To be a contemplative in the marketplace means balancing a life of deep prayer with a life of active service. This is a challenge I explore in The Sacred Gaze; here’s a quick excerpt:

“It’s striking to me how much time and ink people have spent debating the relative value of contemplation and action over the centuries, pitting Mary and Martha against each other as if they weren’t sisters. (Of course sisters squabble. How else would we know they’re related?) It’s true that Jesus held Mary up as an example to her sister in Luke’s gospel, when Martha was fretting over household duties: ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ We tend to forget that in John’s gospel, following the death of Lazarus their brother, it is Martha who makes a bold profession of faith in Jesus: ‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the the world.’ Mary just weeps and rags on Jesus for not showing up earlier, when he might have done some good.

“So if we’re going to cast Martha as the activist and Mary as the contemplative, we need to remember that there was a time when the activist saw Jesus more clearly. [But Catherine of Siena] pointed out that contemplation and action are how we live out the commandments to love God and neighbor. As such, both are necessary, and each reinforces the other: ‘On two feet you must walk My way; on two wings you must fly to heaven.’ To pit contemplation against action is like trying to choose between inhaling and exhaling. Life requires both.”

What about you: how do contemplation and action get balanced out in your life? How do you take a “long, loving look at the Real” when you’re surrounded by commerce and commotion?