In the morning quiet, I am reading Luke 10:38-42, Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary, lectio divina style. I read slowly, picturing the familiar story. Jesus arrives; Martha welcomes him into her home. Her sister Mary sits and listens to Jesus like a disciple. Martha, distracted by her many tasks, comes to him and urges him to tell Mary to help her. “Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things.”
I pause. The phrase echoes in my ears. “You are anxious and troubled about many things.” Indeed. Jesus is speaking to me. My ‘many things’ aren’t anything major, just the anxiety and tension of juggling my spiritual direction work, a part-time pastoral position, writing projects, helping octogenarian parents, managing household tasks, maintaining relationships with family and friends. Crises are clear. This is just too much to do and few clear deadlines. Even when everything is humming along relatively smoothly, there is an underlying layer of worry and distraction. Whatever I am doing, all the things I am not doing hang around in the background, nagging at me to notice them.
I sigh. “You are anxious and troubled about many things.” The sympathetic voice goes on: “Only one thing is needful.
Only one thing is needful. The phrases shimmer. You are anxious and troubled about many things. Only one thing is needful. I ruminate. One thing. Many things. Anxious and troubled. Only one thing is needful.
I ponder. I settle into prayer. Only one thing is needful. Listening to Jesus like a disciple, like Mary, of course, as I am trying to do with this lectio time, but am I hearing an additional invitation? Only one thing is needful. Of this clamoring crowd of tasks, is one more needful than the others? I let the question echo. What is the needful thing? Not my priority, Jesus, but yours.
Slowly, in the silence, I sense a response. One task surfaces. It’s not the one at the top of my to-do list, it’s not one that I would have said was the most urgent or the most important. But it settles into place with a feeling of rightness. Today, this is the needful thing, the place to begin. I rest in a place beyond words. As I move out of the quiet time, I test that sense of this one task being the needful thing for this morning. It still feels right, so I move to that task. The day flows on smoothly from one thing to another, that background nagging from other tasks stilled for now.
And when they start nagging again on other days, I return to my question. What is the needful thing, Jesus? And I wait, lectio style, to see which one surfaces.
Sharing tesserae from a sustained lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42
Tesserae: small cube-shaped tiles of ceramic, glass or precious stone used to make a mosaic, or in this case, brief essays on some element of lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42.