To Be or To Do

Whenever I share with a group the story of Mary and Martha told in the gospel of Luke, some of the women in the group will be upset by the story.  They know very personally the work required to prepare food and provide hospitality for guests.  They identify with the overburdened Martha and the pain of not being helped.  Jesus’ response can feel to them like a slap.   I heard a man recently accuse Jesus of speaking from “male privilege” because Jesus didn’t know what it was like to be responsible for preparing meals and serving guests.  Things don’t happen if people don’t do.

So why did Jesus support Mary, who was sitting at his feet and learning from him?  I assume, of course, that in Jesus’ day (and in ours?) the role of women was to do the work of hospitality, which means his response was radical, expanding women’s value and possibilities.  He was also pointing to the importance of tending to one’s soul, of listening to one’s Guide, of being present.

What I find is that trouble comes when I see being and doing as an either-or.  If I go through my to-do list with a rushed and distracted checking off one after the other, the tasks will be accomplished but I most likely will have missed the gifts that were present along the way.  Even with the tasks done, I may well still feel burdened.  As I learned from Contemplative Outreach, if I participate in too much, I will participate in nothing.

The same is true of prayer.  If my prayer is rote, dutiful repetition of words or practices that do not leave me open to be moved by God, I have not been present.  I and the world have not been changed.  A time of true prayer is contemplation (quiet presence with the divine) and also action, an act of being that changes what can happen in an act of doing.


Are you more oriented to action or contemplation?  How might you put the two together?

What helps you be present in a situation with all you are, not distracted and thinking about the past or future?


Find a time to sit quietly for 20 minutes, praying in any way that you can, listening with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

For further reference:

“Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (See John 15: 4-5).

“You have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth” (See Isaiah 51: 12-16).


2 thoughts on “To Be or To Do

  1. Patty, thank you for these thoughts. So helpful to hear you say true prayer is quiet presence with the divine. I can feel the tending of soul in those words. Thank you for your wisdom. Love, Tootsie



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