Monday, April 07, 2008

The Importance of the Contemplative Life

Jesus, once arrived to a house in which two women lived, one named Mary and the other Martha. They were excited to greet him and welcomed Jesus and his disciples into their home. Once things settled down at Mary and Martha’s house Jesus began to share his wisdom and teach. Mary was riveted she couldn’t pull herself away from Jesus’ words. But Martha, loyal to custom was busy making preparations for Jesus and his disciples. This was normal. When visitors came to your home you made preparations for them. However, oddly enough, the Bible subverts this local custom and says that Martha was “distracted by all the preparations she had made.” She gets mad at Mary, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

We would expect Jesus to respond with “Oh…wow, I didn’t realize that you were doing all that work. Mary, by all means, help Martha!” But he doesn’t he challenges the busy Martha by saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” The most important thing, as Jesus tells Martha, is not to become busy with plans and preparations, meetings and work but rather to be learning from and reflecting upon God.

Many notable people throughout history have known this to be case. People that are in our own cultural memory, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa were very busy people, active people—but their active life was informed by there contemplative life. They drew the strength for their activity from the great well of prayer and study.

“To see life steadily, and see it whole,” Matthew Arnold wrote, and in a way I believe that this articulates another aspect of what I’m getting at. To see life steadily we need to be immersed in the great story of God’s redemptive love, we need to see life not from our fragmented post-modern soapbox, rather from a place of loving generosity and full honesty—the place of Christ. Again, to gain such a perspective life, that is, “to see life steadily, and see it whole,” we need time to allow God to reposition us—through time in prayer to God and reflection upon God’s word.

As the semester comes to a close there are many things that could potentially send us off careening off course: finals, jobs, family pressure. It’s important to remember, perhaps more than ever before, “only one thing,” in the end, “is needed,” to come before God contemplatively and humbly.