At the Feet of the Master

maryandmartha

 

a reflection on Luke 10:48 – 42

We’ve been talking this season about spiritual practice: all the things we ordinary humans can do to open ourselves to the divine presence that is always in us and with us, always longing to heal and transform our lives, our relationships, our communities, our world.

As we’ve moved through this season together, we’ve been exploring different kinds of spiritual practices, both here in worship and in our 9 o’clock practice hour: praying in silence; praying with sacred texts; praying with our imaginations so that the Spirit might open our hearts. I hope that you’ve picked up a spiritual practice to try out during this season.

But now that we’re halfway through the season of Lent, I think it’s the right time to talk about what is possibly the most important spiritual practice of all, the practice that makes all the others possible: the spiritual practice of letting something go. All the spiritual teachings in the world are not going to help us–even a personal invitation from the spiritual master himself is not going to help us–if we keep ourselves too busy to show up for him. Thanks for coming over, Martha says to Jesus this morning. But you know, I really don’t have time for this stuff!

Sound familiar? On the surface, it looks perfectly logical. After all, somebody has to clean the house and cook the meals and welcome the guests, right?

But Jesus isn’t buying it. Possibly because Jesus himself has wrestled with his own demons, his own resistance, out there in the desert, he knows how to recognize resistance when he sees it in his friends.

“One thing only is needed,” Jesus warns. “And Mary has chosen it—it will not be taken from her.”

Mary has chosen to let go–to let go–of the never-ending household chores and take a retreat day instead: sitting at the feet of the master, absorbing the spiritual lessons he has come to impart.

What Mary knows, and what Jesus knows, is that the busy work of our lives–our home lives, our church lives–will always be there. It literally has no end! And that busy work will not transform our consciousness. And that transformation of human consciousness is why Jesus is here. I believe it’s why we’re here on earth, and why we’re here every Sunday morning.

Beloved, the stakes could not be higher than they are right now. Only a transformation of human consciousness will allow us, as a species, to change our ways in time to save the world we love. A transformation of human consciousness that takes us from a mind of separation and division and returns us to a mind of sacred union with God and with all creation. I would not be standing here this morning unless I believed that Christian tradition actually offers us a way—a spiritual path—to bring about this transformation of consciousness.

And I wouldn’t ask you to be here, either. The stakes are far too high for us to waste our time with any tradition that does not heal our relationship with God, with one another, and with all of creation.

And yet, here we are. Halfway through the season of Lent, arguing, like Martha, that we are too busy. That our to-do lists are more important than our spiritual transformation.

You can almost see Jesus shaking his head, with compassion, and sorrow. It’s your choice, he says. What will it be? Here I am.

I’ve been hearing from a lot of you over the past few weeks, about the spiritual practices you want to take up, and about how hard it is to actually do them. And I will confess that it’s hard for me, too. I have enough Martha in me that I struggle every day to make time for the spiritual practices I know are essential for me.

The mind of Martha, the mind of Martha in us– this is what spiritual teachers call the egoic mind. This mind always tries to convince us that we are indispensable; that God cannot possibly take care of the world, or our loved ones, unless we are there to supervise. The egoic mind loves to feel needed and important. And its job is to distract us from the inner work that will free us to actually answer God’s real call.

And God — for better or worse — has gifted us with free will. God will not force us to change our ways. We are free every day to choose, to practice, the path of transformation. We are also free to choose, just as our friend Martha chooses, to be too busy. Too distracted by our many tasks: taking care of loved ones, making a living, putting food on the table. It’s not that these things are trivial, of course. It’s hard to imagine Jesus, of all people, saying that feeding others, or offering hospitality, is unimportant. As you will recall, Jesus himself was a pretty busy guy — feeding, healing, teaching desperate, hungry crowds wherever he goes.

And yet Jesus urges his followers to do as he does: to regularly step away from the clamoring crowds and sit in silence, in solitude. Even for 40 days! Because to neglect the practice of silence is to ignore God’s call to us. To neglect the practice of stillness is to refuse God’s transformative work in us. Martha, Martha, Jesus says. The stakes are simply too high.   

My job, always, is to reflect back to you, as honestly as I can, what I see when I look into your eyes. Some days, that’s easy and fun: when I see excitement and joy in your eyes, I get to say, “I see how you light up when you talk about this new idea that’s calling you. How can this church help you say a holy yes to that call?” Other days, I see you looking weary at the mention of your weekday job, or at the mention of a task you do here at church, or a committee (or three) that you lead here at church. At those times, it’s my job to say, “It looks like this is not bringing you joy. I wonder if it’s time to let it go. I wonder if you need to make some time to sit at the feet of the master, in silence, and let God whisper in your ear.”

Here’s the good news. When we stop acting out of obligation and guilt, when we let go of our need to be busy, and needed, then make time to nurture the unique gifts that God is calling us to offer the world.

Beloved, remember that Jesus himself gives up food and water and friends and all kinds of good work–Jesus let go of important, healing work he could be doing–to go into the wilderness of silence for 40 days. We have 20 days left in this season of Lent. And I wonder what it would take for us to answer the call of the master this season. What will it take for you to answer the call of your own soul? Will you give up something that is draining your soul’s life? Will you give up the excuse of busyness?

As Jesus knows, and as his good friend Mary knows, this is the way human consciousness is transformed. Person by person, heart by heart, mind by mind. Daily, slowly, we are called to put on the Mind of Christ. Daily, slowly, one by one, as we are transformed, so is the consciousness, the collective mind, of the human race, transformed. Out of separation and into oneness. Out of fear and into love. Out of greed and into care for all creation. The stakes could not possibly be higher than they are right now. Everything depends now upon the path we might yet choose. May we choose bravely, and well. Amen.