I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Sibyl Reynolds' reflection Gifts from Mary and Martha: Sacred Practices for a Recollected Life.
Many people today are experiencing a call to live a contemplative life. The human spirit longs for peace, serenity, connection with the Holy One, and a return to the Self. In the midst of the tsunami of countless daily demands and the immediacy of email, social media, and information overwhelm, the contemplative heart awaits nourishment and intimacy with the Divine.
Myriad responsibilities and life’s frenetic pace, fragment the psyche and soul. Meanwhile, the spirit gravitates to the blessed moments of pause and exhale, the space that connects one action with the next. These illuminated instances of “in-between” hold the potential for spiritual and creative refreshment.
The contemplative heart and spirit may take comfort through the revisiting of ancient wisdom stories that hold guidance for our contemporary challenges. The spiritual guidebook, The Way of Belle Coeur: A Woman’s Vade Mecum, offers a valuable teaching for today through the exploration of Luke’s story of sisters, Mary and Martha, and their archetypal qualities.
The story of Jesus’s visit with the sisters of Bethany, provides direction for contemplative and active living. Mary and Martha are two sides of the same coin. Their conflict and contrast between the reflective needs of contemplative Mary, with her sister, Martha the doer, illustrate a timeless dilemma applicable for the here and now. The following passage from Scripture recounts the sisters’ story.
As they traveled, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him to her home. She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at Jesus’ feet and listened to his words.
Martha who was busy with all the details of hospitality, came to Jesus and said, “Rabbi, don’t you care that my sister has left me all alone to do the household tasks? Tell her to help me!”
Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha! You’re anxious and upset about so many things, but only a few things are necessary—really only one. Mary has chosen the better part, and she won’t be deprived of it.”
Mary and Martha’s story reflects the inner struggle that many today seek to resolve. Their archetypal spirits live within us. However, it’s often easier to identify with inner Martha’s frenetic busyness and management of the endless details and tasks of daily life, rather than inner Mary’s peaceful and reflective countenance.
In their story, Mary is perceived by Martha to be somewhat lazy and unconcerned regarding what she “should be doing.” Mary, unlike her busy sister, chooses prayerful awareness through her practices of contemplation and her ministry of “presence.”
When Mary and Martha are considered as personal archetypes, a question arises: How is it possible to maintain spiritual and creative balance while multi-tasking in today’s fast paced, technological, and demanding world?
Daily responsibilities definitely call for Martha’s sense of duty, organizational skills, and intentional action in the outer world. Meanwhile, the soul yearns to join Mary for prayer and contemplation, to experience the still and grace-filled terrain of the inner world.
Perhaps the way to lasting inner and outer harmony is through the conscious, sacred, indwelling partnership of Mary and Martha. Inner Mary and Martha must make peace with one another and honor and respect their two distinct charisms: Mary, the introverted, reflective, and prayerful, contemplative, and Martha, the extroverted, diligent, and active, taskmaster.
Through sacred awareness and the commitment to daily sacred practices, it’s possible to encourage the archetypal presence of Mary and Martha to work together. Their collaboration increases the potential to bring balance to life’s aspects of being and doing.
The weave of Mary’s prayerful and reflective focus with Martha’s task mastery, creates a harmonious tapestry of seeming disparate pieces. The fragmented spirit becomes recollected as Mary’s grounded and contemplative nature supports Martha’s energetic response to situations as they arise. The two aspects of the Self, the contemplative and the doer, join together to complete the unending and diverse array of tasks that comprise contemporary life through prayerful commitment and sacred intention.
You’re invited to explore the following prompts in your journal:
- How does your contemplative nature receive sustenance and nourishment?
- What are the sacred practices you observe to honor your inner Martha and Mary?
- How would it feel to begin to live your “recollected life,” in balance and cadence with your contemplative nature?
Sacred practices such as: silence and contemplation, prayer and devotion, study and reflection, etc. inspire, nourish, and recollect the fragmented body, mind, and spirit. Additionally, the incorporation of (active and contemplative) sacred practices incorporated throughout each day, offer pathways to wholeness and renewed ways of living and being. In this way, the inner Mary and Martha unite to experience a blessed and recollected life.
In my heart of hearts, I'm a monastic and contemplative. Nostalgia and melancholia feed my writer's spirit. I put pen to paper and await the story. Prayer is a river running through each day. I dwell in the Mystery while I ache to inhabit and know the ancient time and place that lives within a memory, hidden deep inside my bones.
As the founder of the Sisters of Belle Coeur, I am inspired by the sacred wisdom within women's stories and the blessings of sisterhood. Christ, the Beloved, is at the center of my life, my compass, and True North. I draw sustenance from the writings of the early feminine saints and mystics such as; St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Teresa of Avila, and the Beguine, Mechtild of Magdeburg. My intention through my work is to serve as a midwife for our planet's rebirthing. I can imagine no greater privilege.
Sibyl is the author of the award-winning novel, Ink and Honey, and the companion guidebook, The Way of Belle Coeur: A Woman’s Vade Mecum. She is a spiritual director. For thirty years Sibyl has been a facilitator for the feminine spiritual/creative process. She lives in California with her husband.