I think I will always have a longing for more fairs and festivals. I would be beyond thrilled to live in a world in which there are communal festivities once a month, complete with music, performance, dancing, prayer and feasting. Of course, I would prefer that these festivals be authentic and community-based rather than commercial. But either way, fairs and festivals are life-affirming: even when they involve food trucks selling deep fried twinkies, there is still something wonderful about gathering with other human beings to have fun. When I was a kid, my mother and stepfather brought us to the Medieval Fair, the Mountain Man Festival, the American Indian festival, and I believe some sort of Highlands Celtic Games Festival. We never missed a County Agricultural Fair. Festivals are sensory feasts: the vibrant colors, blaring music, public drunkenness, costumery, the scent of a giant sweating turkey leg. If we are lucky, we will spot something outrageous or beautiful that will stir our sense of wonder.
I suppose I am blessed that wonder has always come naturally to me; I know now that it is not that way for everyone. I think a sense of wonder has to be nurtured and it is best nurtured by the senses.
When I was growing up, there was almost always a fire burning in my home, indoors or outdoors, depending on the given season. This is notable because we are Floridians; the summer days are already bloody hot. I grew up knowing the lingering smoke of charred meat and cigars. Our house was full of dogs, not the pampered sort you see leashed at farmers markets, but the stinking, drooling, muscular variety that growl at the unfamiliar, the kind you have to step over or lure outdoors with leftover bones. My home was full of touch: my brothers fighting, my parents kissing, all four of us kids crammed too closely across the sweltering backseat. Too many dogs and kids meant lots of sweeping and swearing and yelling over the scratchy Sweet Child of Mine playing on our porch radio. My mom loved to rescue forlorn antiques, which meant that the wooden furniture and the woven rugs that held us from day-to-day were real: solid, scented, oiled, certain. Every piece had a context, a story about its proper usage: cast iron cauldron, haltry, victrola, wood-burning stove, chaise lounge. It seemed that everything in our crowded home was either alive or made of something that once was. Our home was lively, so lively in fact that we had to throw out the neighborhood boys at the end of the night. There was a lively tension between finery and debauchery, manners and rule-breaking. From that place I learned that life was for living: wood was for burning, bodies for dancing, voices for speaking.
My interest in Earth-based spirituality was fueled by my ardent love of the liveliness that surrounded me. I didn’t need to worry myself over the World-to-Come: the world I belonged to was already plentiful and worthy of worship. Why should I trouble myself with a desert God and his commandments? Although I’ve always believed in an afterlife, Heaven seemed rather irrelevant. I was here now, that was a sure thing, and the Earth offered me endless opportunities for wonder. Yes, ultimately I believed in the Godhead. I respected the fact that the peoples of this planet worshipped that Godhead in countless different ways. It was all the same Higher Power to me. But I knew my way of worship was to be found in the richness of my surroundings, in the robustness of the Earth.
Florida has a rainy season when every afternoon the sky turns the color of yolk and water pours from the sky. My mom and I would drink deep red sangria on the porch and watch the heat lightening, occasionally flicking junebugs out of our glasses. I didn’t need to go to some carpeted, air-conditioned sermon on Sundays. And I wasn’t remotely worried for my soul: wild as I may have been in college, I was certain that I was fairly sinless. I definitely didn’t need to answer to any human institution for my choices.
It wasn’t until my girls were born that I began to feel lonely in my faith. I wanted to pass to them my reverence for the Earth and my reverence for living fully, my lust for liveliness. I did so by keeping a home in much the same way my own mother did, with that strange mixture of propriety and irreverence, of valueable heirlooms and shameless living room dance parties. I did so by feasting on my favorite Holy Days: the equinoxes, solstices, and of course Halloween. I decorated the mantle over our fireplace and we ate seasonal recipes by candlelight. Our prayer was always a simple one of thanks to the Earth for sustaining us and bringing us together.
It probably all sounds rather successful, except that it was just us in our living room. I was the one crafting and leading these sacred family dinners, which meant that I had no one other than myself to answer to and no one other than myself to go to for spiritual guidance. Since I am a twenty-seven year old mother with no religious training whatsoever, I quickly found myself to be an exhausted resource. I needed an elder, maybe even a whole table of them. I needed a community: one that was organized enough to meet regularly, not just plan an occasional Facebook event.
Maybe if I lived in some progressive city in California, I would have found a trendy, jolly pagan community to join and maybe I would have been happy there. Instead, I live in a wealthy retirement community in the South and, guided by my love of feasting and all things sensory and sacramental, I have arrived at Catholicism. Well, arrived may be too strong of a word- flirting might be more apt.
And the Catholics have mad feasts! When it comes to entering into a flirtatious relationship with Catholicism, the Liturgical Year complete with all the Feast Days was definitely my point of entry. It should go without saying that the Christian Liturgical calendar and the Pagan Wheel of the Year overlap: forgive me for putting this crudely, but the holidays we celebrate in the Western Hemisphere are just one big Pagan-Judeo-Christian clusterfuck. I used to deeply struggle with that; now I relish in it. Yes, I will take my desert-dwelling Prince of Peace with a side of evergreens and holly, thank you, excellent, that’ll be fine.
May Day is a prime example of a Springtime fertility festival with pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon roots. The holiday itself is now celebrated by Neopagans and Christians alike: the pagans refer to this festival by a variety of names and celebrate the gift of sexuality in its myriad forms. The Catholics dedicate the entire month of May to Our Lady, and she is crowned with a wreath of flowers as the Queen on the 1st.
Our May Day was spent at my daughter’s Waldorf school, where we made flower crowns and danced around the May Pole. I was by no means organized enough to create a beautiful dinner in honor of Mother Mary or St. Joseph the Worker (who is also celebrated on this day). Instead I fed my beloved children turkey corn dogs from Trader Joe’s and allowed them to eat them while playing in an inflatable pool. Meat on a stick for the win.
And yes, yes, I realize that Jesus should be the one leading me home to Christianity, not some morally questionable love of feasting and Earthly beauty. But if I eventually get there, does it really matter which road I took? Well, it might matter to you or to your neighbor or your Pastor or your Aunt. But I’m pretty confident it won’t matter to Jesus.