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The Rev. Teri Daily
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A couple of days ago, on July 29th, we celebrated the feast of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany. Perhaps one of the bible stories we remember best about Mary and Martha is the one told in the tenth chapter of Luke. While Jesus is teaching in their home in Bethany, Mary sits at his feet hanging on every word. The problem, though, is that her sister Martha is left to play the role of hostess, running here and there taking care of all that needs to be done. Finally Martha comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus answers her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Unfortunately, this story has often been used to illustrate the difference between the contemplative and the active life, between the one who listens and the one who does. But such a dichotomy leads to an unhealthy spiritual life—because Christian hospitality and service should always be rooted in prayer and listening, and our contemplation should always lead us to reach out to others. If we have to make this scene into a judgment of sorts (and it’s hard not to, since Jesus says Mary has chosen “the better part”), then maybe we should make it not about who’s hurrying around and who is sitting still, but about who is distracted and who is present in the moment.
In today’s world we are all pulled in a million different directions, and it’s hard to be present in the moment and to remember what the “one needful thing” is. The question is: Whether we are sitting still in listening and prayer, or busy about our daily activities or even acts of service, can we remember the One who underlies all that we are and do?
Although summer is stereotypically the season of Sabbath and rest, I think our frenzied state of distraction is usually just as true of summer as it is the other seasons of the year. I also think this distraction affects not only us as individuals, but our life in the Church as well.
Sometimes we in the Church get so wrapped up in the frenzy of doing, in our own programs and agendas, that we forget to listen to God and to the world around us. It is easy to let our programs becomes an end in themselves and not in service to a greater goal—participation in Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. Whether it is spiritual formation or outreach, all that we do is ultimately about sharing God’s love with one another and the world around us. Such work requires intentionality; it requires listening to the world around us, especially our own neighborhoods and communities; and it requires great patience. In a world that prides itself on fast results and ever increasing numbers, this way of being in the world can be incredibly counter-cultural.
Inspired by the language of the Slow Food movement, the Slow Church movement explores more holistic and interconnected ways of being the Church. In their book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Christopher Smith and John Pattison attribute this different way of being in the world to the very nature of God. They write:
God is ever faithful to the divine nature and mission in the world, even preferring to be humiliated and to suffer than to deviate from the work of love and reconciliation. This longsuffering is best exemplified for us in the earthly ministry of Jesus from beginning (his temptations in the wilderness) to end (his arrest and crucifixion). The character of God thus stands in stark contrast to the modern era’s idolatrous affair with efficiency, which is driven by the conviction that the end justifies the means… 
The church year will always have within it different rhythms, imposed by both secular seasons and the liturgical calendar. But as we begin this wonderful and busy time of returning to school and gearing up for our fall programs at church, may we remain faithful to our primary call to walk in the way of Jesus—with intentionality, attentiveness, love, and patience.
 C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2014) 25.