Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:38-42
About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing." The rebuke was not because Martha served instead of listened. Jesus himself came as one who serves. The rebuke was for anxiety and distraction sabotaging Martha's own desire to offer hospitality. Jesus, too, offered hospitality. Mary accepted it. She offered the hospitality of her heart to the Word made flesh.
Who doesn't get distracted and anxious? Doing too much good in too many directions (meditation one) is one way of thwarting your own desire to offer hospitality. Rather, seek the one thing (meditation two). Even then, it may be necessary to re-evaluate your energies and sense of hospitality (meditation three).
In medieval art Martha is often portrayed with La Tarasque, a dragon-like monster she tamed and bound with her girdle. (According to The Golden Legend, the family escaped persecution by sailing to southern Gaul. - see "Suzanne's Meditation.") Does she overcome that monster of anxiety, then? Overcoming one monster enables her to tame others. I love to think so.
Sans souci, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) carried away by concerns
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. -Thomas Merton 1915-1968 Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
The Christian heart, when it has received something Divine, does not demand anything else in order to convince it that this is precisely from the Lord; but by that very effect it is convinced that this is heavenly, for it senses within itself spiritual fruits: love, joy, peace, and the rest (Gal. 5:22) On the contrary, though the devil might transform himself even into an angel of light (2Cor.11:14), or might produce thoughts seemingly good: still the heart would feel a certain obscureness and agitation in its thoughts. Explaining this, St. Macarius of Egypt says: Though Satan might produce also visions of light, he is entirely unable to produce a blessed effect: which is the well-known sign of his works (St. Macarius, Homily 4, ch. 13)
-St. Seraphim of Sarov 1759-1833 Spiritual Instructions
Let nothing disturb thee Nothing affright thee; All things are passing; God never changeth; Patient endurance Attaineth to all things; Who God possesseth In nothing is wanting; Alone God sufficeth.
-Teresa of Avila 1515-1582
This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety. it becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace.
The Dalai Lama
Martha Und Drache, Chruch of St. Lorenz, Nuremburg
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Campi, 1536-1591
Meditation Two (insight) the one thing ...What is all his striving...but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. … -Soren Kierkegaard 1813-1855 The Prayers of Soren Kierkegaard
There is a force within that gives you life- Seek that. In your body there lies a priceless jewel - Seek that. Oh, wandering Sufi. If you are in search of the greatest treasure, don't look outside, Look within, and seek That. -Rumi 1207-1273 Trans. Jonathan Star
Meditation Three (integration) re-evaluation
Today, the great enemies of any such universal hospitality are busyness, fear, and professionalism. If I don't have time to talk to the person calling for help, hospitality is out of the question. The advent of a guest, like the unanticipated needs of fellow monks, is a guage of our use of time. If we have no time for the guest, our day is too full. However, busyness can be an independent sin against the stranger, or it can be an excuse concocted because we don't want to say we are afraid or prefer to remain uninvolved. -Hugh Feiss OSB Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life
We cannot be too busy, too professional, too removed from the world of the poor to receive the poor and sustain the poor …. To practice hospitality in our world, it may be necessary to evaluate all the laws and all the promotions and all the invitation lists of corporate and political society from the point of view of the people who never make the lists. Then hospitality may demand that we work to change things.
-Joan Chittister OSB The Rule of St. Benedict
The Last Word
A brother came to visit a hermit. As he was talking his leave, he said: "Pardon me, father, for I have caused you to violate your rule." But the hermit answered: "My rule is to refresh you and send you back in peace."
-Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers quoted from Essential Monastic Wisdom, Hugh Feiss OSB
Martha Tames the Beast
It is but lost labor that we haste to rise up early and so late take rest, and eat the bread of anxiety. For those beloved of God are given gifts even while they sleep. -Night Prayer, (Psalm 127:3), New Zealand Prayerbook
Anxiety, like the common cold, is catching. One person's anxiety at work or at home, infects the esprit de corps like a rampant infection. An unnamed anxiety can attach itself to a perfectly solvable problem and spread from an individual's phantasms to the coffee pot in the course of a morning.
I inherited anxiety biologically. When I gratefully consume my daily dusting of medication for depression and anxiety I often think with regret that my father struggled without meds, pacing and pacing around the house in worn paths of worry over things beyond his control. I have to watch my anxiety, feeding on me and offered by me - the bread of anxiety. (I must say, to my credit, that many disasters have been averted by my detailed, all-consuming hard work of worry. If you worry hard enough, the disaster won't happen. That's what it feels like, anyway.)
In Sunday's Gospel, Martha finds that anxiety sabotages her own hospitality during a visit by Jesus.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:40-42 Like a ballet master, Jesus offers the correction Martha needs to put her in the right balance and direction. I'd like to think of her laughing, if not in the flush of the stressful moment, at least by the time she'd sat down to eat supper herself. And maybe she took that rebuke and turned it into a discipline of virtue. How else do you explain the taming of the horrible Tarasque?
The Golden Legend tells about Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and their friend Maximillus escaping persecution in the early days of the church by sailing to Gaul. Mary preaches and eventually retires to a cave to live the ascetic life in a cave within a cliff, where angels lift her seven times a day to sing the Opus Dei in heaven. Meanwhile, a monster terrorizes the the countryside. The destructive human-eating Tarasque has six bear's legs growing out of an ox's body, a lion's head, a back like a turtle shell with spikes, and a tail ending with a scorpion's stinger. Martha faces the ancient monster alone and charms it, armed only with holy water, a cross, and her own sweet character. Good thing Jesus clipped her over her anxiety all those years ago!
Tamed, the she-monster comes back to civilization leashed by Martha's girdle. But a sad ending awaits the Tarasque. The frightened people destroy Martha's pet. Southern France immortalizes the Tarasque in fiberglass or paper mache parade floats and in village statues and church paintings. Sadly, ubiquitous holy cards portray a willowy white-skinned Martha and a small, lovely nonthreatening dragon curled round her feet. Neither look like they've conquered anything, especially a monster like anxiety.