Brightness Seen Through Dust

Excerpts from Mari Marsden’s Diary

February 10, 2021 by

When Mari Marsden was in her late eighties and early nineties, her body was almost bent double from crippling and very painful diseases. Sometimes when I was with her at night (as often in the Bruderhof, single people are tasked with companioning the sick or elderly who might need help during the night) she would cry for hours in her sleep, and there was nothing I could do to comfort her. At those times I often looked up at a verse she had hanging, which had been framed for her some fifty years previously, when her nine-year-old daughter Rachel had died in a tragic accident. The words from Revelations 21, “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” are all one can hold on to in those moments.

CEmbed1Jack and Mari Marsden with their daughters, Esther and Hannah, in 1948.

But most of the time when you met her during the day there would be a cheery twinkle in her eyes and some comment like: “Look what the cat has dragged in!” Her humor and courage always amazed me. There was something very deep that held her, and that she held on to.

Mari died in 2005. It was after her death that Tessy and John Menz, her daughter and son-in-law, found her diary. It was a great privilege that they let me and some of the other women who had helped look after her during her last years read some of it. Much of it was written after Rachel’s death, and thoughtfully. (The ellipses are her own pauses, not indicative of removed text.) For example, this paragraph from January 1959:

They say, “In time one forgets. That God is merciful and gives ‘forgetting’ . . .” I cannot see it like that. . . At first the memory lives so vividly in things, in doors, in windows, in clothes, that for us humans every little sound and smell is another death. We move, we change, and time wins out and change place, and dress . . . but how forget? When the dress is gone, shall I not grasp more frequently the spirit of love who opposes this evil? When even now a loving thing brings life . . . in the end all comes back as all things do . . . to Christ, shall I then forget Christ? Shall I not rather be joyful for everything that calls to mind my Christ . . . that blossoms love and so everything that frees the spirit that holds all our loves! Years ago I said to someone, “To be ‘in love’ means above all to be ‘in love with Christ’ . . . to be contained in the same love” . . . so shall I rejoice that Rachel and I, and all who seek to be in love with Christ, may come together.
As these many years have gone by . . . these nearly 50 years [of my life] . . . I have found the truth of this that holds good for me. For, all love . . . however difficult it has been to grasp … that to love, to be ‘in love’, physically and in every other sense, just cannot be whole unless it is ‘in love with Christ’. As I look back I see my many longings as a young girl and onwards and their apparent frustration … I begin to understand now, it was Christ, Christ who came first, Christ who was unknowingly the pattern and still is. This alone puts our daily lives into perspective.

I think it bears repeating: Christ alone is the lens that puts our daily lives into perspective. And although she has been fifteen years gone, I even now enjoy reading what Mari saw through that lens. I enjoy her comments on the joys and struggles of community and family life, of her work with the school children, and her time as work distributor. We all have work we would rather not have to do, and this entry of hers from February 1960 I found quite relatable.

. . . a sister’s work difficulties . . . once again the touchstone of work, humble work, dirty work as a firm inner health . . . When someone has said, “I do not like doing that . . . I do not want to do it . . .” here is needed an immediate examination of basic faith . . . Why do things we don’t like to do? Why clean up the library? An artist, a true artist does not mind making his hands dirty. He plunges his hands in the clay, his fingers in the paint. So must the true artist of God’s Way plunge himself into the dirt of life … put his hands into our messy lives. So must she, in this case, clean the floor, scrub the unseen corner, and know why . . . .

It is plain to me through so many of her entries that Mari was an artist at heart as well. Like this one from September 1954:

At the same time I read Simone Weil who says much also about the duality of things … of her sorrows and yet joy! Both these books stress the birth of Truth from paradox. I find this important. I felt many, many years ago this … for I could never say “this or that” ... I had to say, “this and that” … and then it wasn’t what it was, although somewhere between the statements was the truth: “for those to see who have eyes to see.” For this reason the Zinnia flower was years ago especially loved by me. I could gaze long at its beautiful ‘paradox’ of colour, “bright on the tip, murky underneath,” and yet “Zinnia” was neither … only brightness seen through dust.

CEmbed2Photo by John Menz.

Since I first read Mari’s words, when I encounter the “dust” of life, its pain and grief (and in these last months of the pandemic it seems often to surround us) I often remember that “brightness” that Mari found to hold her through while she carried more than most in the way of the “dust.” I hope her words will help shine that “brightness,” the lens of the love of Christ that can carry us through the worst trials to where “there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Channah Page lives with her husband, Allen, at Darvell, a Bruderhof in East Sussex, United Kingdom.


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