Click for audio: The Martha-Mary Dynamic
Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
When to act and when to be still, this is a question many of us face in our busy lives. There is much we are called to do, many opportunities to become “distracted with much serving.” It is often in our distraction of doing that we are pulled away from our center, our spiritual grounding that “shall not be taken away.”
Who today would not stop everything they were doing to sit and listen to Jesus, one of the most famous spiritual teachers in the world? Yet as a contemporary of Martha and Mary, he was apparently not so famous. He was, at least from Martha’s point of view, just another traveling preacher who required her service of hospitality. Mary, however, grasped something more in this man who was passing through their village.
And so it is with us. The act of taking time to be still and turning within may seem ineffective when there is so much to be done. Yes, we need to engage the busy Martha self, the doer, the planner, the one who gets things done. But if we want the peace that we so crave, we need to also engage the Mary self whose goal is to be still and know. The spiritual centeredness that Mary represents is the deep quality of life that we bring into all our Martha-based activities.
This is not a matter of choosing one over the other, a doing verses being. It is a matter of improving one, the doing (Martha), by taking time to find rest at the center of your being (Mary).