Joan K. O'Connell begins a new series of commuity profiles with this entry on Martha Balmer
Who is the woman in the worship group with the shoulder-length silver hair? The one who is sometimes up in the balcony at the church, working the media computer?
That is Martha Balmer, who has spoken to us competently about extending grace, forgiveness and blessing to others. She feels loved by God's forgiveness and grace. In witnessing an exchange of grace or forgiveness between people, she recognizes the Lover of her Soul.
I made Martha's acquaintance when she was playing organ for an early morning chapel service at the Ann Arbor First United Methodist church in the late 1970's. I have come to know her through a weekly 7am Friday morning Bible study we call "Dawntreaders." This group, always open to newcomers, is attended regularly by Barb & Phil Tiews, Pat & Joan O'Connell, Martha Balmer, Jade Ho when she was in Ann Arbor and more recently, Bill Johnson, Yomiko Hishiki and Emily Airhart. Many others have come and gone through the years, visiting for a season. The hour-long get-together includes unrehearsed reading and discussion of a chapter of the Bible, followed by focused prayer for needs spoken in confidentiality around the table.
Something consistent about Martha is her interest in multiple approaches to a theme or topic. She knows the freedom of Truth. She's the one who brings different translations of the Bible, and promises to look things up in her "interlinear, " or to ask her Messianic Jewish friends for clarification of OT festivals and practices. She's the one who attends two different churches where one has split, and whose marriage reflects a firm commitment to ecumenism.
She lives in Ann Arbor; is married to Jim Balmer. They have three daughters and a son and five grandchildren. For each of these people, she cares deeply.
What drew her to Christianity and to the church as a child was a longing for Goodness. Reading stories of early Christians, she was struck by the self-sacrificing love of men and women who would die for God rather than hurt another person. Early, she acquired a pacifist's heart, attuning to the practices of Quakers, Anabaptists and conscientious objectors. She recommends The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, a biography of a pre-Revolution Quaker abolitionist.
Martha thinks philosophically, and has become more self-reflective as one outgrowth of studying to become a Spiritual Director. For her, Truth, Goodness and Beauty are words that encapsulate the aspects of God, and she believes that individuals are often primarily oriented toward one or another of these three aspects. In her desire for Goodness, she recognizes that she also very much values Truth. She seeks to know the Truth: what really is. She wants to move from self-justification, teasing out what is false and true about her own "goodness." Her recognition of God's Beauty is "late-coming:" a more recent gift that has brought a new level of joy to her life.
Some of her current areas of growth are to be able to be wrong; to be willing to be not trusted because people misunderstand her; to care less about what people think of her; to be free from a fear of death; to hold lightly what she thinks; to live with ambiguity. She recognizes that her tendency to need to know is based in fear. [God is in charge.] And fearlessness is something that God is inviting her into.
She says her connection to God through prayer has "evolved" to include silence. Her reading and reflection can encourage her to seek to incorporate some practices of another, such as John Woolman's waiting for a purity of love before taking action against the sins he saw around him. Surely these are fruits of a steady, faithful pursuit of God through prayer, fellowship, practicing repentance and forgiveness, and meditation on His Word.
Meanwhile, stretching her writer’s wings, Martha self-published a 43-page chapbook this year entitled Braving the Dark or The Great American Solar Eclipse and Me, dedicated to Clara, her youngest daughter and traveling companion on this adventure.
How would she want to be remembered? Martha hopes people will have sensed God’s Goodness through her life.
Born and raised in Rochester, MI when it was a small town.
Members of the Methodist church in town.
2 younger sibs: Sister; Bro- all 2 years apart.
Attended UM School of Music (BMA 1978).Came to Ann Arbor in 1974 "searching for Christian community" aka, "like-minded Jesus freaks."
Her mom stayed home with kids until the youngest was in 5th grade; Martha in 9th. Bookkeeper. Now 90, she lives in an Assisted Living group home in Rochester Hills.
Her dad was a boy during the Depression. Worked his way through college. Enlisted in Army Air Corps, WWII. Married 1949: he was 31; mom 22. Built the house Martha grew up in by hand. An Art teacher, then Asst Principal in a middle school. In the 1990's he wrote a book about his WWII military experiences as a transport pilot, edited by Martha, with computer assistance from a cousin. Died in 2016, almost 98 years old.