It is springtime and it seems the hectic demands I usually have around Christmas are beginning to over take Holy Week as well. Besides my normal work obligations I have time sensitive art projects, volunteer work, some important events with my friends and of course, church services. I feel like I am waging my own personal war on Easter trying to figure out what the most Christian choices I can make are. I suspect that I am not at all alone in this. I find myself asking familiar questions about what Christianity is all, “about,”
Interestingly the Bible readings for today tell the story of Martha and of course Mary, who brings in the expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet. It is the classic story of Martha working hard and Mary attending to Jesus. It is also a tale of Judas complaining about the price of the perfume versus the needs of the poor. While these particular stories seem to emphasize worship over more practical matters, so much of the rest of the Gospel stories really are about living like Christ in the world and particularly with the poor and marginalized.
There are plenty of voices in my life that remind me of the importance of just living it out. In fact many of my Christian friends have spoken harshly about the importance of church services at all. “Just do it,” they say, “go an do what Jesus really wants you to do.” Hm.
Of course there are an ample amount of people in my church community who talk about the important, and tecnically in my tradition, required nature of these services. It seems that one way or the other I am set up for some kind of failure. It is impossible to make these choices without disappointing someone, and according to some people, disappointing God.
For this reason and others it is unthinkable to me to simply flip a coin or choose one side or the other: service or worship, work or prayer. I am also not a big fan of siding with “balance,” just for the sake of compromise. So, I have to ask, “what is most essential to living like a Christian?”
I can’t and must never choose.
I cannot desire, even for moment, that I would one day look back on my life and can trace moments of compliance and piety but not see compassion, friendship and the hard daily work of love. Nor would I be at all pleased, let a lone do I think it is possible, to look back on a life that somehow echoed Jesus’ teachings but not be a person marked by worship and prayer.
Ora et Labora
For Benedictines it is something of a motto: Pray and Work. In some ways it might also be read as; pray and work – they are the same. There is no competition between our work and our prayer. They are two hands we must hold… or perhaps they are the two hands that hold us.
I don’t think God desires either piety or practicality, either faith or works. I don’t think I will be judged either by what I have accomplished or how often or hard I have prayed. God is most concerned with who I am becoming, that I am in love with and beginning to look like Christ. That cannot happen if I were to sacrifice worship, work or community. It is mine to love God and love others. The real question I have to keep asking myself is whether all of who I am belongs to him or not, not just parts.
It would be a mistake for me to resolve these question by coming up with a principle or a rule. A “definitive” answer will not help, and it lacks wisdom. If I have to miss time with friends then I have to bring them with me in prayer to church. I cannot miss too many foot washing srvices, even if is to serve others before I lose my sense of the kind of service to which Christ calls me.
For Christians there can be no division between the sacred and the profane. I bring all things with me to church to lay before God. I bring all of the prayer that I find in the Church into life so I can find God there. It is in this rhytm that I find that all things are God’s.
Someone has to polish the pews and someone has to fill them. I get to eat at a table of which I am not worthy and I must set a table without asking who is worthy to come. I must work and I must pray.
The important lesson, in light of God’s grace, is not that I figure out how to disappoint God the least. Instead I just have to ask, “What can I offer God right now? What am I willing to change to be more like God. I am yours”
And if it is really a matter of ‘becoming,’
…I am in good hands.
This post is part of “Diasappointed with God: An online retreat for Holy Week.” where you can read other reflections throughout this week.