So a sick day--two, actually--is not really a traditional way to celebrate the Pagan holiday of joy, spring, and fertility. But for me, it's not a bad choice, really.
Here's the deal.
Yesterday, I was supposed to "hold" meeting for worship in the morning. "Holding" worship is a Mt. Toby thing--I'm not sure all unprogrammed Quakers think of it the same way. A lot of meetings will have an appointed closer--the one who tracks time, and provided there appear to be no messages rising in the meeting at the time, signals the end of our hour by beginning the handshakes. But "holding" also means arriving a bit early, and settling into worship in order to "hold" the space as people enter it and settle into their own worship. And the one holding worship tries, through being deeply centered him/herself, through an awareness of the meeting as a whole, and through our own worship, to encourage the meeting and those who give vocal ministry especially, to center down and stay open to the guidance of Spirit during worship.
We also were scheduled to have the memorial meeting for one of our elders, who died this spring. Since many of the members of the Ministry and Worship committee had schedule conflicts, it seemed especially important that those of us who could attend do so. I had intended to go in any case--a Thanksgiving dinner conversation with Francis and Becky, in either the first or second year of attending Mt. Toby, had been an important touchstone for me, personally. But, more than that, I had been asked to bring cookies to share after the memorial meeting.
Let me explain about the cookies. I am the kind of person who takes responsibilites very seriously. OK--I'm actually a trifle grim about the whole Duty thing, well past the point where it's helpful, and into regions of grey-faced nuisance. For instance, I had to give up being the one to bring soup to meeting for worship (on the weeks when we have meeting for buisiness after worship, our meeting provides a big kettle of home-made soup for those who stay) because, though I love making soup and sharing soup, having left a pot of soup on the stove to heat in the kitchen completely disabled me in meeting for worship. All I could think about was the damned soup--was it scorching? Should I have added more salt? Was adding cabbage a mistake? Etc, etc, etc...
I might as well have skipped the meeting, and sat in worship in the kitchen. That would actually have been meaningful for me. But short of that, there was no way I could contribute both soup and worship in the same meeting.
I was very stressed about those cookies.
On Saturday, I was just really, really tired, and I certainly wasn't going to bake any home-made cookies or brownies. So Peter picked up a couple of packages of fairly nice bakery cookies. And I began to obsess about whether or not to take them out of the packaging and put them on a plate or into some tupperware. To make them look home-made.
*sigh* I was really ashamed of bringing store-bought cookies to a memorial meeting. As if anyone would care! But the over-responsible part of me can get worked up over the oddest things...
Then I went from tired to sick. I'll spare you the details, but we're not talking a high fever, go the ER sick... just under the weather. Sick enough to know that you're sick, but not so sick that you couldn't get up off your sick bed and perform some vital service. You know, like spreading an intestinal bug to the aging members of your meeting? Hey, to do me credit, I did recognize right away that, no, I was not going to that memorial meeting to share that particular kind of love. It was harder to decide what to do about being scheduled to hold worship that morning.
No kidding. I actually hesitated to call another member of M&W to ask them to take over for me. After all, I had a (say it thunderingly) responsibility here. Right?
And then it happened again... that helpful little voice from the past: Peter's voice in my ear, saying the magic words, "Cat... it's Beltane!"
Long, long ago, when I was not yet a new Quaker, but instead a new Pagan and newly in love with the man I am married to today, I belonged to a group called the Church of the Sacred Earth. And we had scheduled a weekend-long Beltane camping retreat and business meeting, at a member's home in northern Vermont.
It was the morning after the night before; the ritual had gone off perfectly, the feast had been feasted, and Peter and I had spent a very cozy night in his tent together... and then awakened to still more morning coziness. (For anyone who has not snuggled in a tent in the morning light with someone you're in love with, permit me to recommend it to you. It's an experience that ought to figure somewhere in everyone's lifetime.) It was one of those blissfully happy times that happen early in a really good love affair, and outside the tent there were birds singing, leaves sighing, and, on the whole, nature itself seemed determined that we would have a very good time.
Til I glanced at my pocket watch. Crap! It was already 11:00 AM, and the business meeting was set for 10:00!
I forget whether I was on the Board of Directors or the Council of Elders that year, but I do remember that the business meeting clearly could not start until I was there. In a sudden sweat, I began frantically rummaging through the tent, looking for my clothes, ranting imprecations all the while at my irresponsible, thoughtless self--
Til Peter caught me gently in his arms, held me close, and whispered the magic words: "Cat, it's Beltane."
Oh yeah. Right. Love and bliss and springtime, and taking the time to enjoy them, are what we were there for. Oops.
I got myself together, slowly and sanely, and got up to the house where the business meeting was to be held, and found everyone else sitting on the porch, dreamily sipping their coffee in the morning light, utterly contented. Score one for the Beltane spirit--what point was there in my fuss and worry?
I try to remember this. I try to remember it in Quaker contexts as well as Pagan and personal ones. Friends work to be spirit-led. And one thing I'm quite sure of--while I am busy obsessing over duty and responsiblity, Spirit can't get a word in edgewise. My worry takes over everything, and I couldn't hear Spirit if it were shouting my name. Except, wait, oh yeah--it did, and I did... Peter's voice, all those years ago, reminding me that grey-facedness is not faithfulness.
So yesterday morning, with that long-ago message in my ears, I took a turn for the sane. I called Janee, who immediately accepted the task of holding in my place, and sent Peter off with the cookies, still in their little plastic trays.
I confess to both being relieved at the respectability of someone who was ill sending store-bought cookies... as opposed to someone who was just plain tired... and to obsessing a little over the slight breach of ettiquette involved in delivering the cookies during meeting for worship rather than just before the memorial meeting itself. But no one ever said that being faithful to a leading (even a leading to stop being so bloody responsible) was going to be easy.
In fact, I took my faithfulness to the spirit of Beltane so far that today, I am home sick from school as well, having left my students with only the dreaded "stick a video in the slot" sub plan for the day.
For me, this is a grand accomplishment... and a testimony to the power of spring.
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