Advent is the season of waiting for the birth of Christ. For your reading pleasure, below are several excerpts on the theme of waiting from a longer piece on being left-handed that I wrote in 2009.
…My soy candle burns often in these succeeding months since my January decision to live into this season of waiting. I sit in my roommate’s rocking chair in the afternoons when I come home early from work and wait, watching the light flicker and the shadows it casts on the blank white wall. The darkness of the unknown is overwhelming, but somehow that little light flickering on the table shines on. I am surprised to realize how desperately I cling to my candle these days, staring into the glow as my body relaxes and my heartbeat slows. I breathe to the same line of my meditative prayer I pray with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she responds to the angel’s astonishing announcement that she will soon give birth to the hope of the world: let it be to me according to your word. I sit. I wait, even though I haven’t figured out what I’m waiting for. The wax is almost gone. The candle burns low. I am still waiting. When the light burns out, I will buy another alternative soy candle. I will keep waiting. It is not yet time to move on.
I found a carving I like of Jonah sitting in the whale, curled up like a child in the womb. I feel like an unborn child these days, being knit together in the darkness, waiting quietly in the secure warmth of the Mother for the birthing pains to come. Both the pregnant mother and the unborn child learn the same lesson—that waiting, far from the passive negation of responsibility and participation, can be the most active part of our spiritual journeys; it is during the waiting that we are moved, and it is only through the waiting that we can ever arrive at another place. I never really identified with the image of spiritual life as a journey. I always wanted to Get There Already, too impatient to appreciate the process. Ironic, then, that the process itself turns out to be the destination, for there is waiting at every stage of life; there is even waiting in death.
Mary and Martha turn up again in the book of John, and this time every character has been waiting. Mary and Martha waited for a miracle. Jesus waited for the appointed time. Lazarus, well, he just waited for death. When their waiting had come to fruition, once again, old weakness gave birth to new strength. The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ healings, but only Lazarus can claim to be raised from the dead. There is so much death in me waiting for new life. My old self, the person I used to be way back down the path, is gone for good. I have laid my pretense at left-brained living to rest in the tomb of my soul. But my new self, the person I can just glimpse up the way, waving at the next bend, that self is yet to be. Right now I am still awkward, fearful, silent. Right now I am still searching for my voice. I will journey on, but right now I wait and rest. I am resting in my weakness….
Sometimes we have to let disease and infirmity, the weaknesses of life, take over. Sometimes we even have to die and enter the tomb—rot there for days. Sometimes it is only after the rotting has begun, when we can make no mistake about the stench of our failure, that God chooses to arrive, to grieve, to breathe life in that miraculous moment when we are called by name and beckoned back into the story with those thrilling words: “Come out!” In my waiting I have discovered the gift of choice…. Even death can be a strength—or better, especially death—an opportunity for God to work in us a victory we cannot fathom. And then, the joy of new life, the joy of reunion. But first are the sickness, the dying, the tomb. Lazarus waited four days in his death. Four days of rotting flesh; four days of undeniable failure. Four days of total weakness as complete as the chaos of the waters before First Light—and then, the Voice of God.
God has been teaching me as I wait in the tomb (or is it the womb?). I am waiting to be revived (or is it reborn?). This waiting, the tension between movements, is like the moment in a balancing act when the tightrope walker pauses midway, gathering strength for the rest of the journey. This moment of rest is the most crucial element of the journey; we wait for that same appointed time…. Without the waiting, we rush on and on until–….
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
You wanna be like Mary, but in reality, you’re like Martha. Believe me, lovely reader, I know how you feel. I’ve been there, and I’m back there again.
So if you’re a Martha and wanna be like Mary, what do you DO about it?
Here’s a little exercise to try this weekend:
- Recognize your gifts, passions, and personality. Understand and accept who you are. God made you that way for a reason. God likes you like this!
- Recognize how you are feeling. Are you worried and upset? Are you critical and judgmental? Are you jealous of people who seem to have an easier time sitting at the feet of Jesus?
- Identify what is motivating you right now. Are you distracted by the preparations? Are you busy with things that seem necessary but really are not needed?
