The story of Mary and Martha always leaves me a bit defensive. Feels like Martha gets a bad rap. After all, she’s the one who is doing all the things: inviting, planning, purchasing, cleaning, cooking, greeting at the door, serving, and cleaning up again. (In acting this story out at a recent VBS, we added an element where Martha’s food smelled so delicious, that the neighborhood animals kept wandering into her house, adding an extra chore of shooing them away every so often.) Need to make something happen? Ask Martha. That girl will get it done: efficiently, completely, and with style, while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, gazing into his eyes and listening.
I completely understand Martha. Over the course of time with my discernment committee, my familiarity with Martha became clear to them as well. So clear, that the letter that they wrote endorsing me for this work also contained the following caveat: While they recognized that they could not require it, they strongly recommended that I schedule at least two retreats a year, which would (and I quote) “…add contemplative elements to balance your normally task-oriented focus.” In other words, I needed some Mary moments in my life—on a consistent basis.
So, earlier this summer, I took some Mary time, spending five days with the brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an Anglican Monastery in Cambridge Massachusetts. Five mostly silent days that included prayer, reading the psalms, delicious vegetarian meals, sitting in the garden, and walking along the Charles River. Listening. Breathing. Gazing. Allowing the rhythm of their day to guide mine.
We worshipped five times a day together, when the psalms were chanted slowly and majestically. It was easy to let the cadence of their voices roll over my body and soak into my soul. I was impressed with their hospitality; neighbors and tourists alike were present at each of their services, even the very early ones. But it was what they said during the Eucharist that impacted me the most. After blessing the elements and inviting the congregation to participate, they don’t say “The gifts of God for the people of God.” When they lifted the bread and wine, they say: “Behold what you are.” And the congregational response is “May we become what we receive.”
Not what we do, or how smart or clever we are, or how much we accomplish; we become what we receive. So, if our lives are full of Martha moments, of task upon frantic task leading to resentment, we will become that. If they are full of negative people and emotions and drama, we will become that. But if we take time to receive Jesus into our lives, to be more like Mary, we will become that. If we allow ourselves time to digest the meaning of how much we are beloved by God, we become that. We become loving and gracious and forgiving and kind by the act of receiving Jesus.
I am incredibly grateful for the strong recommendation to schedule Mary time with Jesus, and am committed to continuing these types of experiences throughout my ministry.
Maryann D. Younger is a Middler at General Seminary from the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware.