Monday I received an e-mail from The Rev. John Saville, who was chaplain at Camp Stevens during our first Adventure Session. His sermon reflecting on Mary and Martha offers some wonderful insights into the life of summer staff and the way they serve one another. With his permission, I am happy to share his thoughts with you, beginning with a typical and delightful John Saville pun:
Today’s gospel, the story of Mary and Martha, or, if you prefer, Martha and Mary, seems on the surface to make a fairly simple point. Martha, Martha, Martha… lighten up! Be more like Mary! She, like the knight says to Harrison Ford in that Indiana Jones movie as he carefully and correctly picks the Holy Grail from all the chalices, she “has chosen wisely”. In the gospel the phrase is “chosen the better part”.
But as usual with the gospels, there is more going on than meets the eye and ear. At the risk of sounding like I am promoting my son’s employer, the bottom line for me is that we are to seek a “new balance” for our lives. We are not just too busy. We are not just too lazy. We are not just over multi-tasking or sitting around frittering our lives away. We are sometimes out of balance.
Today’s gospel is not about Mary versus Martha. Yes, maybe we’re wired and nurtured to be more like one than the other. There are introverts and extroverts, contemplatives and activists, thinkers and doers. But it takes both kinds of people, working together, complementing each other, using faith and works to fulfill our Lord’s commands.
I recently spent a wonderful week at Camp Stevens. In addition to the high school age summer camp counselors, there are older, more experienced young adults who serve on what are known as “support staff” and “program staff”.
The support staff is where you would find Martha. They help with the cooking and cleaning and dishwashing and general maintenance needs that come up during a camp session, whether that’s composting leftovers or clearing brush from a trail.
The program staff lead what are called the adventure groups, campers of about the same age who spend the week in intentional community building. Here is where you might find Mary. Now it’s not a perfect analogy. There is still a lot of busy and physical work in leading the campers from activity to activity, including overnights, (nights spent in the woods away from the cabins). But there are also times of intentional reflection, listening and learning from each other about activities just completed. There is talking and thinking about nature, the environment and about God’s and our place and role and responsibility in all of it.
So actually, the program staff person represents Martha and Mary, the balance of doing and being. A few stay on support or program staff all summer, but most change back and forth. Eventhough they may naturally fit better in one role or the other, there is a need for them to be “switch hitters”.
Likewise in life, we will not only have opportunities but there will be times we need to be both Mary and Martha at the same time. It’s not easy, just as attempting to combine the active and contemplative life with a group of children filled with different personalities is not easy! But at Camp Stevens, it is, to use the phrase of Huell Howser, “amazing” to catch glimpses of the peace and presence, the compassion and even the forgiveness of Christ, named or not, in the midst of busy hard work and moments that try one’s patience. During my week as chaplain, I introduced “Wow”, “Sorry”, “Help” and “Thanks” as important words, prayers to be listening for and using.
Another way to look at all this is to think of the parable of the sower. The wonderful gardens at Camp Stevens bring this to mind. We might say that God’s word for Martha fell into soil filled with rocks and thorns, the good news getting choked by worry and distractions. For Mary, the soil in her heart was well prepared to receive the word; good, rich soil, ready for growth and new life. It’s the same good news. But Martha, as presented in our gospel, had a harder time hearing and receiving and taking it to heart.
“So yes”, as commentator Richard Fairchild writes, “some of us are more like Martha and some of us are more like Mary; but there is for all of us a built in need to combine the two within us. For without sitting and listening to God, our work for God can only lead to anxiety and anger and angst. But without doing the work, our faith is clearly nothing. There is a need to get the visionaries in the kitchen and the “kitchenaries” in the vision.”
Whim: “sudden idea.” This weekly-ish post promises a number of things: personal thoughts and reflections, showing off Camp Stevens’ programs and staff, announcements for upcoming opportunities, and answering questions or responding to comments “from the audience.” If you have a topic or question you’d like addressed, just e-mail Beth!