Libations for St. Martha

By Phillip Garside

I have a little ritual that connects me to St. Martha through a cold cup of coffee.

Rituals can take place in many formats. When we were first married, my spouse had an extremely long bathing ritual every Sunday afternoon. That ritual faded fairly quickly when children came. We are not Mary, who contemplates passively (Lk 10:39). We are dynamic Martha, who reprimands the savior in times of grief and, in turn, demands action on his part (Jn 11:21-22). As parents, we find strength in Martha’s attunement to chaos.

It is extremely difficult for parents to find the time, rhythm and space for contemplative rituals. Our sculpted encounter with transcendence usually comes in a different manner. For example, instead of forcing rhythm, we can identify randomized repetition in our environment and, as we pass these markers, use them to prompt spiritual connections.

My cold coffee ritual is repetitive, but not rhythmic. It is a randomized repetition. It takes place when I open the microwave in the evening, or sometimes in the morning, and there sitting inside is a cup of cold black coffee 3⁄4 full, left from the cacophonous morning before. The morning was too busy to drink coffee, and my cup had sat and cooled down. So, at some point, I put it in the microwave to heat it back up. But, alas, more demands pressed, chaos ensued, the microwave dinged, and yet the coffee was forgotten.

The subsequent surprise meeting used to fill me with a slight sadness until I connected it to Martha. When Jesus reprimanded Martha, it was not her whirlwind personality that he criticized. It was her anxiety.

Legend says Martha moved to France and wandered into a village being terrorized by a dragon called “The Tarasque.” She encountered the beast and easily tamed him by showing him a crucifix. The dragon is the chaos, and the mechanism of taming is hope in Christ that banishes anxiety. Now, when I see my cold cup of coffee, I take a sip for Martha and let all my anxiety go with it as I dump it down the sink.

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