One Moment at a Time: Martha and Mary to Jesus
"Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42
What we need the most to learn we teach, aka write about.That much I understand as a self-proclaimed lifelong learner.It sounds exciting considering that there will always be something new to learn, thus write about, but not quite simple, unfortunately, in terms of experiencing what is required to learn the lesson!So here goes.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:41-42
The “only one” needed being referred in the Bible verse: Mary seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words.
How can we put this millennium old lesson in to practical application?Literally, it is impossible for us to seat at the Lord’s feet after his physical form ascended into heaven.Yet, he assured us that with that mystery, he has sent us the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to guide as and keep us company---in our earthly existence, his constant Presence wherever we go.
Is it possible that we can experience his Presence only if we were present to the moment?If so, we will all have our list of Martha times---of being too busy with things of this world, and of Mary times---of pure being, simply sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his words.
The Martha Times
What I would call our Martha times would be all our preoccupations where we seek to establish our personal identity or self-worth based on external circumstances.Here are a few experiences:
· From my addiction with busy-ness, self-worth.I need to constantly be busy to feel like I’m contributing something of value.I don’t take the time to reflect and discern which tasks and/or what attitude will provide more quality of life both to myself and those around me.
· I identify with my roles as parent, employee, friend and almost never ask what or who I am if as they say I am really not what I label myself in my roles
· I perform a task while preoccupied with tasks that lie ahead.Instead of appreciating the smoothness of the porcelain dish, the coolness of the water and the sweet scent of the soap, in my head I’m rushing to the next activity of sweeping the floor.Instead of the motion of washing being characterized by a smooth flow, it ends up absent-minded, sometimes with the bowl ending up in the space on the rack for the plate.
· I identify with my acquisitions and have less quality time enjoying them thinking I may not have them in the future
· I judge myself based on my roles and not with my relationship with God who bestows graces upon me unearned.The harshness with which I judge myself I judge others.We end up in perpetual competition among ourselves in the various roles we play.There’s seldom any situation where there is nothing to compete about.We reinforce each other’s scarcity mentality
· My scarcity mentality translates even to my sense of time, that I must be busy, busy, busy all the time to be worth something to myself and to the world.I forget that God has always known and valued me more that I value myself (“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” –Jere 1:5).
· I forget the value of not being judgmental to the moment, of myself and others, so that I can accept, open to the moment and enjoy it just as it is, sitting at the foot of the Lord.
The Mary Times: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I have once been introduced to the Christian tradition of contemplation using “Be still and know that I am God,” as anchor to still noisy thoughts.Somehow unlike Martha, Mary was able to still herself and sit attentively at the foot of the Lord.I could imagine how wonderful such an experience that would have been, and wonder how Mary did it.
I would liken Mary’s experience to what the modern day psychologists call “being in the zone” where time and place stand still and only a heightened perception of the moment occurs.
Being present in and to the moment seems to be an important requirement.A thought struck of an analogy: of Jesus being the moment and Mary being myself.
I recall the times when I was caught by the Presence or flow of the moment.
As compared to me exerting effort to get into the Presence or flow, it seems like it was the moment getting a hold of me and keeping me spellbound.
If stillness were a prerequisite to being flown up to flow by the moment, what makes for stillness?The only answer I can think of is the attitude of allowing.
Allowing gives the moment the opportunity to embrace us, which in turn empowers us to embrace it back.If by past skills and experiences we have conditioned our mind and body to performance level, this moment’s embrace does take up beyond our previous limits into an ecstatic state or flow.
Mary may have been present to every word that Jesus said.She let his teachings capture her.She let the ideas sink in and give her one of the most cherished things in the world: a still or ordered mind which has nowadays been frequently cited as a source of happiness.
Modern day Mary’s could be athletes delivering that one magical shot, in perfect time at the precise point in space---a volleyball drop or a basketball dunk that sets a point for the team.
They could also be artists: a painter enraptured by the symphony on the canvass, that seems to unfold on its own through the tip of the brush; a musician composing a melody that seem to swing from one note to the next, creating its own rhythm as it moves along.
Attentive parents, at play with their toddlers.An expectant audience enthralled by an inspiring song.A receptive reader struck by familiar yet profound mysteries.All these can be Mary’s sitting at the foot of the Lord, being completely present to the moment.
Based on the examples above, it then seems that Presence or flow can only happen to us and not be caused by us, is that correct?
There are contrary perspectives to that since, as an example, the eastern tradition of meditation is now slowly becoming mainstream in modern day western society.It has been said that the mystics and sages who followed a disciplined practice of meditation were able to experience the Presence or flow, in a more controlled manner.The paradox in this though is that when you start to practice meditation, you are taught to seek not to accomplish a goal with meditation as the means.Meditation, the process, was the goal itself!
We can also turn to activities like sports, music and arts where we can develop skills highly enough to a certain performance level, so that when the moment is ready to lift us off our feet to go in the flow, we are ready to embrace the moment back and perceive that sense of heightened awareness or ecstasy with its added perk of precise reflex responses.
Whether Presence can be found in doing or in simply being or allowing is really a big mystery.The next mystery is that doing something we really like can be like not-doing but simply being, because we like it so much.In this sense of not-doing, Martha could have found flowto be itself her offering, which would not have gone unnoticed then, to The Honored Guest.
If we all could find a way to enjoy our daily tasks then nothing can be classified as doing or ‘work’.If we could all find work that we really enjoy, work will not be ‘work’ but fun instead.
Such is the mystery of stillness and Presence.
So shall I seek to choose like Mary in this lifelong adventure of learning:
Opening to the mystery,
Remembering to enjoy learning for its own sake
And finding Presence
---in the allowing and being
while in the doing of tasks that requires my attention,
One moment at a time.
This article comes in the wake of my experience with writing “Difficult Lessons” (http://quirinus.hubpages.com/hub/Difficult-Lessons).The latter mentions about having been sent experiences to practice with, shortly after writing about a life lesson.Fortunately, this article writes about Mary Times as well.Shortly after, I indeed had to deal with Martha and Mary times.The fun thing was I did get to experience some Mary Times, even including in the mundane task of tying my shoe lace.