Our dear friend Tara told me of her recent correspondence with you and I realized that I have not written to you since around this time last year. I am relieved to hear that you have remained in good health this past year, as have my family and I. Fr. Ganz sends his warm regards and promises to write to you again next month.
I found a rare, quiet morning to write to you, old friend. The newest addition to the Edmonds family, our 5-month-old baby Ruthie, is up early with me. As I am writing to you, she is lying on the floor, quietly observing her surroundings. She occasionally catches my eye and gives me a toothless smile that lights up her whole face. In a year of so much pain and death, this new life arrived, bringing us great joy. How like God to send us this little one at just the right time.
Life here in Portland is trying hard to “return to normal” with more businesses reopening and activities resuming. However, it will take time for life fully to expand as we continue to navigate this pandemic. Are things inching towards a semblance of normalcy where you are? It’s hard to believe that it has been over a year since we were placed under a stay-at-home order, which forced us all into a slower pace of life. I must say that as an introvert and a homebody, I quite enjoyed the slower pace. I am finding it hard to enter back into a world of constant activity and scheduling and busyness.
Beginning in March 2020, my day-to-day life took on a much different rhythm than what I was used to. My pre-Covid days looked something like this: wake up and hit the ground running, daycare drop off, commuting to an office, meetings, activities, socializing, shopping, traveling. My days during the Covid shutdown took on a vastly slower pace: wake up, drive nowhere, go for a morning and afternoon walk, work on my laptop, snuggle up with a good book, and spend time at home with my family.
In “normal” times, how often would you ask someone, “How are you doing?” and have them respond, “Good. Busy as usual,” as if our importance is measure by our busyness?
The Time of Covid forced me to recognize how much I had lost touch with the deeper rhythm of life. And noticing this in myself has convinced me that I am not the only one who has.
I must say, Peregrinus, taking a slower day-to-day pace was like stopping for a deep breath of fresh air after treading water for too long.
It is not simply the slower cadence that has been so refreshing, for it is possible, through lethargy or laziness or vagueness of purpose, to be busy at a slow pace. It is in what one is able to notice when one “slows down” that allows us to find a that new, deeper rhythm in which we move through this life.
I got to thinking about that text in the Gospel of Luke in which we find Jesus at the home of his dear friends Mary and Martha (who, I imagine, would have been included in his “bubble” of friends if they had had to face a pandemic in their day).
Luke 10:38-42 NIV
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I had the following thoughts about this text, which I am sharing with you, inviting you to write to me your own thoughts.
- At this point in Jesus’ life, he had quite a following and led an active life of ministry. Yet he still took the time, as he was traveling from town to town, to make sure that he visited his dear friends Mary and Martha, and Lazarus. For Jesus, time with friends took priority over hurrying off to the next thing.
- This story of Mary and Martha is not meant to point out that one woman (Martha, the busy one) was bad, and the other woman (Mary, the one who sat and listened) was good. Rather, Luke wants us to understand that each of us, including Jesus, has both an “active” and “contemplative” side – both ways of proceeding with our lives are essential. At times we need to be more like Martha, and at times we need to be more like Mary.
- I imagine that Martha is someone who has the gift of hospitality. The ability to be a caring host who can create a warm and inviting space is a trait I greatly admire. This beautiful work that Martha is doing should have given her joy, knowing that she was doing what she knew how to do so well, and that she was doing it for Jesus. But notice in this story how Martha, in her busyness, is described as distracted, worried and upset. Could it be possible that Martha is being foolishly or unnecessarily active?
- We shouldn’t assume that Mary is being lazy by sitting and listening to Jesus rather than helping Martha around the house. Jesus obviously doesn’t assume that of Mary. Could it be that Mary is being actively contemplative by discerning what is necessary to do, and leaving undone what isn’t necessary? Learning what is necessary is an act of discernment, requiring discipline of focus.
- Take a look at the painting that I inserted at the beginning of this Letter. Notice the look on Martha’s face, tired and worn. And notice Jesus’ hands: one hand placed lovingly on Martha’s shoulder as if to say, “Martha, I see you, and I notice that you are weary.” And his other hand open and outreached toward Mary as if to say, “Come, join us. Join in our company. Our time together is better and more necessary than being busy.”
- When I looked longer at the painting, I saw how clean the house looked, there in the background. It gives an appearance that nothing is in need of tidying up or organizing … “few things are needed.” Martha for sure, but possibly Mary and Lazarus too, keep a very tidy house. Jesus asks us to discern when it is necessary to be actively busy rather than being engaged in a useless, thoughtless deployment of energy.
As a mom of two little ones, I am well acquainted with the experience of (daily!) being tired and worn out. At home, among my family, it is clearer to me what is necessary to do, and when it is time to do that. But when the surrounding American culture appears to me unreflectively addicted to “staying busy” all the time, I begin to feel the pressure to give my life to unnecessary things, and, as a result, to teach my daughters a bad and destructive habit of “busyness.”
So how, Peregrinus, do we find a new rhythm, a deeper rhythm, in letting go of being busy for busyness’ sake? How can we learn from Jesus where and when it is necessary to be “busy” and “fully deployed”?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This, Peregrinus, is what I’m trying to figure out. Sometimes I am able to let go of the feeling that I need to keep going and stay busy; the Time of Covid has allowed me the space to release that expectation. But there are times when I need to watch my kids and learn from them so that I don’t fall into the trap.
I watch my little Ruthie, the least busy person I know. She lays on the floor, in total contentment. Yet in lying there, she is “doing” the important work of an infant: she is observing and growing and developing her body and mind. Maybe she innately knows that this is the most important thing for her to do right now, and so she quietly and happily grows.
I think of my sweet 5-year-old Cora who is one of the busiest people I know; a child who hardly sits still or stops talking. Yet, she is happy, content, and not stressed. Her busyness is alive, animated, vibrant, and flourishing.
So much is unknown as we move forward (for there is no going back to how things were) into a post-Covid time. We will all surely be different as this pandemic has affected us individually and globally as a whole. Pray for me, Peregrinus, as I strive to find a new rhythm of balancing thoughtful activity with contemplative rest. And please write to me your experience of navigating through this uncharted time as well.
Stay well. I look forward to the time when we can safely travel to visit each other again.