Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Martha and Mary in Bethany

I'm reposting most of this from the women in ministries blog where I posted it yesterday.
Gwen Smithies
prepared and gave each of us small "treasure boxes" at the women in ministries meeting. They contained various things to help us with our scrapbooking enterprises and also for each of us a postcard of a painting inspired by a biblical narrative.
We met in twos to discuss our pictures to tell the story told in them. Mine was the adoration of the shepherds. Telling the story of the pictures was an exercise in observation and imagination, in looking and seeing. I realise now with hindsight that groping for the story in the pictures was also an exercise in living with ambiguity; the pictures often told a different story from the ones we remembered and offered a different perspective. I really appreciated how the seminar encouraged us to think about ambiguity rather than easy answers, encouraging us to narrate the Bible's stories as a method for living with ambiguity.
The other person in my pair had this wonderful painting of Jesus at Martha and Mary's house in Bethany by Vermeer. This painting which I don't remember having seen before had quite an impact on me. The way that all of the light and energy of the moment of the conversation captured seems to be between Jesus and Martha. Fascinating too that the table dressed in altar-like white has bread that Martha has brought - she does rather seem to be presiding over it.
It is decades since Dorothee Sölle remarked how important it is for women to hold Martha and Mary together as biblical role models for ourselves, yet I wondered how we also internalise damaging narratives - putting ourselves down if we stop "doing" and try "being" - putting ourselves down if we try to do too much. Looking at the light and energy in this interpretation by Vermeer helped me reflect on and progress in Sölle's direction a bit.