One of the recent gospel passages at our daily Mass was Luke’s account of the time Jesus spent at the home of Martha and Mary.
As the story goes, Mary is reclined at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. Martha is busy preparing a meal and is apparently about ready to serve it. She is irked at Mary, who does not budge to help her.
Jesus gently takes Martha to task, telling her she worries and frets, while Mary has chosen the right thing for the time being.
I suppose that a tension has long festered between those who busy themselves with whatever keeps them busy and those who put things aside and take an opportunity to be still, to listen, to ponder. The problem arises from the resentment that does a slow burn when one is left to do all the cooking and serving while the other sits nearby at the seat of wisdom.
It happens everywhere, in work places, in homes, here at the monastery. Jesus seems to approve the attitude of the one who listens. Maybe the others who are left with the dishes continue to gag on their own fumes.
The scene is all too human. We are all familiar with it from our own experience.
The passage from Luke has long been used to highlight the assumption that the contemplative life embraces a higher calling than that of the more lowly and subservient active life. To the present day, religious orders are divided between active and contemplative modes of being.
According to that definition or grid, a person can be one or the other – but not both.
I personally believe that each of us exists as inhabitant of both worlds.
More to the point, in the human person, the two worlds become one. We live from active and contemplative ways of being in the world. Yet there are still tensions between individuals who rally for the primacy of one way (active) over the other (contemplative) or vice-versa.
Perhaps a compromise is possible that affords some peaceful coexistence between those who actively serve and those who passively listen.
We are human. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We have a sharp eye for seeing the shortcomings in others and can be blind when it comes to seeing our own.
Jesus tries to soothe the resentment of those who need to be busy about their business. He asks them to see, to take note of the importance of dropping what they are busy about and listening.
As to the ones at his feet, there will come a time when they rise and must attend to the affairs of life, hopefully all the wiser for the words they pondered. It will be all for the better if part of the lesson they learned at the feet of the Master has to do with helping with the dishes.
Life is short. Resentment poisons the soul. It mutes the music of life.
As the saying goes, it always takes two to tango. There can take place a real nice balance between the active and contemplative ways of living in this world.
The music plays and we have the chance to respond to it as best we can. The active and contemplative can and should learn to get with the beat and boogie a bit to the music that is life.
What they will discover, once they glide across the floor with each other, is that they cannot exist apart from each other. They were made for each other, a perfect fit.
Music itself works that way, when you think about it. All music has rests and notes. One plays off the other. All you need is the beat, and it is boogie time. So many different songs, danced to by so many different people.
So go with the flow, then do the dishes.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.