Saturday, March 3, 2012

Productivity, Patience and Prayer

We've all heard the phrase "I don't have time not to pray."  Though it is often quoted as a reality check or a model declaration of piety, I have come to feel that it may stem from a profoundly unspiritual attitude.

The problem is the assumption buried within this phrase that God is that which helps us get things done.  God is reduced to a means while "getting things done" is elevated to an end.  I already think this way readily enough, thank you.  What I need to do is reverse the hierarchy of these competing interests in my innermost being, realizing that knowing God is the most valuable "thing" I can "accomplish" in my life.

The work we do is not meaningless.  On the contrary, it is sacred, which is to say saturated with spiritual meaning.  Neither is productivity something to be embarrassed about; we are exhorted in whatever we do to work diligently and with zeal. But our work output should never be permitted to drive or define us.

Largely because of our immersion in the western world, we have lost most of our capacity for patience and stillness.  This is evidenced in many ways, from an addiction to working in any form to a penchant for instant spirituality to a lack of relational commitment to a frenzied fear of "false teaching."  We cannot keep pursuing everything all the time: it is madness.  The psalmist desired one thing.  One thing.

The story of Mary and Martha is one we should return to often.  Sadly, it has become cliched, and we tend to miss the radicalness of the situation.  Mary is letting someone else do all the work.  She is being lazy.  She is being - God forbid - irresponsible.  She is committing all the cardinal sins of modern American conservative spirituality.  And Jesus likes it.

"I don't have time not to pray," is just Martha in a new dress.