There is a short story in Luke’s gospel about two sisters, Martha and Mary. One way people have often found meaning in this story is to see Martha and Mary as representative of two “ways” of spirituality – the contemplative way (Mary) and the active way (Martha). The idea being not that one is more important than the other but that they are both essential, each “way” to be held in balance, enriching the other.
Whether or not that’s the best way to make meaning of the text, I think this may be one good way to characterize Quaker spirituality.
It is fundamental to Quakers to be active. To live out God’s love in concrete ways, not identifying ourselves primarily by our values or beliefs or what we are “for” but by the way our faithfulness to Christ takes form in actions and patterns of actions.
It is also fundamental to Quakers to be contemplative. To listen. To understand our own motives, hopes, and needs. To recognize our gifts and limitations. To draw on the wisdom of others. To take the time to see beyond the immediate, the obvious, the superficial. To turn off the noise. To slow down. To simplify. To learn. To be still.
Action may be weakened without contemplation. Contemplation may be incomplete without action. The two strengthen each other.
So Martha’s fine. Mary’s fine. They’re both fine. Don’t let the way the story is told tempt you to pick one. Let’s celebrate them both! That is the Quaker way, I believe. ~~~
Matt Boswell is the pastor of Camas Friends Church, where he is excited to participate in, nurture, and magnify the congregation’s Quaker practice.