What would you like your epitaph to say?
The story of the woman who breaks open her alabaster box of an expensive perfume called spikenard and pours it out on Jesus is a story that is full of layers, although, when it happened, it was simply a woman going about, living her life. She had no idea that her story would be remembered and told for thousands of years to come. She did what she could with what she had. Her spikenard had the value of a years’ wages; some folks in the room who witnessed her act reacted with criticism saying that it could have been sold and the funds given to “the poor”. While that response seems noble and practical and would have got her more bang for her buck, there is an underlying tone to the suggestion that smells of a motive other than care for those in need. The woman’s lavish extravagance that is completely lacking in common sense, triggers a sense of jealousy and mean-spiritedness. What was it about her extravagant deed of love that prompted some of those watching to want to diminish it? Of course, a two thousand year vantage point has a way of bringing clarity, and I wonder how I would have responded had I been there.
In this layer of the story, I hear an invitation to a love that is expressed quiet and extravagant. Lavish, but still somehow ordinary, deeds done with an abandon of accepted protocol in the name of Love. I hear too a gentle but compelling invitation to withhold my judgements and criticisms from places where the sacred may unfold in a surprisingly unlikely manner.
“She did what she could” is an incredibly simple and freeing response to the criticisms that were wielded at her. I find I typically get caught in thinking I ought to do what I can’t. Our beautiful world is fraught with tragedy and sorrow and I find it so overwhelming that even the thing I can do feels so small and useless that I lose heart and become “weary in well-doing”. I feel like a fraction of a drop in the global bucket. But when I remember the line, “she did what she could”, I hear an invitation to lift up my own unique fractional drop to refract the Light into my own ordinary world. This layer of the story invites me to do what I can rather than stagnating in the place of what I can’t do.
This woman’s act of doing a thing she could do, resulted in her being remembered. To not be forgotten brings with it some kind of comfort – a sense that the life we’re living will leave a thread of colour in the lives of those coming after us. I don’t think this woman consciously set out to do this task by which she would be remembered – she just did what she could and in doing so, her story continues to be told. We recently lost a dear friend. When we remember him, we remember his keen interest in the lives of others that was marked by reflective questions and engaging conversation. No heroics per se, just doing what he did, and by doing what he did, we remember him and continue to tell his story in the midst of our sadness and the telling is good. Could this layer of the story be my invitation to not only remember and tell the story of others, but to also write the story of my life by seeing the memorable in the everyday? Can I cultivate an interior life that has stores from which to draw for the spontaneous acts of lavish goodness? Can I live with mindfulness and intentionality knowing there is more to living than just what is seen?
I had a friend who moved to a new place. In this new space, she had to sort out her role, her place to work, where to put her energy, and that process in itself was undoing. As we walked and talked, the story of the woman who did what she could, worked its way into our conversation. My friend could do what she could, where she was, with what the gifts she had. No heroics – though maybe being steady in the mundane is heroic. As we chatted, we dissolved into fits of giggles thinking that the line, “She Did What She Could”, would make a great though somewhat dismal epitaph.
There are times when life spins out of control, and we find ourselves wrapped up in circumstances that are outside of us. The life we live in the ordinary days can be foundational in sustaining us during the unordinary seasons. Doing what we can, gives us a path forward. I heard someone say recently when their path took a new direction that they didn’t do anything complicated, they just said “yes” to a simple request.
Where is my invitation today to do what I can? Where can I simply say yes?