We have added a new ritual to Sunday morning Mass: Getting our kids psyched to attend Children’s Liturgy of the Word. It’s no easy feat.
My eldest tends to be a bit anxious about such things. Wandering off with strangers to an undisclosed location in the back of an old building — I can’t say I blame her. It does mean participation in camps and classes and extracurriculars takes a bit more convincing, though.
My youngest is the opposite.
“We get to go back there?” she asks before we even find a pew in which to sit. She gestures broadly, her short arms taking in where I assume the Children’s Liturgy of the Word classroom is, hidden somewhere behind the sacristy.
“Not yet,” I say. “Soon.”
She practically cartwheels over the kneeler. My eldest slumps her shoulders and slides into her seat.
Fortunately, when the moment comes, the little one springs into action, catapults herself to the aisle, takes her big sister’s hand and drags her to the front of the church. There is barely any time for tears before they’ve followed the line of children and their teachers through the little door on their way to learn about God.
And there I discover 12 minutes of quiet prayer.
When they reemerge from the little door, my eldest is all smiles. She’s had a great time, as it turns out. She can recite all sorts of things about the Scripture story of the day.
“But she kept poking me while the teacher was talking,” my daughter says, gesturing to her little sister. “Kept asking if we were done yet.” My eldest shakes her head, rolls her eyes. “I told her to pay attention.”
We hear a lot about Martha and Mary, the busybody and the contemplative. We hear how Martha is “anxious and worried about many things” and how Mary “has chosen the better part” by sitting at the feet of Jesus. (Lk 10:41-42) And, usually, we hear how, in fact, both women exemplify the path to God: we are active and we are contemplative; we serve and we sit. Both women reflect something of the spiritual path upon which we all find ourselves.
That story came to mind as I reflected on my own two daughters, on their path to God. One is certainly busy and the other a bit more reflective. But it’s not the contrast that particularly interests me, nor do I think mere parallels are all that helpful.
Why must we pit the spiritual journeys of Martha and Mary against one another? They’re sisters, after all, and it’s in the relationship — in its struggles and frustrations and love and sacrifice — that their path to God is revealed. And their own strengths are discovered.
Martha’s desire to serve is filtered through her relationship with her sister who desires to contemplate. Mary’s need to be near Jesus is understood through her sister’s need to prepare a place for Jesus to be.
The two together paint a picture of community, of relationship, of the People of God muddling through as best we can on our spiritual journeys.
And so, too, my daughters. One who is anxious and apprehensive, who would rather sit back and observe. One who is eager and ready to jump in and do. The second encourages the first, propelling them both nearer to God — together.
One who is easily distracted; the other focused and determined. The second reminds the first to pay attention, to listen to God and God’s people.
The relationship is the key. We carry others and allow others to carry us on our path to God. We lean into our strengths and particular characteristics, and let others do the same. Together — in relationship, as community, as the People of God — we go to God.
How do your unique traits accentuate the sacred journey of others? How do let others do the same for you?
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.