Tuesday, April 30, 2019

But How Will They Eat If Martha Sits Down?

Party noises resound down the hall as I sit for a moment after evening prayers and bedtimes with the kids. I pull out my rosary to pray a quick decade.

"Our Father who art in heaven…"

From the back bedrooms, I hear the springs of a crib mattress under my 3-year-old's gymnastic jumps, the bellowing nonsensical conversation of my twin preschoolers, and the whine of my 7-year-old as he convinces his 9-year-old brother to throw back his pillow.

The story of Martha and Mary comes to mind.

"Lord," I complain. "I'm trying to choose the better part here, to be here with you instead of busying myself with the distractions of home. But it's getting pretty crazy back there."

I finish the decade and shake my head at Jesus' naivety when it comes to running a household. Who does He think is going to make dinner if not Martha? The contemplative life is a nice idea, but in the real world, at the end of the day, people want to eat dinner, especially the little people who are not-so-slowly turning my brown hair gray.

I begin a second decade of prayer and meditation. The playful shrieks of my children continue in the background.

"Lord, my children are really partying back there. But I am choosing the better part."
I hear a crash and then silence and then crying. "OWWWIE!"

I drop the rosary into my pocket and huff down the hall to check owies and dispense divine justice.

With five kids split between two rooms, bedtime is… a process. I move one child to the couch, another to my bed, and then, the dreaded ultimate weapon: I shut the bedroom doors.

As I relax into a chair and pull out my rosary for a third decade, I overhear a tired "Maaaaama…" from the bedrooms. I pause to discern how serious the need -- potty help? missing stuffed animal? -- but it stops unexpectedly, and the house is quiet.

"Our Father, who art in heaven…"

My mind wanders. I want to stop praying so I can watch my recording of The Late Show from the night before. But now there's a kid on the couch, so TV's no longer an option.

"...hallowed be Thy name…"

How can a mom running a household with five young kids possibly have a choice between being Mary or Martha? Who's going to feed the children?

Discontentment echoes down the hallway -- "Humph. Humph. Humph." -- followed by the thump of a mattress as my grumpy, tired seven-year-old shifts in his bed.

"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…"

New shouts call down the hallway. "Gabwab! GABWAB!" Speech lessons haven't ungarbled his words yet. I get up to check it out.

The translation is "Bed Stuff!" and the complaint is that he was moved to the master bedroom without his blanket, pillow, bathrobe, and three stuffed animals.

My 7-year-old starts howling. It's not a cry of fear or sadness or anger; it's just something he does because he's earned Wolf rank in Cub Scouts, and wolves howl. I ignore it.

A fourth decade begins. "Our Father who art in heaven…"
I'm grateful for the rhythm of the rosary. It's easy to pick up where I leave off after each interruption.

My 9-year-old calls out from the couch, asking if he can sleep on the dog's couch instead of the TV couch. Sure.

"Ubba, wubba, wubba!" my 3-year-old sings down the hall. It's a song about… I don't know.

Was I on the 7th or 8th "Hail Mary"?

I imagine Martha catching glimpses of Jesus' conversation as she makes dinner in the kitchen. It reminds me of my weekly Mass experience, catching glimpses of the liturgy as I quiet kids and resolve sibling pew rivalries with silent shouts from my eyes.

"Hail Mary, full of grace…"

A kid is coughing. I wonder if my allergy kid is getting sick or just announcing an impending weather change. I should wash his sheets.

Fifth decade.

I start a wry "Our Father" with undertones of, "Seriously, Lord? What are we even doing here?" But I'm smiling.

The house settles into silence. I can hear the clock ticking over the fireplace.

Then, "Woo-woo-woo. Aaaah!" in muffled tones from the bedroom. It's the sound of a three-year-old's face singing into a pillow as his sleepy head can no longer hold itself up.

"Our Father who art in heaven…"

My own tiredness feels heavy. I think about the dishes that still need to be washed in the sink.

"Hail Mary… blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus… pray for us..."

It occurs to me that Jesus didn't see Martha as a cook or a hostess or a housekeeper. He told her to stop doing all of that.

But Martha had a household to run. She had a living room full of guests. And no one was doing anything to help her meet all these needs. "Jesus, I need help!" she says.

"Mommy? What do I do if I need to go to the bathroom?" my 9-year-old whisper-calls from the dog couch.

"You can go down the hall quietly. Please don't flush the toilet. You'll wake up your brothers."

"Hail Mary, full of grace…"

Jesus didn't respond to Martha's request for help by sending all the women to the kitchen to finish cooking. He didn't tell Martha to suck it up and get it done alone. Jesus would rather cancel dinner altogether than have women miss out on spiritual discussion.

Glub, glub, glub. The dog's water bowl unexpectedly auto-fills behind me, and it shakes me from my contemplation.

I'm sad that the rosary's ending. The story's not done.

What about the meal? Jesus, who's going to make dinner if Martha sits down to talk with you? How will the people eat?
This part of the story always panics me. Can you tell I'm Italian?

I hear the quiet snores of my 9-year-old finally asleep on the couch.

"... grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries of the most holy rosary, we may imitate what they contain…"

My house is so quiet. I slowly stand up to get started on the dishes in the sink... school lunches for tomorrow... a last load of laundry always waiting in the dryer… the work just doesn't end.

Is it really possible for me to choose the contemplative life with all this work to be done? Lord?

I don't know for sure what happened that late afternoon in Bethany when Jesus told Martha that she was invited to join the conversation instead of labor alone in the kitchen.

I believe Martha stopped in her busyness to rest with the Lord, to enjoy his presence and conversation.

But then, I also believe -- and this is just a random mom's rosary contemplation, so take it or leave it -- that just as everyone was getting good and hangry and ready for dinner, Jesus himself got up to help prepare the meal.

After all, he's a pragmatist. According to the Bible, Jesus did all kinds of teaching while participating in the daily routines of life -- fishing, cooking, traveling, eating… Lots of ministry happened over meals, even meals that He prepared.

"Everyone seems kind of hungry. Let's continue this conversation in the kitchen!" ...or something like that.

My house is quiet, the kitchen's a mess, and my rosary's ended.

But I don't think Jesus wants to stay tucked neatly into this small contemplative pocket of a busy day. He wants to stay in conversation together over dishes and laundry and whatever else this day may bring.

*Republished December 2019 at CatholicMom.com

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