Yesterday Wallace Smith, pastor of the Journey Community Church (a church plant in cooperation with Central), was the guest preacher at my home church, Prairie Baptist. Working with Cynthia Jarrold, a treasured alumna especially gifted in worship planning, he addressed finding balance in life by looking at the contrasting lives of Mary and Martha. In the history of Christian spirituality, Martha has been identified with the active pole of faithful practice, and Mary has been identified with the contemplative pole. I was invited to share in worship about how I achieve balance between these two approaches in my life and what I find most sustaining. The following is some of what I said (via video because I took two days for retreat to practice the contemplative). Sustaining practices include:
· Finding words of assurance and challenge in scripture that beckon me to prayer. As I engage the lectionary readings, an ongoing contemplation of biblical narratives offers a grammar for my faith.
· Speaking to God very forthrightly—even if it is whining! (St. Teresa of Avila is reported to have said to God: “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many!”)
· Remembering that I am a frail child of dust and cannot be perfect. I sometimes live with the tyranny of exaggerated expectations. In his little book Creation, Bonhoeffer described the “refusal to live within limits” the besetting, indeed original sin of humanity.
· Remembering the example of others. As I care for Douglas in these days, I am reminded of the great faithfulness of those who have kept vigil with aging, ailing family members and friends.
· Finding companions to share the journey. Sometimes these are literary companions who remind us “we are not alone” in the words of C.S. Lewis. Some I travel with regularly are: the desert ammas and abbas; St. Benedict, St.Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Jürgen Moltmann; Nora Gallagher, Barbara Brown Taylor, Miroslav Volf, among many others.
· Listening in nature for the sighs of the Spirit. This is my favorite time of year—possibly because of the academic rhythms that shape my life. Autumn brings change, radiantly illumining the trees and bushes on the way to winter’s deep contemplation.
What helps you keep going when the way is hard? I trust you will find your own graceful pattern of balancing life with the resources God offers in abundance.
Molly T. Marshall