I grew up with the expectation that Sunday is church day. Unless I was sick or out of town (and even then I must have been out of reaching distance of any Southern Baptist Church), I was expected to be in church. This expectation set for me an internal clock that always got me rolling out of bed on Sundays, despite the knowledge that I would inevitably be late. But this Sunday morning, I decided to do things a little bit differently.
I say that as though I have never missed church on a Sunday; that would be false. I went through a time in college (don't tell my mother) in which I hated church. I hated the organization of it, the hierarchy, the country-club feeling, the terrible music and awful analogies, all of it. And so I stopped going. Until I got involved in a charismatic church that helped me believe in church again, and until I later fell in love with a Baptist church and their children's ministry that led me to believe in Baptists again. It's been quite the journey.
Recently, I moved to a new city, and I have found myself on Sunday mornings among the company of some really great Presbyterians (USA). It is a church made up of pseudo-Presbyterians; in reality, we all come from different denominational backgrounds, which makes for interesting conversation when talking about faith traditions. But it is always respectful and very beneficial.
I wound up at the Presbyterian church because a friend and I used their parking lot to access our favorite walking trail at a preferred entrance; we had no interest in the church itself. I am still not sure what brought me to visit it one Sunday, other than that I had waited until the last minute to decide where I would attend, that it was five minutes from home, and that the service started late in the morning.
What kept me coming back to the Presbyterian church was the liturgy. Having grown up in the Baptist tradition, I was not exposed to the word liturgy, much less the tradition of it, until college, and even then I didn't know how to appreciate it.
In my short time with this church, I have come to thoroughly appreciate the liturgy, even long for it throughout the week. I love to feast upon every thoughtful word, allowing it to stretch and challenge me, to lead me down new paths, and to leave me changed from the inside out. It's why I get up at 8 every Sunday morning; no kidding.
But this Sunday (today) I didn't go, and the reason is simple: I was tired. I, along with two fellow interns, moved to a new house two days ago, so yesterday was spent cleaning and running errands in an attempt to make the new place feel like home. I was very much behaving like a Martha, and I loved every minute of it. But today I needed to be a Mary.
When I awoke (definitely later than 8:00) this morning, I felt very guilty for not going to church. I knew the Presbyterians would notice I wasn't there, though I knew there would be no judgment (at least I assumed there wouldn't). I tried to work through my guilt by telling myself clichés that never work for anyone, until finally I just accepted the fact that I was tired. And that was ok.
As I sat, slowly eating my breakfast this morning, as opposed to the usual daily rush of gathering the day's first meal while rushing out the door, I came to think that maybe there is a sacredness in just staying home on a Sunday.
The story of Mary and Martha somehow constantly creeps into my life from various sources and at unexpected times, perhaps because I never learn the lesson well. Or maybe there are just so many facets from which to see it that one look is hardly enough to catch them all.
I have heard far too many well-meaning people discount Martha. Give her a break; the woman gets things done! And she is dang good at hospitality! She patiently works and slaves away at preparing a way for the Lord in her home while her sister just sits on the couch watching football with Jesus, and she is kind of over it. So the pressure builds up until she finally vents her frustration to Jesus. And gee whiz, the punk answers her by saying that Mary has chosen the more important things.
The nerve! I think I would have said to Jesus, "Ok, fine, then I will sit on the couch and we will have no dinner, and eventually the bills will never get paid because I am the one who sends the payment off in the mail, so we will have no electricity either, and oh, guess who picked out that TV at the store that you are watching?!" And on and on my frustration would go.
Unless maybe Jesus is right. Maybe His presence beckons us to come and just be and to let the work wait for just a few moments. He knows it needs to get done, but He also knows that our souls need rest and the presence of the Prince of Peace.
And maybe the example is not so literal; maybe it's just an example that the people of his day could connect with to help them see that precious time spent with their Lord, who would not be physically among them forever, was valuable and could offer something to their souls' wellbeing that getting things done could not.
It was in Martha's very nature to take care of people. The Lord calls us to that, too. And that is ok. Very ok. But maybe, while the souls of those of whom she was taking care were resting, her own soul needed rest too.
In our grandiose efforts to take care of the family of God by always keeping our tradition of gathering together on Sunday, which inevitably leads the faithful to be frustrated with those who have other things in mind for that day, what if we allowed ourselves, only every once in a while, to take a Mary stance, a stance of sitting with the Lord alone rather than worrying with the details of making Him happy? And what if we allowed our clergy to do the same?
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her wonderful book Leaving Church, writes in reflection of her time as a clergywoman, "There were days when I was as full as a harvest moon and others when not so much as a sliver appeared in the sky. My soul's health depended on the regular cycle of these phases. I needed the dark nights that gave the stars their full brilliance as much as I needed the nights when the moon shone so brightly that I could make shadow puppets with my hands. The problem with the [clerical] collar was that it did not allow for such variations. It advertised the steady circle of light, not the cycles, so that it sometimes scorched my neck."
Our clergy need vacations from the demands of church. We should give it to them. But sometimes we need vacations too. Sometimes we must disengage in order to reengage. In order to hear the voice of our Lord more clearly. In order to become more fully ourselves rather than someone else's expectations of what we should be. In order to live.
I can't wait to return to the Presbyterian church next week to chew on some more powerful words from the Lord in the powerful liturgy. In the meantime, happy resting day.