- Take it to God. Mary and Martha both went straight to Jesus. They just had different catalysts for their encounters with God. Maybe being stressed and overwhelmed by the tasks of your day can be used to turn your attention to the one thing that is truly needed.
- Allow God to redirect your focus. Where should your time and attention be right now? What is truly needed?
Maybe sitting at Jesus’ feet isn’t your natural state of being. Maybe it takes work. It was work for Brother Lawrence, St. Ignatius, and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, too. That’s why they devoted so much time and effort toward cultivating their focus toward God.
If you’re task-oriented, make time with Jesus one of your “tasks” for the day. Maybe it’s your only task for one whole day, the only and best accomplishment. If you like lists, put time with Jesus on there along with runs to the grocery store and calls to clients.
And if you’re not like this at all, if you’re naturally a Mary, well then…
YOU ROCK! We all wish we could be more like you. Don’t let ANYONE take away what you have chosen. God promised you could stay right where you are at the feet of Jesus, and God will defend you! You just keep on sitting.
For the rest of us, put sitting on your list. And then DO it.
And then come back and share your experience in the comment box below.
So let’s say you’re like me. You are an achiever. You are, as Tom Rath wrote, “utterly dependable.” You are a DOer.
You are like Martha.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Notice how Martha responds to the situation. She does not burst into the room and drag Mary away to help her with the preparations. She does not grumble under her breath, building up resentment and anger, and passive-aggressively snub Mary for the next week.
Martha goes straight to Jesus. She tells him exactly how she feels and asks for exactly what she thinks she needs.
Notice how Jesus responds to Martha. He does not condemn her. He does not criticize her work. He does not tell her to stop doing all the good and productive tasks she is responsible for. Here’s what he DOES say:
- You are worried.
- You are upset.
- Most of these things aren’t needed (not that they aren’t good or productive or worthy or useful, just that they aren’t NEEDED). In other words, your energy and effort are misplaced. In Luke’s words, you are distracted.
- Your criticism and judgment of Mary are misplaced.
Martha goes to Jesus with her frustration and anger, and Jesus gently redirects her focus.
This is what mentors and supervisors would call a “teachable moment.” Instead of punishing Martha for her Achiever and Responsible nature, Jesus uses the situation to show Martha the truth about herself — how she is really feeling and what is really motivating her actions — and to help Martha recognize what really is needed and better, and ultimately, what will resolve her feelings and correct her motivations.
Here’s what I love about this passage: what Mary does naturally, Martha has to learn.
Now here’s what we learn from Jesus’ response.
You do not need to change who you are or how you operate.
If you are like me, if you are an exhausted, inexhaustible achiever who is too responsible to allow yourself to let go of and step back from the tasks you have taken upon yourself, then you can breathe a sigh of relief here.
You will always be the achiever. You will always be responsible.
What you need to learn, what we all need to learn here, is that we are easily distracted by the worries and frustrations around us. We focus on the wrong things. We get caught up in what we think is necessary when really only one thing is needed.
If you’re like me, you want to be like Mary. You want to be a BEer. You want to be satisfied with nothing else than sitting at the feet of Jesus.
You wanna-be-like-Mary, but that is just not naturally who you are. In reality, you are more like Martha.
You don’t feel settled if you haven’t accomplished something for the day. You don’t feel comfortable if you backed out of a commitment or let something fall through the cracks.
That’s okay. God made you with that drive for accomplishment and that dependability. God loves that about you!
So what do you do when you wanna be Mary but are really a Martha?
Find out tomorrow!
This week was Blast from the Past Week during which I posted a few of my theological reflections on readings from a class on “Women in Church History and Theology” back when I was in seminary.
For today’s Forward Friday, let’s engage theologically with some of the following issues. What resonates with you? What makes you uncomfortable?
Remember, it’s important to know what we think about things and where our opinions and beliefs come from. It’s also important to know what other people think and where their opinions and beliefs come from.
Iron sharpens iron, people, so let’s get to rubbing!
- what does the Bible say about “a woman’s place” and how should we interpret it?
- are women good like Mary or bad like Eve?
