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Seek balance.

Last Sunday, our pastor preached on Mary and Martha. When I saw the scripture in the bulletin, I heaved a great sigh. I get so sick of people praising Mary and putting Martha down. In part, this is because I identify with Martha. I’m a do-er. But it is also because I suspect that most of the people condemning Martha benefit from someone like Martha.

And our minister acknowledged this. In his mind, every successful church exists because of the women who serve meals, clean the building, help with mailings, or whatever.

That said, I had never considered the full implications of Mary listening at Christ’s feet. I had forgotten that women were not allowed to study the Torah. In fact, one rabbi who lived shortly after Christ stated that rather than let women study the Torah, it should be burned.

Now, think about that for a moment.

Female labor is good. Female knowledge is not. This is an idea that many of us are familiar with but we tend to forget that we’ve heard it all before when we listen to this passage. I only realized as I was writing this that although I identify with Martha, I am a lot like Mary. My curiosity knows no bounds. How strange that it was only today that I realized how like Mary I am.

Whether you naturally identify more with Mary or with Martha, what we all really need is to strive for balance. We need the Martha. There’s no doubt about that because it is Martha who gets things done, but we also need Mary to listen for the voice of Christ.

Without Mary, we have no discernment. Without Martha, we will be limited in what we accomplish. To be effective, we need to find within ourselves a bit of both.


What is it that God wants us to do?  The question applies equally to tricky situations and big life choices.  There are a variety of ways to determine the answer.

Pray.  That one seems kind of obvious but how often do we remember to do it?  Should I take this class or that class?  Is this promotion a good choice?  What about giving money to this man with a sign?

Discernment.  Do you belong to a prayer group?  If so, ask the group to pray for you.  Ask them to listen for guidance.  Perhaps they can hear a message you cannot.

Read Scripture.  Often the answers to the questions we ask can be found in scripture.  Listen for God.  Help your neighbor (which extends to the broken lying in the road). Encourage your fellows in Christ.

Pray Again.  Remember, there is more than one way to pray.  You can use a prayer you have memorized such as the Lord’s Prayer (Thy will be done) or the Prayer of St. Francis (Let me not be).  You can pray while you draw or even while you walk.  Trace a finger labyrinth.  Sing.

Listen.  I don’t know about you but often I get so busy telling God what I want him to do, that I forget to listen.  But prayer is a conversation and, as any good conversationalist will tell you, conversation requires not only that you speak but also that you listen.

The answer may not be immediate.  Wait is also an answer and sometimes it is the one we least want to hear.


You are reaching a fork in the road.  How do you know which one God wants you to take?  Listen for that still small voice.

Years ago, worship had gotten a bit ho hum.  I went to church because of a sense of duty.  It was habit.  But something needed to change.

So I prayed.

And I prayed.

And I prayed some more.

Then a thought popped into my head.  I should join the choir.

Pfft.  That couldn’t be right.  I hadn’t been in choir for something like 20 years.  As much as I loved music, middle school choir had been a nightmare.  I gladly dumped it when I started high school.  Choir was NOT the answer.

Then the choir director walked up to me.  “You need to join the choir.”

The think is that when I get in front of people, I have panic attacks.  My focus narrows.  I shake.  I’ve never thrown up but I could.  That much is obvious.

But I said yes.  Friends warned me not to let the choir director bully me.  For a bunch of people who worried he was bullying me, they were awfully pushy.  That was ironic.  In spite of this, I stepped up and went to practice.

I’m not going to say it was easy.  The day I sang a duet I nearly face- planted.  No, seriously.  But I did it.  And I’m bummed that this Sunday is the last week we sing before our summer break.

Not sure if what you are hearing is the still small voice of God?  Here’s my base line question.  Is it easy?  If yes, listen some more.  If no, sorry.  There’s a really good chance the terrifying suggestion is from God.



God knew.  He knew we prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar even if the familiar is broken. It is just easier.

That is why he encouraged us to follow.  He will lead.  It is simply up to us to listen and to have the courage to choose growth.  To choose Him.


Some people talk to God as easily and readily as picking up a phone — they have God on speed dial. Through meditation, prayer or other means, they’ve perfected the art of hearing what God is telling them; their ears perk up at sounds outside the spectrum of human hearing. I admire them. I envy them.

My ears stretch and crane for the slightest peep. I hear only the silence of my own selfish heart. Would I believe the voice of God if it came to me? Or would I dismiss it as a figment of my own imagination? What does it take to hear God? Well, for one, it requires being attuned to your own inner self. This is difficult to do when one is not essentially interested in one’s inner self. Call it dint of long acquaintance, but I am thoroughly sick of my inner self. I’d like it replaced, please, with something better, holier, more interesting. I am tired of slogging through its sludgy waters.

Then I remember: St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta last heard the voice of God as a young woman traveling on a train. She never heard the voice again, not through the long years of her service to the poor, holding the hands of the dying, through her own illness and death. Not once. Her “dark night of the soul” lasted decades. And it would be difficult to argue that she wasn’t trying to do what God asked of her all those years ago on that train. She was. With a resounding silence as her reward.

So maybe God doesn’t speak to us with an eye as to what we deserve or even ask for. Maybe God figures once is enough for the right folks. Only when was my once? Was it deciding to go away to a college I’d never even visited before but which ended up creating lasting ties and thoroughly overhauling my spirituality? It was a decision that could certainly be described as providential. But I’d hate to think that the first, last and only time I heard or heeded God was at the raw age of 18. That’s a lot of wasted years.

