A while ago, I saw a New Yorker cartoon of a woman doing yoga and her mat was a massive to-do list. I have thought of this New Yorker cartoon multiple times a week since it was published, and each time with a different interpretation. Sometimes it is the toxic nature of “self care culture” that gets me, sometimes I get angry about how some of these to-do items get in the way of meditation and prayer, but recently I took a yoga class with one of the most compassionate and down to earth yoga teachers who brought up this cartoon. And when she referenced it, I thought she was going to say something like “when the to-do list pops in your head, just let it float by..” BUT she didn’t. She said something like “when the to-do list pops in your head, its ok. Because you are a person with a brain and needs and your everyday experience, even the mundane things on your to-do list are part of your spirituality.”
There is so much going on in the world right now, that sometimes I get overwhelmed by my mundane to-do list and wallow in the smallness of it all. If I don’t get all my menial tasks done at the end of the day, is that the worst thing? It is not, of course, but sometimes those smaller demands build up to a lot of pressure. So much that the bigger things that matter take a back seat in our thoughts.
Each of the readings this Sunday call us to remember the “rules” we are called to follow as people of faith. In the reading from James this call is simplified. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Our to-do lists are long. Working from home has blurred lines of work-life balance for many and people are working more and longer hours. Side hustle and the gig economy has everyone trying to schedule in as many clients and meetings as they can.
We are doers, but are we “doers of the word?” We are running and going and doing and list-making, but what are we chasing? Am I just following rules to cross them off a list rather than living and doing the faith that I claim?
The end of the reading from James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” I needed to hear that. Sure, there are things in my life and on my “list” that are important and need to get done, but am I focused on the big picture? Who are the orphans and widows, the marginalized and forgotten, that I can care for?
These last few weeks, my own to-do list has been pretty long. I moved, meetings for the school year have started, the slow part of summer where organizations take a little bit of a break is over and we are full swing again. These things have felt SO important. Moving alone had a check-list that was pages long. At the end of the Gospel reading, Jesus addresses the Pharisees and calls their behavior hypocritical. They are so worried about his disciples breaking rules, yet they are following the rules so closely that they are missing the needs of the people that are in front of them.
These last few weeks the news has been full of stories and images from Afghanistan, of wildfires on the West Coast, of Covid spikes all across our own country. These are people in dire conditions. People with nowhere to go and in need of basic care, much like the orphans and widows of Jesus’ time, they are forced to rely on others. I am calling out my own hypocrisy in my behavior of feeling that my to-do list was vital and important and stressful. I did feel those things, but I lost sight of some of those big picture, disciple tasks that I’m called to.
“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Jesus goes on to name sinful behavior like greed and arrogance among others. My take away this week, is that, yes, there are things to do, but what are those big things, those unavoidable things, that must be done according to the Word? Where can I fit in that puzzle?