific writer, penning some 39 books, 350 reviews and countless letters during her career. Evelyn was unusual in many ways. She was not only an independent thinker, but also an independent woman. At a time when women did not work unless they had to, Evelyn earned money from her writings and had the freedom to leave her husband behind on those occasions when she required time to write or was called upon to lead Retreats and give Seminars.

Not only was Evelyn independent at a time when many women were not, she was also unconventional in her approach to organized religion. She was critical of the church once stating: “not only the Vicar and the Curate and the Mother’s Union Committee …. the Church is an ‘essential service’ like the Post Office, but there will always be some narrow, irritating and inadequate officials behind the counter and you will always be tempted to exasperation by them”[6]. It appears that she had a great sense of fun that sometimes took by surprise those who were expecting a serious spiritual guide.

According to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Underhill’s book Mysticism that was published in 1911 remains a “classic in the field”. In it she reflects that one could find the central element of mysticism in the experience of the mystic, which, she thought was “an overwhelming consciousness of God and of his (sic) own soul: a consciousness which absorbs or eclipses all other centres of interest” (p 3)[7]. From this we can gather that Underhill was not interested in the theory of spirituality (as were other writers of the time), but in the practical nature of mysticism and in mysticism as experience. This may have been in part because the book was written to help her explain her own early experiences of the spiritual. In Mysticism, she argues that: (1) mysticism is practical, not theoretical, (2) it is an entirely spiritual activity, (3) the business and method of which is love. (4) Mysticism entails a definite psychological experience.

During the course of her life Underhill influenced a great many people through both through her writing (books and letters) and through personal contact. Through her life and the impact that she had on the faith lives of others, Underhill is a reminder that saints (holy people) are not always quiet, pious people who withdraw from the world to pray. She demonstrates that holiness does not require separation from the world, but can thrive just as well when it engages fully with the world. Importantly, Underhill is just one person who is evidence that saints do not belong to a past era but continue to be raised up in every generation.

Our Articles of Religion may tell us that “the invocation of saints .. is repugnant to scripture” but our tradition reminds us that among us are holy people whose faith and life can support and uphold our own, giving us reasons to explore our faith more deeply and to practice our faith more intentionally.

On this day, we remember all the saints – those known to all and those known only to a few. We give thanks for their lives and examples and endeavour to model our practice and our faithfulness on theirs.

[1] Superior of the Society of the Sacred Advent.

[2] Prison reform

[3] First Bishop of Australia.

[4] Priest and missionary.

[5] For more details put “Holy Persons and Holy Days in Australian Anglicanism” into your search engine or go to this link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar_of_saints_(Anglican_Church_of_Australia)

[6] Quoted by Oberg, Delroy, in Evelyn Underhill and the Making of “Mysticism”: Celebrating the Centenary of the 1st Edition – March 2, 1911. Self Published by Delroy Oberg, 2015, 14.

[7] Mysticism can be downloaded as a pdf file from a number of sites including: http://christianmystics.com/Ebooks/The_Essentials_Mysticism/teom.pdf

Giving our all

September 1, 2012

Mavis Parkinson

Pentecost 14, 2012

New Guinea Martyrs

Marian Free

 In the name of God in whose service we are asked to give our all. Amen.

 There were many speeches made during the second World War to inspire the troops, to give courage to those experiencing the bombing raids and so on. On the 31st of January 1942, Bishop Philip Strong made his regular radio broadcast to the missionaries in New Guinea.  It is  a war time speech worth repeating almost in full. He said:

“Now I would like a heart-to-heart talk with you. As far as I know, you are all at your posts and I am very glad and thankful about this. I have from the first felt that we must endeavour to carry on our work in all circumstances no matter what the cost may ultimately be to any of us individually. God expects this of us. The Church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The Universal Church expects it. The tradition and history of missions requires it of us. Missionaries who have been faithful to the uttermost and are now at rest are surely expecting it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again, if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His Spiritual Body, the Church in Papua. Our life in the future would be burdened with shame and we could not come back here and face our people again; and we would be conscious always of rejected opportunities. The history of the Church tells us that missionaries do not think of themselves in the hour of danger and crisis, but of the Master who called them to give their all, and of the people they have been trusted to serve and love to the uttermost. His watchword is none the less true today, as it was when he gave it to the first disciples–“Whosoever will save his life will lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s shall find it.

