The earbuds are in as I sit amongst noise. From the other room the TV surround sound emits Captain America, the XBOX behind me, Halo Wars and so the iPod is plugged in. It is rare that I sit before my home computer, these days, and I am sorting through memory cards; organizing pictures and making room on my PC hard drive. I have a terrabyte and am running out of room. I need to choose my own noise; it allows me to focus and think.
I looked around our congregation, this morning, wondering what makes these people wake up and get here. It is a blessing that my older boys chose to be altar servers; it makes us consistently attend services and is the main reason the hubs comes. Each Saturday night I think of how easy it would be to skip; it’s only one hour and we’re constantly on-the-go. God knows we’re believers. Amongst the Christian denominations Catholics are notorious for being religious when it suits them; usually around Christmas and Easter.
This morning the boys begrudgingly woke. Where does it say that we have to go to church every Sunday?
Catholics have many rituals and, from rote memory, I recited: We go to church to spend an hour in God’s house. It’s only one hour. I know somewhere in the Bible (probably Leviticus) it says we must spend time in God’s house. I didn’t really have a concrete answer; nor a verse and so the hubs rolled his eyes at me as he grumped in the pew Who, of any of our friends, actually goes to church? Does that make them any less, religious, than us?
And so I sat with that question rolling around in my mind. Of course, the Gospel scripture reading for today happens to be one that always speaks to me personally. It is Luke 10:38-42; the story of two sisters Mary and Martha. In fact, the readings this morning had to do with hospitality. I jolted my husband awake and told him to pay attention. I am a Martha. As the scripture was read he looked at me quizzically and afterwards, as the boys made us pancakes, I asked if he got it.
The hubs was confused by the reading and so I turned to my sons and asked if they understood what was being read and the whole theme of our priest’s sermon. The older one said he was fighting sleep and tuned the priest out. That’s nice being that he sits on the altar behind him and the congregation can see him. I expected the same from the middle one; the one that fidgets. He surprised me and summed it up for his father.
Martha is the sister who is the hostess and is bringing food and drink as Jesus sits in the sisters’ living room; teaching. Mary sits at his feet, intently listening. Martha moves about and finally complains, asking Jesus to tell her sister to help her. Instead, Jesus tells her Mary has chosen wisely; to sit and listen. This is what the hubs does not understand.
If Mary and Martha just sat there then Jesus wouldn’t have any food or drink. What kind of hostess is that? It goes against how we are taught in being hospitable. It is even more confusing since the earlier reading talks about how Abraham kills his best steer, collects milk and curd and makes bread with his finest flour for three strangers, unexpectedly passing through.
How many of us are guilty of being put-out when someone drops by? Of not being flexible last minute? Of just being present. To be. (present tense).
As a young girl I was taught to always have cookies and treats ready; should someone come visit. My mother never minded and happily set out coffee and tea; as well as the blue tin can of Danish cookies, and bustled around our visitors clucking like a mother hen to make sure they had everything they needed. I am exactly the same way. I am a Martha. It is not intuitive for me to sit and do nothing. The hubs and eldest son did not get it; not in the least.
As my eyes scanned the congregation I wondered if their kids and spouses fought to come to church as mine did. The families who regularly sit near us always grin at our youngest; half-asleep with the occasional snore. At around the 45-50 minute mark they can plaintively hear his angst, How much longer until it’s over? Two Sundays ago they witnessed his fit that he was, still, not able to receive the Communion host; the wafer that symbolizes Jesus’ body. You told me I could get it this year! he whined loudly; tearfully. In May 2014 our youngest son will complete this Sacrament but that did not matter; his tantrum at its fullest as we stood before the priest.
I grinned as I listened to our priest’s sermon. In his lilting Irish accent he spoke of how glad he was not raised in the current generation. Most children, these days, are constantly on-the-go. Their days are so full of activities and TO-DO lists that there is no time for anything else. Sports activities trump spending an hour in church. There are many things I could be doing in this hour. My household would probably still be sleeping. But the point, in the end, is this. I have to continually surround myself with fellow believers; in my case Catholics, to encourage one another as members of Christ’s body. I belong to a greater body with similar beliefs. Though the hubs groans at the amount of music and singing, it is these rituals that remind me of where I have come from, who I am. Where I belong.
The priest talked of, instead of TO-DO lists, to have TO-BE lists. To be patient. To be kind. To listen. To be present in the moment, here and now. The past year has found me reaching this same conclusion, to take myself out of the life of over-scheduling, of competitive parents at sporting events or those who laud their children’s praises on social media (the main reason I have left Facebook), of judgmental people who like to cast stones because they have no other meaningful conversation to offer. Instead of wanting TO BE around people, it is a task, a TO-DO check-in-the block that leaves me feeling inadequate as: a parent, as a friend. These days I have nothing to offer in these conversations. My kids are mediocre; flawed. I need someone to lift me up not weigh me down like a parachute. I have to cut the strings to feel lighter.
And so I shall work on my TO BE list. To be present. I am always around my children but am I really present WITH them. I see them, hear them. But am I really listening to what they are saying? It is not so simple, these days. I sit in the room, right now, with their voices behind me. I have taken off one earbud from my ear and I hear the youngest singing, the oldest is typing furiously on his keyboard and the middle holds an XBOX controller in hand. Some people work long and hard hours, like the hubs, to provide for their family, for their children. What good does it do when you cannot be with them; to enjoy them? But it is worse when you ARE physically with your family but you really are not present WITH them.
To sit quietly and listen. I am a do-er and do many activities with my sons; easily distracted with busy-ness. But do I know who they are, truly? This is something I must actively work on, The BEING; the present participle. A participle, in grammatical terms, is still an incomplete action; still occurring. This is something I can still fix. Starting now.