I love this painting by the Vermeer. With his beautiful use of light, the 17th-century Dutch artist masterfully illuminates an intimate scene of encounter with Christ. The incident that he illustrates is recounted in the Gospel of Luke as follows:
He entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.” – Luke 10:38-42
The Better Part
The Word of God is living and active, which means that it is directed to each of us just as much as it was to those who were the first to hear it. What Christ said to Martha was said with equal intention for our own well-being. It is written as “Martha, Martha”, but it could just as easily be “John, John” or “Jane, Jane” or whatever your name may be. God pronounced those words in the person of Jesus Christ with you in mind.
It is the only instance in all of the Gospels where Christ addresses someone by repeating the person’s name. When you read “Martha, Martha”, you can almost hear the calm tone of Christ’s voice as he lovingly calls her and tries to quiet her troubled soul. Like so many of us, Martha is “anxious and worried about many things”: she is running hither and thither, frantically trying to hold things together and meet the unrealistic personal expectations that she has set for herself.
Mary, on the other hand, has chosen the “better part”; she has chosen the benefit that comes when your life is in order and focused on Christ: peace.
Peace is one of the major fruits of the Lenten exercise of self-denial. Between now and Easter, I would like to share with you some thoughts and reflections on finding this elusive gift.
“Distracted from distraction by distraction”
Peaceful moments are hard to come by in today’s world: there is always something to distract us and disrupt our inner equilibrium. “Distracted from distraction by distraction” is how T.S. Eliot described modern man in his poem Four Quartets. Henry David Thoreau was convinced that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation” as they struggle to satisfy their longing for happiness with empty pleasures.
Although these authors wrote in the 20th and 19th centuries respectively, how well do their words describe the state of humanity in the 21st, and probably even more so than in their own times. We often flutter from one event to the next, desperately seeking ever-elusive satisfaction but never quite getting it.
I am product of contemporary culture just like everyone else, and I have spent too much time and energy worrying about things that really don’t matter in the long run. I make absolutely no claims to having mastered peace, so please take these personal reflections for what they are worth.
Five Elements of Peace
From my conversations with spiritual experts and from my reading on the topic, I have found that there are at least five basic elements to finding peace.
- Trust completely in God’s Providence: As hard as it is, we have to learn to just let go and “let God be God”. When we finally let Him take over, the peace that comes is amazing.
- Keep your eyes on Heaven: Re-focusing on our final destination is essential to finding happiness and peace. Putting all of our stock in fleeting worldly things will only frustrate us.
- Make the best of your circumstances: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” As cliché as this adage may sound, it’s still great advice! Blooming where you are planted is one of the keys to finding peace.
- Live the present to the full: How much time and energy we waste worrying about what may happen or what has already happened! Peace is found when we leave both the future and the past in God’s hands.
- Do not “grasp”: We lose peace when we cling to things that we have or grasp for things that we lack. True peace comes when we content ourselves with what we have and free ourselves from the rest.
In my next five posts, I will deal with each step in-depth, but first we must ask,
What is peace?
We human beings have a problem: we are both spiritual and physical. Due to our spiritual nature, we are capable of an infinity of things, but due to our physical nature, we are limited and can only achieve one thing at a time. This means that we are often inwardly divided: while we desire many things and have the capacity to achieve them, in order to get one thing we always have to give up another.
Lack of peace occurs when we allow ourselves to be troubled by what we are not able to achieve. Peace comes when we focus all of our interior desires on the only things that can perfectly satisfy us: God and His Will for us.
I hope that you will follow the next five posts and join me on a Lenten journey towards peace.