Meister Eckhart, great mystic and prophet that he was, honored solitude but he challenges us to think differently about it. He writes: “Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.”
Learning an “inner solitude” is key for him and once you learn this you carry it with you wherever you go—it is a kind of “portable solitude” therefore that we can learn to take with us in our busy lives of protest. Whether in the market place or a monastic cell, on the streets or at home, one is always” in the right place at the right time” he tells us once we have learned the art of letting go and letting be—which for him is the art of an “inner solitude.” We carry this inner solitude everywhere and therefore we also carry our powers of creativity wherever we go.
Eckhart applies this teaching to the classic Mary and Martha story from the Gospels. When Jesus came to visit the home of these two sisters, Mary stayed in the living room listening to Jesus while Martha stayed in the kitchen preparing a meal. The traditional interpretation of this story is that Mary “chose the better part” because she was being full-time in Jesus’ presence listening to him while Martha was busy doing the food prep and was somehow a lesser person for it. But Eckhart offers a radically new interpretation. He says Mary was the immature one, spiritually speaking, because she could only do one thing at a time: namely listen to Jesus. But Martha was the mature one spiritually because she could both work and listen at the same time.
The lesson is clear: Bring solitude with you and even while working you employ your deep listening skills (contemplation) while busy (putting a meal on the table for a guest). For Eckhart service is not in opposition to solitude. One can do two things at once if one has learned the right skills. Work need not diminish contemplation or being fully present. We are meant to incorporate our deep presence and listening into our work. The inner work marries the outer work and all benefit from that oneing.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, p. 90.
See also: Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, 478-494 (Eckhart’s sermon on Martha and Mary).
Banner image: “Golabgiri (“Making Rosewater”) is a ceremony taking place annually from mid-May to mid-June in Kashan, Isfahan Province, Iran.” Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash
For Deeper Contemplation
Are you learning to bring solitude with you throughout the day, whether in quietness or in busyness? Deepening one’s capacity to let go and let be allows that to happen.
This book of simple but rich meditations exemplifies the deep yet playful creation-centered spirituality of Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century mystic, prophet, feminist, activist and defender of the poor who was condemned shortly after he died. “These quiet presentations of spirituality are remarkable for their immediacy and clarity.” –Publishers Weekly.
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.