Laughing with Lillian – 2 – Praying with Mary and Martha (Bruce G. Epperly)

It's Shrove Tuesday (at least in the Episcopal tradition of my youth), which means tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  Believing a post with the title "Laughing with Lillian" fits better with Shrove Tuesday than Ash Wednesday, I'm moving up Bruce Epperly's reflections to today.  This is the second of what will be three reflections on Lillian Daniel's new book When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, (Jericho Books, 2013), and it deals with spiritual practices that touch both the introvert and the extrovert (Martha and Mary).  As we prepare for our Lenten journey, I invite you to engage with Lillian's reflections on the "spiritual but not religious" trend line with Bruce.  


Laughing with Lillian – 2 – 
Praying with Mary and Martha
Bruce G. Epperly

In her reflections on “so hard to sit still” in her book When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, Lillian Daniel captures a key dilemma among mainstream and progressive Christians.  As a congregational consultant and occasional participant in the search and call process, I have experienced this dilemma first hand.

Can we affirm both Mary and Martha and contemplation and action in faith and practice?  While there is no all-embracing formula for this dynamic interplay of action and contemplation, today’s Christians know that healthy spirituality requires both – rich and full, still and strong, Mary and Martha, as Lillian Daniel proclaims. (37) Lillian and I see this interplay as necessary for healthy spirituality and social transformation.  I see it as essential for our outreach to seekers, “nones,” and the self-described “spiritual but not religious.”

This is the journey inward and outward of faith.  Lillian poses the problem, suggests a solution, and leaves it to folks like me to present the practices.  Throughout my career as a theologian, author, and speaker, I have affirmed the importance of vision, promise, and practice in the spiritual journey and congregational life.  This holy trinity of what I call “lived theology” or “theospirituality” can be described thusly:

  • Vision - A way of understanding God, ourselves, and the world in which we live.  Vision is basically our conscious and unconscious theology.
  • Promise – You can experience your theology in everyday life. God can be experienced by ordinary persons as well as monks and mystics.  You can experience God right where you are.
  • Practice – Ways to help us experience the holy in our daily lives, traditionally described as spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines.

 Today’s spiritual practices must embrace both introverts and extroverts, Mary’s and Martha’s, and meditators and activities.  I have extensively described spiritual practices for evangelicals, moderates, progressives, emergents, and seekers in Emerging Process: Theological Adventures for a Missional Church; Holy Adventure; Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry; and Healing Marks: Spirituality and Healing in Mark’s Gospel.

Holistic spirituality involves a variety of practices including:
  • Stillness through practices such as centering prayer, Quaker silence, mantra meditation.
  • Moving with the Spirit through the interplay of prayer and exercise, such as walking prayer, meditating as you write a sermon or reflect on important issues. 
  • Iconic prayer through the use of icons and the appreciation of the beauty of the world; praying with your eyes open.
  • Sung prayers such as Taize chants, gospel hymns, and meditative chants.
  • Prayerful action by blessing the people work with; seeing and bringing forth God’s presence in the least of these.
  • Prayerful advocacy as a bench motto at Kirkridge Retreat Center proclaims, “picket and pray.” (
  • Affirmative faith by using spoken affirmations (such as “I am God’s beloved child,” “I see God in everyone,” “God’s light shines in and through me.”)
  • Body prayer through energy work, such as reiki healing touch, Tai Chi, acupuncture, massage, and yoga. 
  • Prayer with Your Hands by praying handshakes, soup kitchen meals, holding a child’s hand.
These are just a few of many possible approaches to spiritual transformation.  These are an invitation for you and your congregation to explore practices that are appropriate to your current situation.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty three books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living,  Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary and  He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University.   He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.  His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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