pilgrimage & retreat studies

Luke 10:41-42

And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

At the start of the retreat a couple weeks ago, each of us met with a spiritual director. I had many plans for that weekend—I carried a tote bag, armed with pens and notepad and Bible, ready to delve into the books I had just started. But as we spoke, and I talked of everything I wanted to do, I began to understand I was completely missing the point of retreat.

Instead, I had one duty: Relax.

“Leave the books in your room,” she said. “Sit outside on the patio, and just be.”

I was restless at first. It was only an hour to start—Mass was soon approaching—but I sat in that chair, and looked out at the mountains. I didn’t know how to quiet that nagging voice in my head. It told me this was a waste of time. It said reading is certainly peaceful, anyway. It picked up on every shuffling footstep or the (enviable) turning of someone else’s book pages. But I sat there anyway.

I won’t lie and say I felt a flood of peace, because I didn’t. But that was the first sign that I’d made a wrong turn somewhere. In all my studying and learning, I’d forgotten the most basic of connecting to God: prayer.

The recollection of Martha and Mary reminded me of that the following week. I almost laughed in the middle of the Gospel reading. “Tell her to help me,” Martha demands. There she is, bustling around to make sure the house is clean, and that Jesus has something good to eat, completely overlooking that the Son of God sits at her kitchen table.

I don’t know if Martha ever got it. Probably not, if she’s anything like the rest of us. Maybe she sat down, but was distracted by everything still to be done; maybe she didn’t get that far, vowing to spend time with her company after completing one last chore.

I almost got it in the final hours of the retreat. The silence broke at lunch time Sunday, and people began to sit and talk to one another. But I took my Philly steak sandwich, sat at the designated “silent retreat” table, and simply watched. There was no official departure time or closing ceremony. We just ate lunch, and left. But I sat there, almost in tears, because I wasted so much time trying to relax and could’ve used more time to actually do it.

Perhaps Martha shared the same feeling after Jesus left, realizing she hadn’t spent enough time in his company.

But it’s not the end. Those fleeting retreat days have passed, but I can still spend time in His presence. My spiritual director left me with homework—in the middle of each day, take time to be with Him. Find a quiet place in the office, or a bench outside. Just five minutes. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes it’s already 5:00 and I’m ready to go home. But those days that I remember? I take time to breathe, clear my mind the best I can, and thank Him. It’s a small act, but one that brings me one step closer to living as Mary more than Martha.

I’ll likely always be a Martha. I think a little of both is okay. But it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t take time to appreciate why you’re working so hard to begin with.