All Martha, No Mary


 Our world is full of Marthas and hardly any Marys. And it's the Marthas' way of being in the world, the way of action, of doing, that is socially sanctioned and approved of. The way of the Martha orientation is always to be planning a trip or recovering from one.     

 There is an almost constant compulsion to be 'doing' something. It appears not to matter much whether the activity is mindless or senseless. What matters is that somehow you are 'on the move.' The marching orders are to 'keep yourself busy.'    

 The way of Mary, in contrast, is the contemplative way, where the emphasis is upon 'being' over doing.

 "Remember," a Mary will say, 'that you are a 'human being, not a human doing.’ 

 The Mary's of our world regard their contemplative way of being as vital and essential, whereas the Marthas tend to dismiss this kind of focus on the quality of one's inner life, as unrealistic and impractical.

 And so it is that, Mary's way is a path that almost no one takes. And the world continues to be 'all Martha, no Mary.' There's a big yes to Martha and a big no to Mary. 

 I'll spin this out a little more by asking: Who is Martha?  She's the 'busy' person. When she's asked: "Have you been keeping busy?" she's quick to say: "Yes, so many things to do! I can't keep up! There aren't enough hours in the day! I can't believe where all the time goes!" 

 When such a busy being finally has some free time it can be pretty well predicted that she'll soon say: "I thought finally when I had some free time that I'd read deeply, contemplate, meditate and pray - that I'd have some quality 'alone time.' Instead, all my time has filled up and I'm busier than ever. I just don't know how it all happened."  

Busyness, it appears, is a powerful addiction. Whoever would I be, thinks the ever stressed-out Martha, if I wasn't 'up and doing?'  

 In the New Testament, Martha is the 'kitchen busy-body.' She's 'on the go' in the kitchen attempting to make the perfect nanaimo bars. She's in a frenzy in that kitchen. It's plain that, in all of her doing, she's lost touch with herself.

 We know that Martha is out of sync with herself because of her 'vexed' reaction to her sister, Mary, who, instead of joining in to help out, to get all the things done that need to be done, is out there in the living room, not helping out, but just sitting there with Jesus, 'hanging out' with Jesus, while she is doing all the work. (Luke 10:38-42)

 Isn't this one of the most familiar scenes you ever see? Does this not happen almost all of the time? How often have you been somewhere and the hostess with the mostest, is so totally wrapped up looking after everybody and everything that she's not really present to anyone.  

 "She always gets like this", said a son about his mother at a social event.  She 'splits off from herself to create the social event and then collapses afterwards. She's tense and nervous throughout.' The entire event happens, in a sense, without her 'really being there.

 Indeed, a whole life can pass without such a being actually being there while the life happens.  

 The strong Martharian tendency is to be like a group of exhausted medical missionary sisters whom the poet, David Whyte, was once asked to address in Europe.   

 The sisters were on a six week leave after two years of heavy-duty activity overseas. Doing great things, by the way. Important things. But as they served the needy, the sisters had all become shadows of themselves, says David. This is because, says David, during their two year stint overseas there had been no focus on a replenishing daily contemplative practice. 

 Now they were paying for it, as they recovered from enormous stress.

 In a total contrast to the exhausted state of the medical missionaries, was a Sister from the order of the Poor Clare's about whom David says: "Down in the kitchen of the convent, like Cinderella among the ashes, hidden away from our seminar room, was the young woman who served our meals every day." (David Whyte, The Heart Aroused, p. 89 of 191, Nook Book) 

 David continues: "I say young, for although she seemed to be about twenty-seven years old, it transpired in our conversations that she was in her early forties." 

 "I was amazed, not only by her youthfulness but by the glowing spirit of calmness and serenity she had about her work."

  "It became the high point of each day; almost like a privilege to go down there and spend a few minutes with her as she served out the food."

    "She seemed like a bright, shining light in the dim underground dining hall, and she had never had a bad word for anything or anyone."

      "It turned out that she had been a member of the Poor Clare order for over twenty years. The Poor Clares are a silent prayerful order with an almost Zen-like approach to spirituality, spending much of their time in silent contemplation."

        "She had entered the order at eighteen and spent more than two decades in contemplation: Even the work of the convent was done by the sisters all working in mutual silence."

          "Finally after twenty-three years, alone in her cell, she had heard an inner voice telling her to go out into the world and work on behalf of others." 

 David says that the sister had a "profound spiritual presence" and that she appeared to live her life in harmony with an "inexhaustible inner light."

 And here's the key to the sister's radiance and stamina, as David Whyte explains: "She had come to that light through the ability to say no to everything except the thing that was most precious to her, an inner focus based on her personal spirituality and the religious life to which had given herself.” 

The sister had been saying no to any and all distractions. She had rejected the way of Martha and chosen Mary's practice of 'the one thing needful', the way of contemplation. The long term practice of saying no to busyness and diversions had created a saintly being.

 David sums up the inspiring sister by saying: "Out of those years of saying no blossomed a magnificient yes."  

 As I was writing this article, I got a call from a friend who, upon hearing what I was writing said: "It sounds like you're saying that we say no to many things because there is a bigger yes within us.

 And I thought: 'Bang on. Precisely so.' You say no over and over again so that when the time is right the great yes will rise up from within you!

 You'll never know the power of the 'big yes,' if you've not said no many times along the way.

 That person who has been saying "no, no, no, no," is preparing herself for an explosive yes that could change the world. As David Whyte puts it: "In the continuous utterance of the no is a profound faith that the yes will appear."  


Audio:  Kyrie, Modus 1 Silos