catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 15 :: 2010.07.23 — 2010.09.09


Coming to a complete stop

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus 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

Oh, how Martha must have seethed at being chastised for her fastidiousness, while her sister gave no thought to helping with the preparations of hospitality for such an honored guest.  Perhaps Luke slices off his account in the middle of the conversation because Martha’s retort was a bit too R-rated for his audience.  Quick: cut to Jesus, on retreat.

I can imagine well how Martha might have responded because often, I am her.  When I’m in my house, literally or figuratively, I’m the one taking care of details, filling in the gaps, doing what I think I should.  And while there’s usually a part of my introverted self that’s glad to be productively occupied in the midst of a social situation, I can also be the one resenting others who don’t seem to get it — who are having a good time while I do all of the work.

I don’t just keep this sentiment packed away for special dinner parties, either.  I sense an inclination to let it be a way of life.  I catch myself resenting those who find time for regular vacations while I never seem to have the time or money.  I envy those who observe a sustaining rhythm of retreat, while I barely manage to squeeze out a morning prayer here and there.  Sometimes I even sense a dark pride taking over as I maintain a grueling pace with three jobs (only one of them paid).

Certainly there’s can be a healthy gladness to pitching in with joy and gratitude, accepting God’s invitation to creative participation in what this world is becoming.  However, I came to an obvious realization this spring: work, even good work, will fill every space we’re willing to give it and it needs to be contained.  Like a river, work is beautiful and life-giving when it stays within its banks, but when it overflows, it deals destruction — and even death.

Flowing out of this observation, my husband Rob and I have been attempting to observe a simple rule of life this summer.  We set the alarm for 7:00 a.m. and, hopefully, sit down together by 8:00 for morning prayer based on the week’s lectionary texts.  After prayer, we work until 1:00 p.m., take an hour lunch break, and then work again until 6:30.  In the evening, we give ourselves permission to play — to practice and learn music together, to watch films and TV shows, to spend time with friends, to cook up our farm share produce, to play catch, to garden, to walk and bike without any destination.

Within our very small community of practice, I think we fail more often than we succeed.  But in spite of ourselves, I think our rule has occasionally opened up space that wasn’t there before.  At their best, disciplines such as these can be restrictions unto liberation.  For myself, I sense the beginning of a very slow liberation from resentment, from envy, from pride. 

In the meantime, there’s another small discipline I’m trying to observe.  When Rob first taught me how to drive stick shift, he showed me how to come to a rolling stop in second gear so I wouldn’t have to go all the way back down to first.  But I’m thinking that these days, first gear is where I need to be more often.  And so, at stoplights and stop signs, I’m going to make an attempt to stop completely, even when — especially when — I’m in a hurry.  It’s such a small thing, but just maybe with practice, I’ll find myself coming to a complete stop not only at traffic signals, but on Sundays, at dinner parties, in the evenings and, in some grace-filled moments, at the feet of Jesus.

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