The Awakened Heart - Mary and Martha

You know the story.

He Qi,  Mary and Martha , undated 21st century.

He Qi, Mary and Martha, undated 21st century.

You know how Martha gets a bad rap for being too distracted - too worried - too busy. And that Mary gets to sit on her arse and gets lauded for doing absolutely nothing. 

I hear a lot of "shoulding" around this story - people say stuff like, "I should be less Martha and more Mary...[big sigh] but who is going to clean the house, take care of the kids and get us to church on time if I just sit on my arse like Mary?" Busy moms with young kids or those of us caring both for kids and aging parents feel the impossibility of merely "sitting at Jesus feet." How do we begin to choose this? This story of Mary and Martha present a seeming discrepancy of how to live and on what to focus. There are so many demands on our lives. What do we do?

In The Awakened Heart, Gerald May so beautifully re-paradigms our normal dichotomous interpretation of this classic scene.

"On the surface it sounds like Jesus is criticizing Martha for doing the work of preparing the meal and commending Mary for passively listening. But look closely; he is challenging Martha's worries, not her work, and commending Mary's presence, not her docility.
"The Greek word used to describe Martha's state of mind is merimnao. It means be preoccupied to the point of distraction by many things, and comes from the root merismos, meaning being pulled asunder. The problem is not that Martha is working, but that she is obsessed with working. Indeed, it is Mary who has the contemplative heart; she has chosen the one thing necessary, which is to attend to God. It just happens that in this particular moment she does it by sitting still; in another time, perhaps in the next moment, she could be doing the same thing while helping wiht the work. The story might have been better told that way. It might have been better stll if Jesus had been helping with the work. But Martha's problem was that her preoccupation had kidnapped her awareness away from the divine presence.
"Many people in this day and time would like to draw a line between their actions and their prayer. They might even go so far as to say, 'God gave me a will, so God wants me to act on my own.' But there is no scriptural justification for this, and neither is there any need. Surely God gives us the freedom to act with or without conscious attention to the source of love. But what God wants, and what our hearts most deeply seek, is for us to live every moment, do every act, breathe every breath i the conscious immediacy with the One who is all love" (210- 211)


  • What are the things that seem to pull you asunder? 
  • In what ways do you feel alone in the "much" you have to do to make life happen?
  • In what ways does worry distract you from loving?
  • What longing is welling in your heart right now?


The Awakened Heart
By Gerald G. May

Today - try to blend your doing and being with this prayer from the Psalmist: as your hands are making a meal, gripped upon a steering wheel, or typing an email, simply pray the following:

"Let the beauty of the Lord rest upon me - establish the work my hands, yes, establish the work of our hands (Ps. 90:17)