Simply Being

August 7, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Exodus 3:9-15 , Luke 10:38-42


Some years ago, The Archbishop of Canterbury was rushing to catch a train in London. In his haste, he accidentally jumped in the wrong passenger car and found himself in one that was full of patients from a psychiatric hospital. They were all dressed in casual clothing, no doubt going on a day’s outing.

Just as the train pulled out of the station, an orderly came in and began to count the patients, “1-2-3-4…”… when suddenly he saw this distinguished looking gentleman there wearing a business suit and a clerical collar. He asked, “Who are you?” The answer came back: “I am the Archbishop of Canterbury!” And the orderly continued: “5-6-7-8.

It’s a cute story and one that I can relate to having worked in psychiatric hospitals and having met a few Bruce Lees and several Jesus Christs. But as I read the joke what struck me was how the question, “who are you?” was answered. Not, “Justin Welby”, but by title; the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Many of you know that I entered the convent at age 18. When I left, seven years later I remember feeling very strange. I was no longer Sister Nancy, but just plain Nancy. Most of my female friends were either still in the convent or had married. They were sister so and so or Mrs. Somebody. I was just Nancy and it made me a little anxious. Who was I? What value did I have?

Tom and I have a friend who had a very prestigious position in his professional life. He did important things and interacted with prominent people. Though he has been retired at least ten years, whenever we speak with him he manages to bring his professional past into the conversation; what he did, who he knows, etc. It seems that how he views himself now is not enough.

In today’s first reading when Moses asks God, “If Pharaoh wants to know who you are, what am I to say?” God could have answered in a number of ways. He could have said, “I am the Almighty, All-Powerful God, or “I am the Beginning and the End, The Alpha and the Omega”, or “I am the Creator and Sustainer of the universe”. But he answers, “If they ask, tell them, “I am. It is I am who sends you.” That simple yet profound response incorporates all of the divine being. “I am” says God is, now, in the present. It’s the same for us. If we identify ourselves, by title, by profession, by where we live or who we know, or what we’ve done, or who we’re related to we leave out so much of who we are. Yet sometimes, just being doesn’t seem to be enough. Sister Joan Chittister, in her book Light in the Darkness, quotes the poet Walt Whitman who said “I celebrate myself”. Then she comments, “The thought is so delicious it is almost obscene. Imagine the joy that would come with celebrating the self . . . our existence. Imagine what it would be like to look into the mirror and say, as God taught us, “That’s good.”

A phrase that helps me when I feel insecure in this way is, I am enough. Saying this slowly a few times to myself can be very calming and reassuring. It helps me to just be.

In today’s second reading Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. But first they take a little side trip to a village called Bethany. There they spend some time in the home of a woman named Martha. Now, despite the fact that she has come to be known as one of Jesus’ closest friends, we don’t really know if that was really her name. Martha, means “lady” or “mistress of the house”. So she might have just been labeled by Luke, who wrote the story, as the lady who owned the house.

Anyway Jesus visits Martha’s house. And as we know hospitality was and is still is a big deal in the Middle East. So Martha likely took entertaining her guests very seriously. Welcoming Jesus of course, meant opening her home to his twelve disciples as well. So this involved feeding thirteen hungry men, who were used to having women wait on them. We can imagine the pressure that Martha must have felt, wanting to be a good hostess. We can relate to her.

The story continues by telling us that Martha had a sister, Mary, who would normally be expected to help when thirteen people show up for dinner, but we find out that Mary is “sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” In biblical times, to sit at a rabbi’s feet meant that you were receiving formal training with him as his disciple in the same way that St. Paul sat at the feet of the famed teacher Gamaliel when he was a young man (Acts 22:3). Invariably these teaching situations involved only males. It was not customary in first-century Palestinian Jewish society for a woman to be included among those students. So Mary, instead of helping her sister, going in and sitting at Jesus’ feet was quite astonishing. She was placing herself as an equal into a man’s world.

This was not what upset Martha, however. While Mary is sitting happily at Jesus’ feet, Martha is working like crazy. Luke puts it like this: “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She was upset that Mary had left her to do all the work. Evidently this has happened before. Notice that Martha doesn’t even bother to talk with Mary directly about her feelings. She probably knew that it wouldn’t do any good. Instead, she says to Jesus. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” It was a cry of frustration.

