As you know, I just returned from vacation on Thursday evening. It was a wonderful time. Four celibate guys had done a pretty good job getting along, and doing so without the usual breaks for solitude that are built into our lives- the ability to go to our rooms, close the door and be alone. It was the second last morning. We were waiting for the full breakfast that we had ordered to be delivered from the kitchen staff. I looked around the table and here is what I saw: Fr. Bob was reading the morning paper. Fr. Kevin was checking his email on his phone about the condition of his brother who had a health crisis before we left. Fr. John was on his phone finding out information about returning the rental van the next day. And I was researching facts about the golf courses that we were going to be playing later that morning and afternoon on my phone. Four guys, sitting around the table, less than 5 feet from each other, not saying a word. We were all ‘connecting’ to something – the world, the task at hand, family, the day ahead. But none of us was connecting to each other.
Now I get that married couples know those patterns of quiet – when there is a comfortable silence that does not need words. This was not that experience, at least for me. 5 feet from each other and each of us was connected to completely different worlds.
Into that experience, like a little wisp of grace, falling down upon me, came the line from today’s gospel that I had read the night before: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things. Only one matters…”
It was important that Kevin knew about his brother. And John about the rental car. Perhaps it was less important that I knew about the golf courses we were going to play (it didn’t help my game that much…) Or that Bob had read the morning tabloid about things going on in Aberdeen, Scotland. But the danger is that even our desire to be connected to the world can at the same time disconnect us to what really matters, the here and now. “Only one thing matters” came Jesus’ invitation to a very busy, very connected Martha. Martha was doing good things, hospitable things, things that were important for Jesus’ well being. A good, home cooked meal was just what a tired pilgrim would need to refresh his spirit, she thought. But she was so caught up in the doing, in being connected to those tasks, that she missed the presence that was right before her. Kind of like us around that breakfast table, she was connected to things that mattered, but not the ONE thing that really matters.
James Martin, S.J., in his book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, writes about the need for the solitude that connects us to God and to ourselves. Quoting a study about the seeming pathological overwork that has people SOO connected at every moment, he suggests that as a society, we may not know how NOT to be busy. We may not know how NOT to be busy.
If Mary has indeed chosen the better portion, as our Lord tells us, – then a part of our spiritual health means cultivating time for solitude – time to connect to what REALLY matters in our world. A time to sit as did Mary, attentive to our Lord and attentive to our own inner thoughts, not DOING stuff, but simply BEING.
My challenge to you and to myself is simple. UNPLUG from the stream of EXTERIOR connectedness for just 10 minutes a day this next week. Turn off the cell phone, the laptop, the ipad; put the paper down, turn off the radio and TV, and JUST BE. Choose the one thing that Jesus says matters – spending time in silence listening. It may be harder than you think.
It was hard, sitting around that breakfast table, where all of us were so connected to the outside world, but not to each other, to turn the cell phone off and to engage them in conversation. Yet the one thing that mattered was to do just that. It is hard, for all of us, who can get so caught up in our daily routines, to do the same – to calm our hearts and spirits so that we can listen for the one thing that matters. May we learn to do just that – here as we compose ourselves to receive the one person who matters – Jesus, our saving Lord in the Eucharist…