Sight and Insight
The first thing that can be said about the Martha and Mary story is that they don’t represent two different groups, one that is into doing, and the other that is more into being. They don’t even need to be thought of as two different people, what they do represent are two aspects of ourselves that we struggle with constantly in order to keep a balance in our lives.
Some time ago I worked with someone who was a typical Martha figure even from a very early age. She had spent all of her fifty years doing and achieving. At family gatherings she was the one who was up and at it, busy with all the cooking and cleaning that had to be done and resenting those who were just sitting around and chatting. She felt totally taken for granted by her family who never showed her an ounce of appreciation for all her efforts. In her work life she had achieved much that she could be proud of, very well qualified, a brilliant musician and now running a successful business. Her entire life had been spent doing and achieving. Her identity and how she valued herself as a person was very much in terms of how much she achieved and how well she performed. In fact she was a workaholic and the one thing that frightened her was failure. If she failed it was never a question of something not having worked but of her being a failure as a person.
The reason she came to me was because she was unhappy. Like so many her life was full, yet she felt so unfulfilled. She described herself as running on empty, always looking for something but never finding it and becoming more and more lost and disillusioned. Like Martha she was always there doing for others but rarely if ever being there for herself. I suspect that she had’nt a clue as to how to begin taking care of herself and looking after her own needs, or even to recognize that she had any. People like her are always looking for happiness outside and often fail to realize that it lies within. That’s where the Mary figure comes in; she is the one who sits at the Lords feet and listens which makes him comment that she has chosen the better part. At a purely friendship level we tend to value someone who is there for us even more than the person who does things for us. But it is never about one versus the other, it’s always about keeping the two in balance. The person who sits on their backside all day is of little earthly use while the one who never sits still and always has to be busy is not present to themselves or anyone else. Reflection and action have traditionally been seen like two oars. By over using any one we simply go round in circles.
The person who is hyperactive and always needing to be on the go may be quite lonely and afraid to face the pain of his or her own emptiness. Not only will he or she be addicted to work but also most likely they will also be dependent on others approval, always looking over the shoulder to determine what others are thinking. Without having some space for quiet in our lives we really leave no space for God and so we have to substitute other things. That’s really where we are at in the Ireland of today. In certain respects we are losing our soul and rapidly moving towards the place where we will be buying things that we don’t need, with money we don’t have, in order to impress people we don’t know.
As a visual aid I brought along this piece that some of you may have seen before. The gannet is renowned for his sharp sight and his impressive diving and fishing skills. Here we see him in a reflective mode, taking time out and preening his feathers. From reflection comes insight, so if you look closely you will see another bird that looks like a kingfisher. While on a visit to the Saltee Islands I got talking to a group of bird specialists who were ringing Gannets for research. I asked had they ever noticed that in the beak area of the Gannet is the perfect shape of another bird. After having dealth with thouands of gannets they had never noticed what was so obvious until it was pointed out. That is typical of so many. Where we don’t take time for reflection in this busy world we sadly lack insight as to who we really are or what our lives are about. Without insight we lack the kind of wisdom that can bring us happiness and contentment. That’s the kind that all the knowledge in the world can’t compensate for because while information can fill our heads it cannot satisfy our hearts.
The founder of A.A. Bill Wilson once said that if we don’t find some spiritual basis for living we die. How can this be done without giving time for reflection? Finally there is a little story of a little Jewish child who went to the rabbi and asked, why does God not speak to us today just as he did to Moses, Abraham and the prophets of old. The old rabbi gently bent down and whispered into the child’s ear. ‘Because we don’t bend down low enough to listen?’ It’s our pride that gets in the way and the noisy world in which we live can stifle the voice of God unless we take time to be in his presence. Perhaps that’s something of the message that the gospel of today has to teach us.