Jesus, no doubt, expected that he and the disciples be fed. But he responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Scripture doesn’t say that Martha went to Jesus. It simply says that she said to him. So, I’m thinking that they were all in the same room. Martha could have probably listened to Jesus too while she prepared the meal. Instead she gets resentful; maybe feels a little self-pity. Maybe I’m just projecting here. I’ve often chosen to over work and then felt sorry for myself. Mary, on the other hand is just present to Jesus. She is being rather than doing, and Jesus affirms that.

I’ve been reflecting lately about the idea of being versus doing, the concept that we can get so caught up in the things that we do that we stop simply being, and as a result we miss out on the present and maybe even stop growing as persons.

Maybe we can get caught up in doing instead of being because it’s often easier.  We live in a future-oriented culture that relates time largely to efficiency and productivity. We are inclined to use time to accomplish results rather than to enhance relationships; even a relationship with ourselves. We can quantify what we do. The results are right there to see and count and evaluate.  We can count how many beds we’ve made, we can measure how much of the garden we’ve weeded, and we can count the number of times that we’ve driven to the store.  We can also see the results of not doing, such as the dishes on the kitchen counter, the long “to-do” list of things that still need to be done, or the pile clothes that hasn’t been washed.  There’s a lot of value in doing, of course. We couldn’t function as individuals, as a family or as a society without doing. The issue, I think, is about balance. It’s about taking time regularly to just be.

It’s hard to define “being”, but we’ve all met those people who are calm and peaceful and loving and caring.  They seem to have a radiance about them, and it’s a result of their being able to get in touch with and rest in who they are rather than what they do.  These tend to be people who are more interested in being more caring, more compassionate, and more loving rather that filling their time with doing more things.  These are the people we love to talk with, because they’ve learned to see life with clarity and to listen without judgment as opposed to the people who always have have to talk and often offer suggestions for what we should do to make things better.  These are the people that I personally would like to emulate, for that peace of mind and peace of spirit will go much further towards making me a happy, fulfilled person than any accomplishments can.  After all, when we accomplish something, our next thought usually tends to be “what next?”  When we find peace of heart and peace of mind, we also find that “what next?” doesn’t really matter.  It will come of its own accord. Instead of looking at our day as an endless to do list, what if we started each day with a question: “At the end of the day, how do I want to feel?” After we answer that one, we can ask ourselves, “What will make me feel that way?”

Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing, talks about being poised in all three centers; body, mind and spirit. She says that when we are balanced and alertly there a shift happens in consciousness; that we are present, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. She ends her chapter on this topic with a poem written by a friend of hers, Jane Hooper. As I read and re-read the poem it seemed like an invitation from God to simply be. I invite you now to pray it with me.

Please Come Home

Please come home. Please come home.

Find the place where your feet know where to walk

And follow your own trail home.

Please come home. Please come home into your own body,

Your own vessel, your own earth.

Please come home into each and every cell,

And fully into the space that surrounds you.

Please come home. Please come home to trusting yourself,

And your instincts and your ways and your knowings,

And even the particular quirks of your personality.

Please come home. Please come home and once you are firmly there,

Please stay home a while and come to a deep rest within.

Please treasure your home. Please love and embrace your home.

Please get a deep, deep sense of what it’s like to be truly home.

Please come home. Please come home.

And when you’re really, really ready,

And there’s a detectable urge on the outbreath, then please come out.

Please come home and please come forward.

Please express who you are to us, and please trust us

To see you and hear you and touch you

And recognize you as best we can.

Please come home. Please come home and let us know

All the nooks and crannies that are calling to be seen.

Please come home, and let us know the More

That is there that wants to come out.

Please come home. Please come home.

For you belong here now. You belong among us.

Please inhabit your place fully so we can learn from you,

From your voice and your ways and your presence.

Please come home. Please come home.

And when you feel yourself home, please welcome us too,

For we too forget that we belong and are welcome,

And that we are called to express fully who we are.

Please come home. Please come home.

You and you and you and me.

Please come home. Please come home.

Thank you, Earth, for welcoming us.

And thank you touch of eyes and ears and skin,

Touch of love for welcoming us.

May we wake up and remember who we truly are.

Please Come Home

Please Come Home

Please Come Home