As they continued their journey, he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
The story of Mary and Martha is often used to illustrate the back and forth of daily life and contemplative practice. Martha is anxious and worried about many things. What is she anxious and worried about and what causes her to be anxious and worried? As you may relate to in your own daily life her emotional programs most likely are in charge of her thoughts, feelings and actions. She is under the influence of her unconscious motivation and is unable to relate to God beyond thoughts, feelings and particular acts.
You might remember what we said about the faculties in the Philosophical Model in Session 41:
The Christian contemplative journey can restore the faculties to their proper place; resting in God allows the intuitive faculties to function at the deepest level, where we relate to God beyond thoughts, feelings and particular acts. With the emotions at rest, we no longer resist the movement of the Spirit. We begin to experience God in everything and everyone, in all of creation, which is another way of saying we are now living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.
We might say that Mary’s contemplative journey has restored her faculties to their proper place. The better part that Mary has chosen is the awakening of spiritual attentiveness, where she has “moved beyond listening with the ears to a kind of heart listening.” Out of this heart listening what arises is the presence of the mystery of Christ, the divine presence. Spiritual attentiveness is what opens us to Contemplative Prayer, the recapturing or discovering of our intimate union with God, where we are relating to God being-to-being, beyond thoughts, feelings and particular acts.
“…We’re trying to know him as he is in himself through pure faith, opening ourselves to his presence within us at the deepest level of our being, the source of our being, a presence that has always been there but is covered over by the layers of the false self system that hide from us this greatest reality of life. Contemplative prayer is the movement to recapture or to discover our intimate union with God that is always there but which we have never known how to access.”
-Thomas Keating, this session’s video
“Once spiritual attentiveness has been awakened in us, it can be nurtured and deepened during times of prayer by specific contemplative practices… A ‘cloud of unknowing’ is woven by repeated practice in letting go of our thoughts and preoccupations and consenting to the divine presence. In time, it becomes a habit by means of which we can move into that presence almost at will. By not knowing in the way we usually know, the knowledge of God through love manifests itself in our prayer. The gentle activity of consenting to God during the time of contemplative prayer sustains spiritual attentiveness and distinguishes it from mere emptiness of mind. It is rather, the emptiness of self. The divine presence fills that emptiness and transforms our motivation into that of the Spirit.”
-Thomas Keating, Reawakenings
- View the video excerpt “The Spiritual Senses, Part 1” which is about 26 minutes in length.
- For those familiar with the practice of Lectio Divina, you may wish to pray with the passage about Mary and Martha in the manner of Lectio Divina.
- Notice in the quote in the meditation section when Fr. Thomas refers to the “gentle activity of consenting to God” as sustaining our spiritual attentiveness. When Jesus says there is need of only one thing, a gentle consent is all that is needed. At times, when we are anxious and worried about many things, it may be helpful to look at how much effort we are putting into our spiritual journey. The better part—all that is needed—is a gentle, effortless consent. Reflect on your experience with effort versus consent in your contemplative practice.