No one requires us to leave. No one has required us to leave. The reports some of you have heard of orders to this effect did not emanate from official or authoritative sources. But even if anyone had required us to leave, we should then have had to obey God rather then men.“

No, my bothers and sisters, fellow workers in Christ, whatever others my do, we cannot leave. We shall not leave. We shall stand by our trust. We shall stand by our vocation.

We do not know what it may mean to us. Many think us fools and mad. What does that matter? If we are fools, “we are fools for Christ’s sake”. I cannot foretell the future. I cannot guarantee that all will be well–that we shall all come through unscathed. One thing only I can guarantee is that if we do not forsake Christ here in Papua in His Body, the Church, He will not forsake us. He will uphold us; He will strengthen us and He will guide us and keep us though the days that lie ahead. If we all left, it would take years for the Church to recover from our betrayal of our trust. If we remain–and even if the worst came to the worst and we were all to perish in remaining–the Church would not perish, for there would have been no breach of trust in its walls, but its foundations and structure would have received added strength for the future building by our faithfulness unto death.”[1]

As a result of this message and as a consequence of the commitment and courage of the missionaries all but a few remained at their posts. During the course of the war that ensued twelve Anglicans, men and women, were executed as the Japanese advanced from the north eastern coast towards the Kokoda trail and Port Moresby. Of those twelve, two represented the Queensland Diocese – Mavis Parkinson (a young teacher from Ipswich) and Vivian Redlich (an English priest who had served as a Bush Brother before volunteering to serve in New Guinea).  Mavis is commemorated in our Te Deum window (as are two other New Guinea martyrs – May Hayman and The Rev’d John Barge). Seventy years ago, on September 1, 1942, Mavis and another woman May Hayman – a nurse – who had been captured by the Japanese, were taken by their captors to pre-dug graves where they were repeatedly bayoneted and then buried.

It is impossible to give you a full account, but I recommend that you read further (see below).

According to an unfinished letter from Mavis, the two women and a priest fled their mission station when they saw several Japanese boats off the coast. The crews began to shell the station and to disembark soldiers. When they realised that they were at risk, the three gathered a few belongings and some food and set off (as they had been instructed) to a neighbouring mission. They reached a  nearby village in safety but decided that they posed a risk to the locals. and so determined to move on.  In a letter home Mavis describes the events in detail. She tells how they left the path and struck off through the jungle in order to avoid the enemy. She relates the experience of sleeping rough with the cacophony of the jungle ringing in their ears and of struggling to find a way around a swamp before coming again to a recognizable path.

After a time, Mavis, May and the priest from the mission joined some Australian and Papuan servicemen who offered to escort them to Popondetta. However, before they reached safety,  their whereabouts was betrayed. The group were ambushed and separated. The women were captured, imprisoned and interrogated. When they refused to cooperate they were taken out and killed.

Saints and martyrs do not belong to a long forgotten age, but live and die for God even in our own time. In the twentieth century, there were more martyrs than in all the centuries before that. The lives and witness of such people challenge us to be true to our faith, strong in the face of difficulty and courageous in the presence of danger.  As today we remember the example of Mavis Parkinson, may we be challenged and encouraged to strengthen our own faith so that in the unlikely event that we will be called to stand firm, we will not be found wanting.

Further reading:

Faithful unto Death by E.C. Rowland (available in full on the web).

Vivian Redlich’s brother David has written an account of his life.

A google search will reveal other references/sermons.



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