It can be said that there are two aspects of the Christian life: the active and the contemplative. Episcopalians are usually good at the first one, because, after all, we want to do things which are pleasing to God, and transmitting faith into action benefits the society in which we live.
However, what if the things we do are not what God has in mind for us? This happens when we decide, without reference to God, what needs to be done in God’s name. History tells us that human inspired actions, however well intentioned, can block the action of God’s grace to heal and transform the world. The solution to this problem is to develop a healthy contemplative life.
This requires us to wait before rushing into action. The purpose of waiting is to ask God for direction. “What do you need me to do?” Or better still, “let me see the world as you see it.” A contemplative life involves prayer, and also meditating on Scripture; what is the word of God saying to me in a reading from the Bible? One of the joys of Christian life is to discover that, as you grow older and your faith matures, the word of God is forever new; there is always something to learn from hearing the Scripture.
Those two aspects of Christian life – active and contemplative – are personified in the sisters Martha and Mary from Luke’s gospel (10:38-42). Jesus visits their home and while Martha is busy with domestic duties, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to what Jesus is saying. There is then the following exchange, which shows Martha’s irritation at her sister’s passivity:
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
While many will sympathize with Martha, the fact remains that “Mary has chosen the better part.” The life of the Spirit, which Mary nurtures, is fed by listening to the word of God. Martha has the best intentions, but the situation requires her to abandon her routines and spend time with Jesus. This is true for us, but it can be difficult when we are set in our ways and not even God can move us from them.
With the season of Lent approaching, now is a good time to prepare by evaluating your own spiritual life and deciding if there are any practical steps you can take to change or deepen it. Faithful and regular attendance at church seems an obvious first step, but you can go further by signing up for the Lent course, (which, by the way, starts before Lent), or booking an appointment with your priest for a spiritual checkup. (I trained as a spiritual director in the Church of England before coming to the USA.)
The aim, in the words of the Letter to the Colossians, is to “continue to live your lives in Jesus, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (2:6-7). This evokes an apt metaphor of a tree whose growth depends on the roots going deeper into the ground. Our faith needs to grow deeper into the ground of our being, so that we may know Christ more fully, and so act more faithfully according to his will.
Let love and faith abound