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).



The gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ healing of a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.  She was bent over and unable to stand up straight.  This is a wonderful story that is very easy for readers to identify with.  There are so many things that weigh us down.

I first thought about this story the day we had a number of first-year college students visiting our Quaker meeting before their classes had begun.  They were bright and perky; but I remembered other students I had seen in other years in the middle of the term, weighed down with schoolwork, relationship issues, concerns about the future, lack of sleep, and more.

I can also remember being weighed down feeling overwhelmed with many different projects that needed to be addressed, feelings of inadequacy, and a sense of great responsibility.  And, especially as a young woman, feeling burdened with being a woman and the struggles that brought me in trying to find my place.  I really value that in the story Jesus sees the woman, speaks to her, and lays his healing hands on her.  All three actions bring healing.  What a joy to be released from the spirit that crippled her—or cripples us.

One time I had been feeling weighed down for several days, with no particular cause that I could point to.  The more I felt uncomfortable about the feeling, the more I paradoxically seemed set on being bent over.  Until I heard a friend, who knows God’s love for her and has a deep and abiding love for God, say, “Sometimes I have things come up that I just can’t handle, and I tell God he is going to have to take care of that himself.”  So I tried that.  “God, I can’t handle this feeling.  You’re just going to have to handle it.”  I first had to agree to let it go if I were released from it, and I had to trust it into God’s hands.  The next day I woke up cheerful.  My anxiety about a particular responsibility had shifted.  I felt companioned by Jesus, open and curious instead of fearful.  The crippling spirit had been lifted.  I was standing up straight again.


In what way are you, or someone you know, bent over with a spirit that cripples?

How does your faith speak to that condition?


Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  In thee I trust.  (And thank you, God, for faithful friends.)

For further reference:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16a).

“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” (John 15: 4).