““Martha, Martha, you worry about “the ten thousand things.” So, few are necessary. Indeed, only one. —Luke 10:42 (paraphrase)
These well-known words come from Jesus to his dear friend, Martha. He is the house-guest of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha is doing the reasonable, hospitable thing—rushing around, fixing, preparing, and as the text brilliantly says, “distracted with all the serving.”
Martha was everything good and right, but one thing she was not. She was not present—most likely, not present to herself, her own feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be needed. This is the kind of goodness that does no good! If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. Presence is of one piece. How you are present to anything is how you can be present to God, loved ones, strangers, those who are suffering.
Jesus taught Martha at the mundane, ordinary level because that would reflect her same pattern at the divine level. For Martha—and for us—such naked presence was indeed “the one thing necessary.”
So much of religion involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to salvation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: how we do the moment. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. This is so important that Jesus was willing to challenge and upset his hostess and make use of a teachable moment—in the very moment.
Jesus affirms Mary, “who sat at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10: 39), in precisely the same way: how she is doing the moment. Mary knows how to be present to him and, presumably, to herself. She understands the one thing that makes all other things happen at a deeper and healing level.
“Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. If you are present, you will be able to know what you need to know. These are the seers! Truly seeing is both that simple and that hard.”This is a reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr. I want you to hear something though …what he is saying, what I feel this Gospel is saying, is that you can be a Martha but you must be engaged….you see Martha’s offering hospitality is not the problem is that she is engaged in her busyness while being hospitable as opposed to being engaged with Christ while being hospitable.
We in western culture have this vision of the contemplative life. The life spent in solitude seeking God. Mary was enjoying the contemplative moment at Jesus feet, just pondering and listening to the words of Christ. Martha has the same opportunity without disrupting her life. We can be contemplatives, we can be mystics, without giving up our daily lives.
“Most people in our whimsical culture live in a hall full of mirrors, and so we find ourselves with fragile and rapidly changing identities, needing a lot of affirmation. We see this especially in so many young people. Their identities are built upon feelings, moods, and ideas that are easily manipulated by everything around them, including advertising and its selling of superficial images.”
Martha’s identity at the time was that of hostess, hospitality maker, and she saw her identity, her role, as very important, so important she felt her sister should be doing the same. Yet in her busyness, in her moment of living into the role she had chosen for herself she had left the people she was hosting behind. It was about the process and not about the presence. The very presence of the Lord and Master was not her priority.
We often become Martha’s. We so often get so wrapped up in the roles we are expected to play that Christ gets left behind. The spirit gets ignored. God the creator becomes unreachable and or unfathomable. We don’t have time to pause. We can’t be present and do our jobs, live our lives. Many times, we just have to keep busy, have to keep going, if we pause, the fear is, we may become be lost.
“You have been given something so much better, so much more joyful and more substantial than that! Divine presence, and the faith, hope, and love that accompany it, are a gift – you cannot control it – but nevertheless a gift that can and should be asked for (Luke 11:13). Asking for something from God does not mean talking God into it; it means an awakening of the gift within ourselves. The gift has already been given. Most people, quite sadly and with disastrous consequences, do not know the gift is already theirs. The teachers of early Christian centuries, along with many of the later saints and mystics, were clear about this. Yet most Christians today still seem to be like the citizens of Ephesus in apostolic days, saying in effect, “We did not even know there was such a thing as the Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2)”
Seeking God and finding that in-dwelling, stillness, sacredness that lies within us all is the key. This is a gift given to each and all, we just have to learn to nurture it. When that is nurtured it permeates our being in such a way that all we do, everything from the extraordinary to the mundane becomes sacred.
Brian McLaren speaks of an experience he once had on a plane. “Then, as the flight attendants were serving the obligatory scrambled eggs breakfast, I looked groggily across the aisle: a couple and their two Children were stirring. Mom and dad had a well-behaved boy of about three year and a tiny girl in a pink blanket – exactly six weeks old. I heard the Mother tell the flight attendant, adding that the baby had come two months premature, which sort of made her minus-two weeks old. Over the next few hours, I watched Dad care for the boy, putting together some miniature LEGOs, taking in a video about penguins, guiding him down the aisle to the restroom a couple of times. Then, just before landing, I watched Mom and baby stare into each other’s eyes, mirroring smiles and wide-eyed giggles, two separate persons who couldn’t be more connected even if the umbilical cord were still intact, and there was the mystery again. Life – pinging, singing, dancing, glowing, even in the cheap seats.”
