Man is the only amateur animal; all others are professionals. They have no leisure and they do not desire it…The lion cannot stop hunting, nor the beaver building dams, nor the bee making honey. When God made the beasts dumb He saved the world from infinite boredom, for if they could speak they would all of them all day talk nothing but shop.”
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.
I remember looking at them with a strange fascination. No longer than twenty four inches, bleached white as bone in the hot sun, the museum’s placard said that they were to be dated 10,000 to 15,000 BC. Surrounded by various skeletal remains of behemoths, fossils of long extinct flora, and the skulls of a long line of primates and human ancestors, none of these awakened that sense of wonder that held me at that moment. Not even how such a small tool could have generated the velocity to propel a short spear to take down a Wooly Mammoth. Not even the great age of the implements themselves. What left me mystified were the decorative carvings that adorned these hunting tools. Think about that for a moment. Here were a people who led a life of bare survival and yet, they made time to make not only a “better mouse trap” but make it beautiful. And that penchant to make beautiful, to spend one’s waking hours in seeming prodigality is what makes man, animal though he is, only an amateur animal.
What Mr. Lewis points out above and my brief recollection of the atlatls at the museum, to my mind, is a fitting place to begin reflecting on what is meant by “the finer things in life”. Man is the one animal who is capable from forgetting his need for “three hot’s and a cot” when given the opportunity to do so. The lion and the bee are always on as animals. Man can take leave of his needs and sing of god’s and heroes. Yes, man needs to eat but desires to eat well. Though a man’s stomach will be full whether taking his meal alone or among many, if alone long enough his heart will be so much the emptier. Water quenches his thirst but wine gladdens his heart. The finer things in life point to this, paradoxically, need for man not only to have life but to have it abundantly.
One could object saying this preoccupation with finer things is all well and good but at present with all the injustice, the hunger, the poverty, our focus and effort should lie elsewhere. One must acknowledge there are times when we must focus our attention, for a time, on more pressing matters. But this must be kept in mind too; there will always be needs to meet and if we let them we will perpetually be at their beck and call. In fact, if anything, our whole life, at least in the U.S., is predicated on meeting needs. Thus, the face of many today is marked by anxiety. Even when given the opportunity to celebrate a feast (do we even know what that means anymore?) it is attended with worry and anxiety- case in point Christmas.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Lately, I have come to think that maybe Mary was not sitting at his feet to hear a sermon or a teaching. Maybe she just sat at his feet just to talk and spend time with him. Maybe he was not worried with the need of having to eat just then but rather desired for Martha to sit with him and talk of many things. Maybe we, when faced with our pressing needs, might well decide in favor of the good portion, the finer things in life and thereby be made whole.
Finally some closing thoughts on the “finer things in life”. Firstly and importantly, the finer things are just that, things. What sorts of things fall into that category? A great cocktail, a fine wine, a well written novel, great conversations, a robust cigar, daydreaming under summer sky and others fit into this category. Are they synonymous with luxury goods? Well, luxury goods are not necessarily bad things but the “finer things in life” are not reducible to these goods. “It is better to be invited to herbs with love, than to a fatted calf with hatred.” (Prov. 15:17). The finer things in life are those things that might be enjoyed by free men; enjoyed in such a way that they might refine a person and point them toward that which is enduring. And though these things are material and perishable, when loved rightly these:
Point beyond themselves,
Inviting us love to them so truly,
We can hold them lightly enough,
That the greatest mystery of all,
May find us well and carry us home”
If this sounds a bit vague, I invite you to come back for future posts and see what we are talking about. I hope you will read us often and with us enjoy the finer things in life!