One of my favorite things to do on a summer day is to go to that place where the primal elements of earth, air, fire and water come together in a most exhilarating way, and where we can step out into the edge of the infinite—and perhaps get a bit of vanity tan while we’re at it. I love going to the seashore. When I go alone, I’m often drawn to contemplation of the primal elements, how those fundamental entities of physics can add up to all this—quarks, gluons, photons, electrons, bosons, etc. And how the “all of this” of our experience is but a speck in the incomprehensible vastness of the cosmos.
And to ponder the sailboats in the distance, how the interplay of volumes and masses and forces allows the boats to remain on the surface of the water, how the force of the wind is matched to the resistance of a sail to move the boat from one place to another. How the wind itself is set in motion by the fire of the sun. How the wind and tides set the ocean waves in motion and how chaos is unleashed when they meet the resistance of dry land. How life itself emerged from the chaos of the sea. Quite by chance—or not quite by chance…
And the children playing in the breaking waves. We are those children playing in the surf, under the great dome of the sky, at the edge of the infinite in all directions. (I suppose, in a way, that’s what we’re doing here on a Sunday morning: children playing in the surf, under the dome of heaven, daring to dip our toe into the edge of the infinite.)
Contemplation of the natural world can lead us into a more expansive vision of our own humanity. We are ourselves those quarks, gluons, electrons and such that have come together in such a way as to be able to sail boats and play in the surf and to reflect on the meaning of such things. We are ourselves that life which emerged out of the primal sea and now reflects on how and why it did so. It’s an expansiveness of thought that we can bring into the ordinary happenings of our lives. I sometimes wish I could bring the beach home with me—or, at least, the larger perspective to which it invites me.
Today we meet Mary and Martha: Martha, busy in the kitchen; Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. (Don’t you wonder what they talked about? Maybe he talked about his time at the seashore and the marvelous things he had seen there…what larger vision, what more vibrant sense of possibility did he offer to Mary?)Martha, meantime,does no wrong by preparing the meal. Jesus only chides Martha after she complains. And, if both women had spent the afternoon at Jesus’ feet, he might have begun to worry, “Uh…is somebody going to get something together for us to eat? I’m getting a little peckish and it sure is quiet out there in the kitchen.”
The sisters are often taken to represent two types: the active type and the contemplative. It’s an artificial distinction: most of us are a bit of both, somewhere on the spectrum. We don’t have to be one to the exclusion of the other—even contemplatives need to get dinner on once in a while. Even the most active, task-oriented person will at least occasionally find herself reflecting on the bigger picture.
Yet, Jesus says, Mary has chosen the better part. I think he puts it that way because for most of us, it’s the contemplative, the visionary, the expansive thinking that tends to get lost in the minutiae of life. We have a way of getting all a-tangle in the small stuff. Most of us could stand to be more intentional about allowing the contemplative, the visionary to illuminate the ordinary happenings of our lives. Our lives are an ongoing process of integration or synthesis. Mary needs Martha; Martha needs Mary. Our humanity is expressed most fully in a marriage of vision and action.
One of our primary sources for a larger vision of life is, of course, the Scriptures. The Letter to the Colossians contains some of the most expansive, visionary language of the whole Bible. “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” [Col. 1:15-19] “All the fullness of God”: that’s a lot of fullness—more than an infinity of oceans. Here Paul is speaking of Jesus. And, then, a few verses later Paul speaks of the “mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages” and that is now revealed: the mystery is “Christ in you”.
Christ, in whom all the fullness of God dwells, through whom and for whom all things have their being: this same Christ is in you, in us. We are not only in Christ, but Christ—through whom and for whom all things exist, every quark, gluon, photon, electron, proton, all winds and waves, and an infinity of oceans—this same Christ is in us. Can there be a more definitive statement of the inherent worth of a human being, of our inherent “largeness”? This may be even better than a day at the beach.
As Mary, we begin to hear, to absorb, to embrace a more expansive vision of our humanity–however it is we come by this larger vision of life, however we come to a more vibrant sense of possibility: whether sitting at Jesus’ feet, or in prayer, or in reading scripture, or in worship, or in contemplation of the magnificence of creation around us. Whether in our rooms, or in a church, or a garden, or a classroom, or in the mountains, or at the beach. The larger vision offered by Christ comes to us in many ways.
As Martha, we begin to allow this vision to penetrate us, even to consume us, and to illuminate the happenings of our lives—even in the kitchen. As Mary, we seek Christ and begin to see him present in every human being, every child of God, including our own selves. As Martha, we find concrete ways to serve Christ in every child of God: building a just society, pursuing peace, making sure all are provided for, healing the sick.
There’s a kind of yin and yang to this, a kind of reciprocal dynamic flow between vision and action that puts us in touch with energies that have their source in God. God’s own creative and generative energies are activated in us.
God’s energies become active in us–which is how the Kingdom of God comes into being, “on earth as it is in heaven”. We are not passive recipients of the Kingdom of God; we are active dreamers and builders of the Kingdom. The dreams, the visions call for action to make them a reality. The concrete realities of our lives call for the illumination of expansive vision and high purpose. And if there was ever a time the world needed some illumination and high purpose it is now.
All we do calls for the light of Christ–the ordinary day-to-day stuff of our lives: the projects, the meetings, the chance encounters. In the home, at work, in the marketplace, in the class room, in the lab, in the voting booth—don’t forget the voting booth.
May we receive this light, this illumination, this larger vision wherever, whenever and however Christ offers it to us. Whether while sitting at his feet or at work be in the kitchen. Whether in prayer or in worship or on a fine day at the beach. And having receivedthis light, may it be enshrined it in our hearts. And being enshrined in our hearts, may it be seen in all we say and do.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.