Many of us, myself included, seem compulsively busy "doing things," all day long. Sometimes we never take the time to think deeply about our lives, our relationships with others and our possible future.
Therefore, I really struggled with the story Jesus tells of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38 - 42). It is all about Jesus praising someone for sitting still, a woman named Mary, who sat quietly in the divine, spiritual presence of Jesus. Meanwhile, her sister Martha was running around the house, getting food on the table for all the Disciples. The pressure was on ---- this was Jesus they were entertaining! Martha scrambled and made it happen, because, well, somebody has to!
In order for some people to sit around being still and having deep thoughts, I am sure there is always another group of people running around behind the scenes making it all possible, making sure the space is ready, the food is cooking, the music is prepared, and the atmosphere is just right for the other folks to have this deep spiritual connection in the moment.
Take our church, for example. We sit in our pews, having time to pray, to listen to Scripture being read, and to connect with the divine in our beautiful, holy Sanctuary. But in the Fellowship Room, or in the auditorium, we have a crew of people setting up coffee. Downstairs and upstairs there are folks watching and instructing our children so that the parents can have some moments of silence and peace. So, right in the middle of our worshiping, spiritual community, it takes a lot of busy people behind the scenes to create a space for other folks to sit still.
When did sitting still get equated with spiritual depth? Perhaps back in your earliest memories of sitting in an uncomfortable church pew, getting bribed with Life Savers and gum, while your mother said over and over again with urgency, "Just sit still !"
The truth is, many great religious heroes were people of action, engaged in the world, doers of the Word and not just hearers. At CPC, many of our members are regular participants in activities like hands-on-mission projects and other continuing, outside-the-church programs which aid and support others.
So, on behalf of all the under-appreciated, "hyperactive" people of the world, let's put away for good that old simplistic interpretation of the Mary and Martha story that goes like this: Martha was more interested in doing housework than listening to Jesus.
Of course Martha was interested in what Jesus was saying. After all, she had invited him to her house. This was a big deal for her ! Is it fair to say that Martha undoubtedly was following Jesus' conversation, keeping track of it, as she went around doing this thing and that. Martha was not shallow ---- she was a multi-tasker. And Martha may have found Mary more than a little annoying, sitting there at Jesus' feet, listening as if the world depended on her concentration on every little thing he was saying.
Rev. Lillian Daniel says in her book "When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough" : Every spiritual tradition has some tension between action and meditation. Some tension exists between doing God's will and listening for God's will. There is some tension between daily action here in our physical world, and the interior life of the spirit. Some tension between acting and being."
What I sometimes forget in the Mary and Martha story ---- what I get distracted by, just like Martha did, is my own impatience and defensiveness. When I hear that story, I immediately want to defend being engaged in the world. And when I do that, I imply that these two states are polar opposites with no relationship to each other, when actually, that is just not true.
"Acting" and "being" are not opposites, but partners. Mary and Martha are not two different people, one getting it right and one getting it wrong. Mary and Martha are two halves of the human spirit, two parts that compliment each other.
Mary and Martha aren't fighting "out there." They are fighting in here, inside each one of us.
When I ask someone how they are, I often get the answer, "Busy, I am busy." But couldn't we have lives that are rich and full, but also occasionally still and strong? Still and strong. It's an option.
Mary, in her stillness, wasn't being passive. She was being strong. By sitting at the feet of Jesus, she was actually standing up to the men in the room (including the Disciples) who thought that as a woman she had no place there. In seeming to do nothing, she was actually doing something really important. In sitting still to listen to Jesus, she was actually saying, "I matter, I count, I am somebody." She was still but she was strong.
If Mary and Martha live inside each of us, who wins the wrestling match? Only you know the answer for yourself to that question. Nobody can answer it for you. In order to even ask the question, we need to slow down and be still, like we can in church or wherever we can be like Mary and get quiet in a holy place. But, remember, the holy places wouldn't be there if we didn't actively engage, like Martha, and do the hard work. Do we have to choose? Can't we embrace both? Rich and full. Still and strong.
These thoughts are brought to you by CPC's Adult Spiritual Education Team, hoping to encourage some personal spiritual growth this year at CPC.