“When the Heart Waits”
Wednesday Wisdom Well
This well serves a unique drink:
Words that refresh and cause you to think.
“One day, while flipping through the New Testament, I came upon the familiar story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:39). Jesus came to Mary’s house for a visit. There was a lot of fuss and flurry in the kitchen, and Mary’s sister, Martha, got completely wound up in it and missed the point of everything. Mary, on the other hand, defied a lot of taboos by entering the circle of men who had gathered as disciples around Jesus. The Bible says that she sat at his feet and fixed her listening heart upon him…
I thought about the daring that she had mustered to break out of expected patterns that confined the deeper contemplative part of her and to position herself as she did. I tried imagining how she looked there–sitting still, watching Christ’s face, focusing not only her eyes but her heart on him.
I understood that what I was seeing was a posture of waiting…
I wrote four words across the margin of my Bible: attention of the heart. That seemed to be the aim and the central characteristic of Mary’s posture…
I envision attention of the heart as the combination of two interior states: attentiveness and devotion. When Mary sits still in the divine presence, she’s a perfectly blended portrait of each.
Attentiveness is vital to waiting. The word wait comes from a root word meaning ‘to watch.’ Originally to wait meant to apply attentiveness and watchfulness through a period of time and was a highly regarded experience. To wait on God meant to watch keenly for God’s coming. Watchers and waiters were nearly synonymous.
Unfortunately, much of this meaning has been emptied out of our experience of waiting. These days, the idea of waiting doesn’t conjure up the idea of being tuned in as much as it does the idea of being tuned out. We denigrate to idling…We need to recover the sacred relationship between waiting and watching. When I was a dating teenager, every time I went out, my mother said, “I’ll be waiting up for you!” I knew what that meant. She would be awake, watching for my return, attentive to car lights in the driveway and voices on the porch. Her heart would be focused on me as only a parent’s heart can be.
The other attitude inherent in attention of the heart is devotion. Life watchfulness, devotion is always present in genuine waiting.
We don’t hear a lot these days about the experience of devotion to God, about cultivating tenderness and passion for the one who made us and sustains us. I wonder sometimes if we haven’t banished the way of the heart in favor of the way of the mind, if we emphasize learning about God over being with God…
As I attempted to take on the posture of Mary at the divine feet, I didn’t struggle to set a ‘quiet time’ or do a lot of mental exercises. I simply too time out now and then to sit still and experience attention of the heart. I often sat on the patio in the early morning, listening to the owl that always sang invisibly from a distant tree. Sometimes I sat in the dusk in a near-blizzard of fireflies. Once I got away for a weekend and sat in my stillness for even longer, unbroken spaces of time. Inwardly, I fixed my heart on God. I tried to watch, to be attentive, to love and be present to God, creation, my own aliveness, even the holiness of the owl’s call.
For me, that’s the posture of Mary–the still prayer of waiting that transforms us in unseen ways.”