That life pining, singing, dancing, glowing…that observation…that can only be seen through and with the holy spirit. Brian didn’t do anything but felt and saw the vibrancy of the sacred. Now that is only achieved by seeking that in dwelling of God’s spirit. When we walk with the divine, we see the divine.
It is through developing spiritual practices that one connects more deeply. It is about a spiritual life beyond these four walls. You see Sunday service should be complementary to your spiritual life. It should not BE your spiritual life. Do you hear what I am saying? Do you take the time to creatively engage the holy spirit, the grace of God that dwells deep within you? Do you take the time to invite the in dwelling to rise to surface?
Brian went on…
“That’s why I say that spiritual practices are about life, about training ourselves to become the kinds of people who have eyes and actually see, and have ears and actually hear, and so experience – with increasing consistency and resiliency, even in economy class – not just survival but life, capitalized and modified by insufficient adjectives such as real, abundant, examined, conscious, worth living, and good.”
See in this way, in this engaged life, Martha would have been about her business and still tuned in to Jesus. Her hospitality would have been a gift that not only blessed her guests but herself as well. It would have allowed for no concerns of what her sister was engaged in for both were ways of observing and engaging the sacred.
I am going to let Brian restate it in his own words
“In these two ways, then, paying attention to ''life practices" is worthwhile for everybody, those who consider themselves spiritual and those who don't: first, because nobody wants to become a tedious fart, and second, because nobody wants to miss Life because they're short on legroom and sleep in economy class.
I haven't told the whole story though. Yes, spiritualpractices are ways of exercising intention regarding the kinds of people we are becoming at every turn. Yes, they are ways of habitually waking up and discovering Life. But the capitalization of Life points beyond life itself: spiritual practices are also and truly about the Spirit. They are about somehow driving with our windows wide open to God, keeping our elbows in the wind and our hands surfing beside the side mirror.”
This is about seeking the sacred. As we seek the sacred, we become more and more attuned to the sacred and thus see it every day. It’s “about tuning our radios to the frequency of the Holy, turning up the volume, and then daring to sing along.”It’s participatory! It doesn’t just happen. Sure, we hear stories of these great mystics who have these powerful visions and then right them down so elegantly. Yet those do not happen overnight. Well not always less your Paul on a donkey. Usually there is already a spiritual life in existence and it has been nurtured and developed and fed.
Spiritual practices can be easy a simple intentional review of your day…
1. Think about who you were yesterday in terms of character, compared to who you are today. Then do the same regarding a year ago and ten years ago.
2. What will your character be like in ten years, given your current trajectory.
3. Based on how you answered question number two, if necessary, cry. If possible, celebrate. Write down one step you want to take in response to how you answered question number two.
1. Are you awake? What have you missed-in terms of sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and so on-in the last five minutes? The last twenty-four hours? Slow down and be aware of any "Carolina
wrens of happiness" that surround you at this moment.
2. Rate yourself on a scale of one to one hundred on how alive you feel at the present moment. A high score isn't the goal; an honest score is. When was the last time you felt less than thirty? More than ninety?
If your relationship with God was a marriage, how would you describe things to a marriage counselor? What would a better, happier marriage look like?
If you pray, talk to God about your previous answers. If you don’t normally pray, try it now. Many people find it helps either to write your prayer as a letter or actually pray out loud. If you want to try praying out loud but are afraid people will think you’ve tipped over the sanity ledge, you might find that taking a walk in the woods or hiding out in your car will give you some space and time.”
Now I am not introducing any new concepts here. Brian in these few questions has just introduced the practice of the daily examine, which is an Ignatian practice in simple form.
There are so many ways to engage your spiritual side to find the indwelling spirit that will make you aware and help you to start seeing life through that in dwelling spirit…
Labyrinth walk the list goes on and on
All of these are ancient spiritual practices still alive and thriving today. Just as Jesus told Martha There is need of only one thing, to gaze upon the sacred and to see with the sacred, it is through this that Life becomes brighter, clearer, and one sees the sacred in all things. I pray you may seek out such practices and if you have any questions, I have plenty of resources that can help us grow as a spiritual community.
The first and easiest step…slow down, breathe, listen and pray. Amen.
Rohr, Richard. The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. New York: Crossroad Pub., 2015. pg. 20
Ditto, pg. 21
McLaren, Brian D. Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Pg. 16-17
Ditto, Pg. 17
Ditto, pg. 18