River Thoughts

11 03 2010

I had this great post all worked out in my head about the book I read while sitting on the riverbank and the things I realized as I was doing it, but then the next day Colby had his bloody nose episode. Naturally, I had to write about that. As the days have gone (sped) by, there hasn’t been much downtime for me to get back to the things I learned the other day.

(This, as you will soon understand, is kind of ironic.)

Camille Fronk Olson is the author of Mary, Martha, and Me, subtitled Seeking the One Thing that is Needful. I’m really not much of a non-fiction reader. I readily admit that I had this book for three months (one month original checkout, and two renewals) and had hardly cracked it. When I saw it was time and past to get the book back to the library, I took it with me down to the river.

(As an aside: have you heard Alison Krauss sing “Down to the River to Pray” on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack? I really like it, and MoTab has a version of the same song on this cd. But I digress.)

One of the problems with non-fiction is it takes me so long to read. There’s none of the plowing-through-to-get-to-the-end-of-the-story business. Non-fiction, by its very nature, is made for pondering. So while Mary, Martha, and Me is a slim volume, it took me longer than I would have expected to read.

I can’t do the book justice in a review because I didn’t take those kinds of notes as I was reading it. What I do want to share with you is the idea of balance that the author sets forth. I have always read that story of Mary and Martha as being quite two-dimensional: Mary chose the right, and Martha chose the wrong. As I read this book and thought about it more, however, I realized a few things.

One: Christ never said Mary chose the better part. The Bible says, “One thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part” (Luke 10:42). SisterĀ Olson (can I call her Sister Olson?) pointed out that ‘better’ is a comparative word . . . and it isn’t found in this passage.

Two: “Seeking the one thing that is needful” can involve both the way Mary does things, and the way Martha does things.

Three: God has a specific plan for me–just me and no one else. He knows me well enough to know what is best. I just have to ask and listen to discover what that is.

There was an example that struck me particularly, and what I ended up drawing while I sat and pondered. In talking about Mary and Martha, Sister Olson cited the parable of the olive tree found in the Book of Mormon. The branches were taking over the roots, or the roots were taking over the branches–and the result was a diseased, unhealthy plant. Only when the two–roots and branches–were balanced did it flourish.

She compared the branches to service, to meals given and favors granted. She compared the roots to scholarship, to thinking and pondering about the scriptures.

In my mind, I started thinking of the two things as doing and being.

If we are so busy doingdoingdoing that we have no time to simply be, the frantic pace will make us topple over.

If we are so busy thinkingthinkingthinking, we lose touch with other people and the sweet blessings from serving are lost as well.

I drew three threes, one with tiny roots and overarching branches, one with a stumpy top and a huge root system, and one where both were pretty much equal. There’s a symmetry in a good, healthy tree–and not just in the pleasing way the branches seem to know right where to sprout to keep it balanced. The roots mirror the branches. Trees need both the roots and the branches: the roots to obtain water and nutrients from the soil, and the branches to absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide and turn it into food. (I love trees. I loved them even before I moved to Washington.)

We also need both: we need the doing part of life, where we lift, encourage, and support one another.

We need the being part of life, where we find the quiet places inside us and listen to what they’re saying.

Sister Olson points out that there is no one right way to go about it, but there is One thing that is needful. When we stay focused on that One thing, everything else balances out.