The One Thing

In this blog, I will frequently be referring to dwelling in the darkness, since it is in the dark that we experience transformation and where most often we are made new. I wish that wasn’t so, but it is. Unfortunately, most of us will not willingly choose change and transformation. We are attached to how we have set up our life management plan, regardless of the fact that it is not really working for us. It usually takes the loss of a job, loss of a marriage, or death of a loved one – some kind of devastation to open up our hearts to something new – to open us up to the real; to God.

None of us wants to be remade. Because to be remade, we have to be undone, dismantled, ruined. Change in any form seldom feels like our friend – none of us would ever choose tragedy. I wish we had the choice, but we live in a broken world full of pain and suffering.

My dismantling began about 15 years ago when some childhood trauma realities began to emerge. It is interesting that often some of the difficult truths we carry surface at mid-life and demand to be seen. And that is the beginning of rough because we have worked very hard to create a “reality” we can manage. It is usually steeped with denial but we’ve convinced ourselves we like it that way – even as the past wounds, pain, trauma, anger, bitterness we have stuffed away oozes out onto our family and friends like rotten garbage that we tried to seal into a suitcase years ago.

As I walked deeper and deeper into the abyss of all I had carefully hidden away, so much of what I had trusted in came into question. I began to feel confused about what I could trust. And then while in my bewildered dwelling place, my son died. A state of chaos set in. I felt abandon and lost. I did not lose my belief in God but I lost the intimacy I had clung to. I lost the god I had made. I began to doubt many of the spiritual voices I used to trust – so much didn’t make sense anymore – all the trite explanations for suffering I once spewed out on the hurting rang empty.

Sue Monk Kidd said “I felt I had been dropped into an abyss of unknowing, into a stark confrontation with my own pain and wounds. The darkness seemed to encircle me on every side. At times I felt abandoned and afraid inside its roundness. At other times the darkness felt strangely nurturing, swollen with the mystery of becoming. I wondered if this was what one encountered at the heart of the chrysalis.”

And in that dark place – some treasures began to emerge. I found some new fresh voices – authors – speaking hope into my cocoon – little pinpoints of light. One of those is author and Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr. God used Rohr’s voice to actually validate that place of “unknowing;” as an actually beautiful place to live; that I didn’t have to have all the answers. In fact, letting go of the answers and having courage to live with mystery and the reality that life is not black and white as our ego desperately wants, began to seep into my chaos.  And so, I will be sharing some excerpts from Rohr and other authors that spoke into my broken place and helped me to hear God’s voice anew.

Through the next couple weeks, I would like to post several entries on the subject of presence. My life has been an extreme battle with being present. My coping method with my trauma story was to mentally leave. I lived a large portion of my life shut down and therefore missed a lot. Part of my healing journey has been to grieve all that I missed – and yet feeling grateful for my ability to “leave the moment” and therefore survive some unsurvivable experiences.   The tricky thing is that we bring those coping strategies that we actually don’t need any longer, into adulthood, which now hinder us in relationships and personal development. For me, the life journey of presence – being connected to my heart, mind and body in each moment has brought the reality that God is in each moment as well. As we are officially in the Christmas season – which can really challenge our ability to be present with so many potential demands on our time, energies and finances – I am sharing this excerpt from Rohr’s recent post. May we both remember the “one thing” of being present in the days to come.


“Martha, Martha, you worry about ‘the ten thousand things.’ So few are necessary. Indeed, only one. — Luke 10:42 (paraphrase)

“These well-known words come from Jesus to his dear friend, Martha. He is the houseguest of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha is doing the reasonable, hospitable thing —rushing around, fixing, preparing, and as the text brilliantly says, “distracted with all the serving.”

Martha was everything good and right, but one thing she was not. She was not present—most likely, not present to herself, her own feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be needed. This is the kind of goodness that does no good! If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. Presence is of one piece. How you are present to anything is how you can be present to God, loved ones, strangers, those who are suffering.

Jesus taught Martha at the mundane, ordinary level because that would reflect her same pattern at the divine level. For Martha—and for us—such naked presence was indeed “the one thing necessary.” So much of religion involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to salvation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: how we do the moment. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. This is so important that Jesus was willing to challenge and upset his hostess and make use of a teachable moment—in the very moment.

Jesus affirms Mary, “who sat at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10: 39), in precisely the same way: how she is doing the moment. Mary knows how to be present to him and, presumably, to herself. She understands the one thing that makes all other things happen at a deeper and healing level.

“Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. If you are present, you will be able to know what you need to know. These are the seers! Truly seeing is both that simple and that hard.”

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