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Embracing My “Inner Mary”

Truth be told, I’ve been an Advent flunky this year. I could give you all the reasons why—and I have several. But suffice it to say, I honestly never got any Advent traction this season. And yes, I felt the accompany guilt and dismay over my distractedness and lack of devotion.

I don’t doubt that the guilt, in part, is what prompted me to climb the stairs to a third-floor guest room at Fall Creek Abbey yesterday and spend the morning “Advent-ing.” I worked through the Advent guide that David and I wrote together for all our guests who came for Advent retreats. And it didn’t take long before I discovered a different reality within me. A deeper, real and quiet longing for Jesus.

My experience reminded me of something I read recently about our levels of awareness, captured in a diagram developed by the late Thomas Keating. The image consists of three concentric circles. The outer circle is labeled “ordinary awareness.” The middle circle is labeled “spiritual awareness.” And the inmost circle is labeled “divine awareness.” What this image illustrates is what I experienced: the awakening of my spiritual awareness of the divine by simply slowing down, sinking into my inner being as I “sat at the feet of Jesus.”

Cynthia Bourgeault compares the story of Martha and Mary to these levels of awareness. If you remember the story, Martha is busy and distracted by “so many things.” She is living out of ordinary awareness--the way most of us do, most of the time. But where is Mary? Seated at the feet of Jesus, hanging on his every word, listening with all her heart to this Rabbi she has come to love.

Bourgeault puts it this way: “It’s not that Martha is ‘wrong’ and Mary is ‘right.’ Both types of awareness are necessary for functioning in this world. But the idea in spiritual transformation is to integrate and re-prioritize these levels so that our ordinary awareness is in alignment with and in service to our spiritual awareness (which in turn, as we have seen, is in service to the divine awareness).

“If we could picture our plight, then, in this usual state of being, which spiritual masters from time immemorial have described as ‘sleep,’ we could say that each one of us has a Mary deep within us, glued to the feet of the Master.”

And that is what I discovered—or better yet, where I discovered myself yesterday morning. It didn’t take long and even a lot of effort. It mainly required intention. And before I knew it, I found in my own inner being a deep, devoted love for this Rabi, the One for whom I wait.

Don’t be dismayed if you’ve flunked Advent this year. Take time today and embrace your “inner Mary.” She’s there. Glued to the feet of Jesus. Worshiping him.

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