Mary, Martha and the Mystical Journey?

Excavating the Recesses of Spirit

Excavating the Recesses of Spirit

Too Much Work
Luke 10:38-42
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

In reading this, I cannot believe that
Jesus actually said it, at least like this—think about it,
cannot you hear Jesus’ authentic voice speaking about
how both serving and sitting are acts of worship,
and are acts that Mary and Martha should balance and share
because the better part
is really the working together in community
toward the building of the kingdom?
This was written 60-90 years after Jesus lived,
and this text is to me more the thinking of a
new community defining itself.
These are less the words of Jesus,
the builder of the kingdom,
and more those of a community of religiosity and prayer.
So what do I think Jesus was actually saying
that got lost in the church’s translation?
Make your choice and live with it,
and then if it is not the right choice,
complete your commitment and then
try to make the right choice next time,
but no whining,
Do we consciously
or unconsciously use our praying
as a means of withdrawing from life—
ours and the lives around us?
Sometimes our obsessive compulsiveness
is the very thing needed to get the job done.
Sometimes it is the mother of all dysfunctions.
Do we choose work and then think of ourselves
as trapped in it with no way out?
Many times our choices appear as jaws of a steel trap.
If we find our activity of choice to be an implacable
tyrannical giant, we, having made that choice
can also un-make it, because everything about Jesus
is about our liberation.

# # #

Be very careful how you choose to pray. Will it be with your actions to the neglect of a deep inner life founded upon hours of deep prayer and meditation spent at the feet of Jesus? Will it be long hours of tiring service to others in the name of Jesus? Or could it be a combination of the two? Can what we do balance so as to avoid burn out?

We tend to spend a lot of time getting into traps of our own making. Living a mystical life is not about getting into traps, but about getting out of them. The goal of all prayer should be freedom and wholeness of person. We go off to a quiet place where we can be touched by the Divine Being, and in that place we are changed and made stronger for the work to be done. We are to strive to balance our inner person with our outer relationships. Our commission is to balance our praying with our acting.

We do not have the option of using one as an excuse for not doing the other. In the story, Martha is working too hard, and Mary is worshiping too hard. What each is doing is needed, but their choices are hurting their relationship with each other and with Jesus. I mean, really? It would seem to me that both parts are essential. If Martha had not chosen to work, later on when everyone discovered they were hungry, it seems that Mary would have had something to say. So who did have the better part?

I think that in this story we learn the balance between spirit and matter. Both need the other. In spite of what some may claim, our spirits will not flourish if our bodies are not cared for. Hunger, pain, suffering are difficult obstructions to a healthy spirit.

There is a wrong-headed belief within certain aspects of Christianity that holds that the bodily aspects of Christ were mere apparitions and therefore not real, and that because of that He did not feel any of the pain of his execution. This is called, Docetism, and it was one of the earliest battles fought by our early church leaders. Docetism basically devalues human suffering and claims that one’s body is so distinct from one’s spirit that it is actually an illusion and therefore so is our suffering, that there actually is no body at all and what we see and think of as a body is actually a phantom that is a weak echo of our spirit. Docetism steals the humanity from our humanness.

If Jesus was saying that Mary’s spiritual journey was what was real, and Martha’s physical labor was irrelevant, then Jesus, is this text was supporting the idea of docetism, but I do not think that is what is going on here. I think that this is the community formed by Jesus remembering a point Jesus had made. And, as the story was passed down through several generations, between the act and the writing down of the act an unintentional shift in emphasis occurred. Remember that Luke was writing this almost sixty to ninety years after Jesus died. This is more than three generations after the fact. A long time for communal memory to hold a thought without wavering.

I believe by the time this story was written down the church had begun to form and move into much of what it was to become—a church of diverse thinking and a church of many theologies—some good, some bad. Rather than the either/or choice this story implies, at its heart is the notion of balance.

Living a balanced mysticism might seem difficult, but it does not need to be so. As with Mary and Martha, we begin by making a choice. My suggestion is that we choose in the favor of a prayer-life balanced with some form of service-oriented action. The ideal path is actually both Mary and Martha acting in concert to do the work and experience the person of Jesus—both finding a way to do both.

Jesus lived in an active, sometimes chaotic world. This story only lets us see into a small part of his life. To understand anything he says, we need to take in within the full context of the four Gospels. He continually went into quietude and prayed, but that praying lead him out into his community to do his work of preaching, healing, forgiving, teaching, being among the people of his time. Our praying should lead us out into our own worlds.

We, like Jesus, live in an active, sometimes chaotic, world. We long for peace and for something deeper and more than what we seem to have. We know about God. We believe in God. But somehow many times we feel as if we are left holding the bag so to speak, doing all the work and not getting any relief from it. Most of the time we are vaguely aware that there might be another way, but we are neither sure what it might be, nor how to access it. This is where mystical prayer comes into play.

Mystical prayer is done in solitude, but for it to have meaning, it must move out of the seclusion and into community. Mysticism begins with the knowledge that there is more to life than we so far have experienced. Mystical prayer leads us into a deep and meaningful inner life and acknowledges the reality of our living. In mystical prayer we discover solace within the quiet solitude of our innermost spirit, while always moving into action based upon the revelations that come to us in our solitude.

# #

Luke 10:38-42 — The Voice

Jesus continued from there toward Jerusalem and came to another village. Martha, a resident of that village, welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, went and sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. Meanwhile Martha was anxious about all the hospitality arrangements.

Martha (interrupting Jesus): Lord, why don’t You care that my sister is leaving me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to get over here and help me.

Jesus: Oh Martha, Martha, you are so anxious and concerned about a million details, but really, only one thing matters. Mary has chosen that one thing, and I won’t take it away from her.


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