Luke 10:38-42 There are lots of reasons we don’t hear well. For some of us, it is an actual physical deterioration of our hearing that often comes with age. Or it can be the loud noises all around us—and I mean literal noise like traffic or the tv as well as emotional noise like grief or stress or fear. Or it can be our tendency to double task—trying to listen to a friend and look at the emails at the same time. We fool ourselves into thinking we can hear one thing and be doing something else. We end up doing neither very well.
This season of Lent we will be exploring together the use of our various senses in our connection to God. I appreciate the insight of a small group of church members and Craig Sparks who sat with me and brainstormed ideas for our worship focus during this season set apart. During worship we will be using our senses to try to develop our GodSense, an increased awareness of how God can be heard, seen, felt and tasted. Each week we will hear from a different member of our church family about a faith practice which is meaningful to them. Each week we will experience a different kind of prayer practice which uses one of our senses. I am going to warn you right now—today our focus is listening, and later in worship we will spend 5 minutes in silence, listening for God instead of talking to God.
To read more about our adventure with God-Sense, please take time to read the front cover of the Forerunner emailed or mailed to you this week. You can find the same article on the huntingridgechurch.org website. Lent can be a time for you to pay particular attention to your own relationship with God. There is not just one way to do that. You will need to find your own way.
When Jesus tells a parable, he closes it with: Everyone who has ears should pay attention. John writes messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation and closes each letter with: If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Of course, we all have ears. But so often we do not pay attention! The words go in one ear and out the other, as we say. We are hard of hearing, as the people of God were described to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was called to speak God’s message to a people who were intentionally hard of hearing and would not listen. Human beings have not changed a whole lot, have we? We too have trouble hearing God.
God knows that many of us put ourselves in the Martha-mode of doing, doing, doing. When we are so preoccupied with tasks, with caring for others, with running around, it is very hard to pay attention to what God is saying. It is very hard to hear. Mary, Martha’s sister, gets called the contemplative one, the one focused more on being than doing. She is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, soaking up his words. Jesus praises her choice. And he rebukes Martha for being worried and distracted by many things. We Marthas of the world like to say—“Oh, Lord, if I could just get a moment to be like Mary…. But someone has to get the meal on the table, someone has to wash the dishes, someone has to provide the snacks after worship. There is no time to be like Mary.”
Martha chooses to stay in the traditional role of women in her day—seeing to it that the meal is ready for her guests. In her time, a woman’s place was in the kitchen. It would be hard to blame her for that choice. You might say she really had no choice. She certainly sees no other option with a house-full of people. Yet somehow, Mary makes another choice. It is not a choice to be lazy or unhelpful to her sister. It is a brave choice, because she is not following the traditional role. She has taken a seat with the men in the teaching space. To sit at the feet of a rabbi was to be ready to learn, to absorb, to really hear what the rabbi has to say. And it was men’s work, men’s place. Traditionalists might rebuke her—“You don’t belong here, woman!” This is men’s work, sitting at the feet of the Teacher.
Jesus praises her. She has chosen the one thing that is necessary in the moment. He doesn’t say she should never help in the kitchen. He is there as a guest. He will not be there long. She has recognized an opportunity to listen and taken advantage of it. And, surprise, surprise, Jesus welcomes one who normally would be not included in the circle of learners. Strange as it may seem to everyone else, Jesus tells her she is right where she needs to be for the moment.
Perhaps that is the most important take-away from this story in Luke’s gospel. For men and for women. We all need to help with the housework or it would not get done. Let me be clear, in today’s day and time it is NOT the work of women only. We all need to help. These are the ongoing, regular tasks—taking out the trash, changing the diapers, putting away the food, cleaning the bathtub. Any one of us can get stuck in our routine and assume that we have no choice but to accomplish the chores, the tasks, the carpool, the caregiving. Despite what we tell ourselves, we do have a choice. There are times when we get a chance for a break, a chance to be quiet, a chance to listen and to learn. What do we do with that break? How do we use it?
In order to use our ears to hear what God is saying, we have to become more savvy about noticing when those times pop up AND be more intentional about creating those times in our schedule. We do have ears and we have to pay attention. And we do have choices. Keeping our ears open and staying attentive is a choice. When we are too distracted, too worried, too self-focused, too anxious, we can’t hear what the Spirit is saying to us. We are constantly tempted by the noises within and without to close our ears and our hearts. I like the words of Diana L. Eck: Just being awake, alert, attentive is no easy matter. I think it is the greatest spiritual challenge that we face. It is so much easier to just stay in our routine, to ignore the voice of God amidst the loudness all around us. It is a challenge to stay attentive, to listen.
Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed, clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see, all the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be. These are the words of the first verse of a hymn by New Zealand hymn writer, Shirley Murray. For today, I would just change one line—instead of “clear our eyes that we can see”, it could be “open our ears so we can hear, all the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.”
Sitting in complete silence is not our regular pattern unless you have a meditation practice already. I know several of us have visited the meditation group here on Saturday mornings. I have to tell you, I find 30 minutes of silence sitting followed by 5 minutes of silent walking to be a stretch. I am not used to it. But 5 minutes we can do. It might feel uncomfortable or boring, and you might even fall asleep. But not until we can be quiet will we be able to really listen. When it comes time for silent prayer, please put away the cell phones and put down the Bible and hymnbook. Put yourself in as comfortable a position as you can. Just sit. Just listen. 5 minutes of your day. If you have ears to hear, pay attention!