The other night we were sitting around the table eating sweet potatoes, and Jon was telling a story.
It’s the kind of story that doesn’t resolve; it’s sacred, an honor to carry alongside him, but heartbreaking to hear. It made me angry and sad for him, and I wanted him to know how much he was loved, tell him about the grace I have found in his friendship.
I got up to do the dishes, in the silence that followed his story. I collected the plates.
I find solace in the kitchen sink. Almost every night, I stand over a sink full of dirty dishes and I listen to my roommates talk about their days, or whatever theological question Brandon asked, or whether one of them will actually get a bell pepper tattooed on their body if they lose a bet. And I do the dishes.
It’s become something akin to a spiritual discipline over the last year. This simple routine of soapy water has been grounding for me. It’s an ordinary sacrament, one of the spaces I feel most myself in this new community. It is a way to say “I love you” and a way to be whole.
Growing up, I knew Mary was the one to emulate, in the Bible story of the two sisters Jesus visited. I knew that Mary could be still at the feet of Jesus, and her restful hands made her a better disciple than Martha, who couldn’t find her chill. But I was born with a complete inability to calm down, so in the Mary and Martha Sunday school lessons, I always fell squarely into the “Martha” camp. My hands are restless and my heart can hold so much more when they are busy.
But I worry that washing dishes, which has given me solace and a sense of home, is a way for me to leave a conversation I need to be present for.
What is the cost of leaving the table early, collecting the dishes in the silence after the revelation, when the sacred thing is the space I’ve been invited into? What is the cost of leaving a sacred space before the Spirit does?
What I’m really trying to say is that sometimes I’m more comfortable serving my community than connecting with them.
I am worried that because I left the table as Jon was speaking, I will leave the table again at the hard moments, the ones where my still body is needed more than my working hands.
Still, I do the dishes. It is where I am finding grace: when Jon and Grant are making fun of me, and Hilary is reading us silly headlines, and Timothy is playing the piano, and I plunge my hands into hot, soapy water.
Like Martha, I want to work my hands through love. Like Martha, I’m afraid I’ll become bitter in my work at the cost of my community. Like Martha, Jesus comes to me in the midst of my restlessness.
This grace is as fragile as soap bubbles balanced on skin.