Practicing Stillness: Awaken the Senses

Martha and Mary, 1896, Maurice Denis (1870-1943), Hermitage Museum, Image Source

Out of all the stories that surround Jesus, Mary, gives us the best picture of stillness. Without realizing it, she has become our poster child for listening intently.

If you are like me, you tend to spend much time noticing Martha in this story. How she was so busy and how we are all so busy, just like Martha…

Just for today, I want to move past Martha and zero in on Mary as she is sitting at the feet of Jesus. This painting by Maurice Denis with all its muted tones, is new to me and I enjoy examining how he has depicted this story from Luke chapter 10. It seems a bit obvious that he painted Jesus and Mary all in white, while Martha is in black. But none the less, it is interesting to see that he hasn’t given them any facial features. Maybe this is Denis’ way of saying “these are just two people who met with Jesus and they aren’t very different from any of us.”

Then I decided to read the entire chapter in Luke. There wasn’t anything that I hadn’t read before but it was interesting to notice everything that happened in one chapter. Luke fills this chapter with examples of Jesus’ teachings and how they are often surprising. The chapter begins with “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Then Jesus keeps very busy “healing the sick” and preaching that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Reading onward, we find the story of the Good Samaritan. I love this story and I am so glad that Luke records it here. All these stories and events are very puzzling and Jesus seems to make a regular practice of keeping people off balance.

After beginning the chapter with words of workers, Luke concludes the chapter by recording this exchange at the house of Martha and Mary. It is important somehow, so let’s zero in on Mary vs. 39 “…who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”

To paint this scene, the artist must wonder about the time of day and make decisions about how to depict the light in the room.

Putting myself in the place of the artist, I begin to wonder if there were noises coming in from outside? Maybe there was busy market day happening or the sounds of children playing, or maybe there were birds singing.

Then I think, what kinds of sounds are happening in the kitchen? Join me and begin to awaken your senses: Can you hear Martha working in the background? Are there delicious smells drifting into the room making you eager for the meal that is approaching?

It is amazing to see that Mary has somehow managed to let all of these thoughts recede into the background and so you decide to join her as she is just sitting in stillness at Jesus’ feet.

You have been waiting for a long time to be with your dear friend and it is marvelous to be in the same room with him. The fact that he has chosen to spend time in your home, makes you feel special. You can’t imagine being anywhere else and nothing else matters. You hang on Jesus’ every word…

No-one has ever spoken with such authority before and to witness the miracles…the blind can see, the lame can walk and he has demonstrated his power over death by raising Lazarus your brother from the grave.

Surely Jesus is the Messiah.

Continue to rest in this moment relishing your time with Jesus as he rests in your house.

This Jesus who is our Good Shepherd, our Friend, our Great Physician and who is the Bread of Life.

This very same Jesus can be with you

and you can sit at his feet, like Mary,

practicing stillness

anytime you slow down and awaken your senses.

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