- is God feminine?
- what is a woman’s true nature and does it preclude ministry and leadership?
- is the silence of women contextual or prescriptive and is there room for exceptions?
Come back by and leave your thoughts in the comment box below. If you blog about it, be sure to share a link!
It’s Blast from the Past Week on Holistic Body Theology. Here are some of my theological reflections from a class I took on “Women in Church History and Theology” at Fuller Seminary.
First posted May 16, 2008
Christine de Pizan and the question of women
“I finally decided that God formed a vile creature when He made woman, and I wondered how such a worthy artisan could have deigned to make such an abominable work which, from what they say, is the vessel as well as the refuge and abode of every evil and vice…I considered myself most unfortunate because God had made me inhabit a female body in this world.” ~ Christine de Pizan
Vile. Abominable. Abode of every evil and vice. Indeed, what woman could feel anything but “most unfortunate” when convinced of her sorry state of existence before the perfection that is held up as man? The querelle des femmes, and later the witchcraze, feature in the great debate about the nature of a woman: is she good (like Mary) or is she bad (like Eve)?
With the advent of a wider availability of education for women, a new realization of and outcry against oppression and misogyny arose. Are women really as bad as “they” say, these men who are educated by men and surrounded by educated men and uneducated women, these men who capitalize on each other’s propositions about the female sex and project their own sexual appetites onto them, these men who happening upon a woman of equal or superior learning/courage/virtue, etc. can only scratch their heads and pronounce her to have risen above her sex—are women as bad as “they” say?
Malleus Maleficarum, objectification, and witchcraft
While courtly love, this ideal of romance, was at its peak, women like Christine began to expose “the attitudes it promoted toward women, and its reduction of romance to sexual conquest—and abandonment” (Kelly 10). Women were nothing more than sexual objects made to feel empowered for the purposes of the game but ultimately losing.
A counterpoint to courtly love may be the rise of fear concerning witchcraft; where one’s romantic interest is held to be without fault, the witch is the epitome of fault. In the Malleus Maleficarum, the two authors surmise that witchcraft appeals more to the woman because (as Monter summarizes) “women are more credulous than men; women are more impressionable; also, ‘they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things they have learned by evil arts’…[they have a] greater sexual appetite…[and are by] nature quicker to waver in the faith” (129).
So courtly love holds up a woman as the virginal Mary, but only for purposes of conquest. The accusation of witchcraft colors woman as the deceptive, lustful Eve who is vindictive and in cahoots with devils. Whether she is good like Mary or bad like Eve, she is still just a woman, rationally inferior (Kelly 12).
Dan Doriani, Women and Ministry
I try not to get frustrated when I read about what men used to think about women, but it is difficult when I realize that it is sometimes still the case today. Arguments from nature may have softened their terms and tone, but they are just as harmful and hurtful as ever.
I’m reading Dan Doriani’s Women and Ministry right now for another class, and the gentleness of his tone and the caution with which he steps ever harder on the attempts of women to do God’s work are beginning to infuriate me more than the brash diatribes of these centuries-old documents like the Malleus Maleficarum.
I want never to find myself in the place Christine de Pizan once was, despising her own sex, despising her own self, lamenting that God would make her at all if he would choose to make her so deformed and despicable as to suffer being a woman.
If such a state is the logical conclusion of the pontification of men over the nature of a woman, there is no good in the reason of such men. God made male and female and pronounced them good. Anything short of that pronouncement is a lie–one men have perpetuated and built upon for thousands of years.
Choosing the harder path
So I say hurray for the women who “rose above their sex” to the extent that they could recognize their oppression and speak against it.
Hurray for the women who would not accept lies about themselves or allow anyone to continue telling them to other women.
Hurray for the women who suffered and toiled and even lost for the sake of the querelle des femmes and in the face of accusations with as heavy a price as death by fire.
Hurray for women who stood up and said “no” to the insistence that they had less rationality, less virtue, less strength of character, less natural ability, less faith.
May I have such courage to speak with gentleness and yet persistence when I face accusations of my own. The way has been paved for me. And that is a blessing.