Or is that I don’t know how to listen? That would be strange indeed, as I count listening as one of my greatest ministries. I’m the woman that strangers pour their hearts out to while standing in line at Walmart. I hear about other people’s crises of faith. So maybe I’m not supposed to hear but to be a conduit to the One Who Does Hear?

I wish I knew, but I suppose that would require a rather loud message that I, for whatever reason, lack the skill to interpret. It doesn’t mean that I am going to toss out my inner telephone. No, I’ll keep it on, hoping as I have through all these long years, that someone will give me a call. I’m waiting.

The last two weeks have been trying without being disastrous.  My son graduated from high school, we had a huge party, he started his first real job (life guard), he is coaching on the swim team during his last season, my mother-in-law has moved back to the area but doesn’t drive, a friend is undergoing cancer treatments,  my father’s dementia is acting up because he knows he is going to move, we’ve all had a virus, and the rewrite I’ve been waiting for 2 months showed up 9 days before the next book is due.   And, as the icing on the cake, I agreed to help organize a workshop series a year ago and the woman who talked me into it has disappeared.  The second workshop is today and she’s at the beach on a long-planned vacation.  She wasn’t there for the first one either.

Hmm.  When I type it all out, I think I see why I’m so tired.  And more than a bit cranky.

And no matter how hard I try someone is there to tell me that I’m not trying hard enough.  I’m not doing enough. Or I’m doing it wrong.  Or I should just tell this person over here to …

You get the picture.  But most of the people telling me what to do have no clue.  But God does.  In fact, He’s a big picture kind of guy.  He knows what is coming.  He knows where we’ve been.  But he knows what is going on in all the other lives as well.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that as Christians we are encouraged to listen for that still small voice.

And the best way to do that is in quiet.

So if you’ll excuse me…


In her marvelous book “Entering the Castle: Finding the Inner Path to God and Your Soul’s Purpose” by Caroline Byss, the author discusses how and when we hear God speaking to us. First, she says, one must have one’s spiritual defenses down. That is, we must drop the social and sometimes cynical face we wear in the world and totally immerse ourselves in feeling — which is precisely why so many of us find ourselves thinking of God while looking at nature. You have to get past yourself to hear the voice of God.

Which is precisely the problem with contemplation, whether in prayer, meditation or simple holy quietude. We expect to hear God at these times, but often don’t. Why? We’re ready. We’re open. Shouldn’t God leap at the chance to be listened to?

God is not a TV show: You can’t stream God on demand. God speaks when God wishes to speak, not on our time, but on God’s. Of course we’d like to control the flow of communication. We humans love to control things. You’d think we’d have learned by now that we are quite powerless in the grand scheme of things. For all of our scheming and scrambling, we still die. We still hurt. For all our talismans and superimposed myth-making (lucky numbers! psychic connections!), we know nothing.

Today is the national day of prayer. This year’s theme: Hope. Hope’s a tricky little imp. It’s difficult to keep hold of hope when you can’t hear God, when you’re waiting for a message that has not come. Hope may be the most easily lost commodity on Earth. But that’s what makes it so important, so dear.

Here’s hoping we hear God when God speaks to us. Here’s hoping our defenses are down, that we remain in a constant state of willingness. Because whether God whispers or roars, God always has something to say to us. Prick up your ears! Let’s all pray today for the ability to hear and strength to obey.

You know how it goes. The busier we are, the less time we have to connect with friends and family. When I’m disconnected for too long, I feel adrift. Then I whine. I whine about no one calling me and asking me to do anything. Sometimes I whine at my husband. Sometimes I whine at God.

This was one of those weeks. I faced a Monday deadline, three Thursday deadlines and a Saturday deadline. Sunday I decided to take a break and touch base with my father.

“I’m taking you out to lunch Thursday,” he said.

“I can’t, Dad. I’ve got 3 deadlines on Thursday and that’s my short work day.”

“I don’t have any other plans. We’re doing lunch.”

Clearly, I wasn’t getting through, but I refused to commit. “I’ll give you a call on Wednesday and let you know if I’ve gotten enough done by then.”

How could I possibly fit it in?

We’ve established in the past that sometimes God has to send a message my way two or three times before it permeates the fog of my busy-ness. It wasn’t until later, after a particular phone call, that I realized this was communique #1 and, as usual, I missed it.

Monday, I left a message for a friend. He’s even busier than I am, but I knew he’d call back when he got a chance. Tuesday, I needed to get up from the computer and take a break so I called but didn’t leave a message.

About five minutes later, the phone rang. “I don’t have time to talk I’m right in the middle of Madrigal competition with my students but I didn’t want you to think I was blowing you off and I’ll call you tomorrow when I have a minute okay bye.”

First, I laughed. Then I really truly did receive message #2. No matter how ridiculously busy I am, I’m not in this alone. I have friends. People do reach out to me. And if the busiest person I know has time for a stream of conscious run on phone call in the middle of competitions, I can certainly fit in time for lunch.

After all, I’m dense, not completely clueless. God heard me, now its time for me to hear Him. But I am left wondering, one thing. How many times does God have to repeat himself because I send out pleas for help, but then don’t listen for an answer?

Probably more often than I realize.



Have a Mary Little Christmas

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