I am no doubt a Martha, a worker in the hive. Lately though, I have been reaching in for my inner-Mary.
Mary was the contemplative who reflected deeply unlike her sister Martha. Mary wanted to learn; she wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet and take in everything. (Luke 10:39, NRSV)
Barbara Brown Taylor brings the contemplative Mary into the twenty-first century in An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (2009) saying: “My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul.” (xv)
Her words popped for me remembering a few seconds during a walk across the Emory campus. It was about 8am. I stopped and looked to my right. Sunlight streamed, filtered down through the branches of giant trees on the edges of the quad. I had to take two steps back because that spot I had passed made the specks of dust in the light seem more sublime. The sunlight, the trees, the dust were and are there everyday, truly mundane, but in those seconds I entered sacred space directed by God by retracing my footsteps at a natural altar.
My seconds in sacred space and time got me thinking about Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) as nature, something often taken for granted, as sublime means of contemplation. Thoreau says, “The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whip-poor-will is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled not ruffled.” (“Solitude“) Thoreau is not explicit in describing this scene as sacred but the images and tone feels like God is in the midst. Imagine the bullfrogs in nature as God’s celestial choir. The sound of the whip-poor-will and wind on the water are instruments accompanying the choir.
The ordinary become extraordinary–Mary listening to Jesus and Thoreau engaging with nature–all through the lens of the contemplative. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 reiterates the blending of the secular and the secular, the common-place with the divine: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.” (NRSV)
We can be intentional about contemplation through space and time of the simple things and moments around us. Don’t wait to walk into a church or temple to experience a second here and a moment there at the sacred altar of God, “the altar in the world.”
I took my own advice spending my morning in contemplation tidying up the downstairs. God was in the vacuuming.