Having a Heart for Martha and MaryApril 17th, 2012
I have always had this thing for the Martha and Mary story in the Gospel of Luke. This is the story where Martha is busy preparing food for their guest and she tells Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus then tells Martha that Mary, who sits at the foot of Jesus and listens to his words, has chosen the “better part.”
The classic interpretation of this story is that Jesus is telling Martha that the contemplative path is the surest way to God. I know many people think Martha is getting a bad rap in this story. Martha wants to observe the social customs of hospitality and give due honor and welcome to her guest. I also know Jesus says Mary is doing the better part – but I want to say both prayer and service are necessary. They are like two sides of the same coin.
It wasn’t until I moved this past summer, during the packing process, that I realized I had unknowingly picked this Gospel reading for both my first vow and final vow professions. I didn’t realize I had picked the same Gospel twice. That really struck me. Finding those two programs of my professions put a light on my own self-understanding.
It felt really fitting since I was moving to enter another house with other Sisters where community living and the prayer schedule would be intentionally adhered to. Also, the new ministries would be integrated into the community and prayer schedule. This is not to say that we don’t try to be flexible, but still it’s much different than my life had just been.
Prior to this move I spent eight years as pastoral associate in a large parish. During that time I also lived with other Sisters. And, I completed a graduate degree. Our collective schedules were packed. We were like ships passing in the night. Communal prayer schedules were erratic. Often, the ministry and school demands did not allow for me to be home at prayer time. So I yearned for more time for prayer, both personal and communal.
Now that I am living in this newer community of prayer, I am in a better space with time for prayer. The prayer has a deepened quality about it. The ministry in my life is developing but has some room to grow. And prayer definitely enhances current ministry. The challenge is to keep activities of service flexible enough to balance it with community and prayer. Now I yearn to serve more.
When I reconnected with an old friend recently and I explained to him what I was doing and where I was living, he said I am Mary now instead of Martha. My answer was no – I am working on a balance of Mary and Martha.
I am coming to realize that the journey to holiness is perhaps about the work of holding all things in balance. Striving for balance and holding the tension, no matter what the vocation is, is the work of holiness itself. I realize that just in this striving alone can we grow closer to God – even when balance is hard to find and life gets messy.
Where in your life might you be called to find balance? Is there tension in meeting all the demands in your life? Where is God in all that for you?