“Mary, help me set the dinner table,” I imagine Martha might have said to her sister in the gospel story about Martha and Mary. Luke 10:38-42.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Mary may have replied.
On its surface, we might view the story of Martha and Mary as a tale of two sisters quarrelling. We might imagine it’s about Jesus the arbitrator who decides who’s the better of the two women: Mary, who set aside the day’s tasks to sit quietly and listen to Christ, or Martha, who knew somebody had to prepare dinner and set the table.
I wonder, however, if the story has a deeper meaning. Does it underscore the two essential parts of our humanity: the active and contemplative sides of what make us fully human?
A Time to Reflect: Our Contemplative Side
Like Mary, we need daily time to rest, recharge, read, and just sit at the feet of the Holy Wisdom-Keeper to learn who we are and how we’re being guided.
We need time for meditation, prayer, and solitude so we can be alone with the Creator and enjoy the Divine Embrace.
A Time for Action: Our Active Side
We also need attend to our tasks, make our daily bread, eat, and feed others.
Like Martha knew, there are tables to be set, meals to be made, and work to be accomplished each day.
Finding Balance & Rythm in the Midst of Daily Life
When our day is balanced between the right measure of contemplative and active time, we find a natural rythm that’s life-giving. We discover what makes us whole. We become a contemplative in action.
For many of us, myself included, the hardest part of the spiritual life is taking what we experience in our solitude and integrating it into the active part of our day. I love being a Mary—quietly sitting at the feet of Christ at five a.m., listening, waiting, hoping God will show up and sprinkle some nuggets of wisdom on my heart.
But the Martha part of the world can’t be ignored. The crash, bang, hurry-up, gotta-get-to-work-and-finish-my-to-do-list world. Even when life slows down during vacation or retirement, there’s still a driving force inside of our psyche that pushes us to move faster, get more done, and push harder.
It’s the Martha part of our world that can overwhelm us. Our constant drive to tackle our to-do lists can snatch away the inner peace we experienced during a morning sit at Jesus’ feet.
So, how do we pull ourselves back into the inner peace we desire when the active part of the day tries to make us crazy?
STOP: A Spiritual Practice
“STOP!” That’s what I tell myself when Martha gets the better of me. The good people at Smiling Mind are teaching me a simple practice to pull myself back into the Mary side of me and balance the day with the gift of mindfulness. Here’s how the practice goes:
S: Stop what you’re doing when the day’s busyness tries to make you crazy. Be present to your body.
T: Take three deep breaths. Calm yourself with the gentle flow of steady air filling your lungs, slowing your heartbeat, and releasing stress.
O: Observe. Notice with curiosity (not judgment) what you’re experiencing. Name the emotions you feel. Let them flow in and through you.
P: Perceive. Ask yourself what you need in this moment. What would be life-giving for you now? A nap? A few more moments of silence? A reminder you are safe and capable, that what needs to get done will get done, and the rest will be there for tomorrow?
The “STOP Practice” allows the Martha in us to befriend our internal Mary. It’s like giving our hearts a spoonful of ice cream in the midst of a busy day. The practice integrates the contemplative with the active parts of our lives so we can choose inner peace, balance, and wholeness.
STOP! whenever you need to give yourself a break from life’s hectic pace. Your inner Martha and Mary will appreciate it.
—brian j plachta
A GUIDED MEDITATION FOR YOU
Here’s a link to a four-minute guided meditation I’ve prepared for you to use whenever you need to take a break to slow down and reconnect with yourself. Here’s the link to it: STOP AND TAKE A MINDFUL BREAK.
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Is it a God-Nudge? A Holy Whisper? Or Just My Imagination?
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