Lifting Rocks

Lifting Rocks June 22, 2008

I spent most of today’s meeting for worship lifting rocks.

That may not sound very much like worship, or very much like fun, but, in fact, it was both. Here’s how it went:

Very often, when I enter the meeting room at Mt. Toby, I pause a moment just inside the door, and let the richness of the waiting silence rise up in me. For just a moment, I like to savor the sense of standing at the edge of the sacred precinct, the temenos.

Our meeting room is plain. Some members complain about the slight musty smell from the carpet. (It’s kind of a guilty secret of mine that I almost like that smell; it is such a reminder of the basement rec rooms of my youth that I immediately feel six years old when I smell it.) Others complain that, surrounded by so much beautiful farmland, our windows are placed too high to see through.

I, however, love our meeting room with a deep and perhaps idolatrous love–entirely in character for a Pagan Quaker. And part of what I love about it is the way our benches are arranged, not in the manner of a Quaker meeting house of old, with most benches facing one direction and only a one or two rows of “facing benches” looking back in the opposite direction. Instead, our benches face the center, in a blunted square, or octagon.

It is quite easy for me to accept this shape, so close to the circles I came to love when I became a Pagan.

And today, as I entered the meeting room, as I paused at the threshold, I felt rising up in me with the quiet of Quaker worship the memory of the many times I have paused at the outskirts of another temenos–the stone circle my friends and I once built on land in Vermont.

Kirk and Black Lake and I decided to build that stone circle one summer about twenty years ago, now. We set aside a hot June day for our labors, got permission from Kirk’s dad, who still owned the land, and whose greatest concern was fire. We agreed to carefully watch any fires we set to burn scrap lumber or dead wood that had accumulated in the future sacred grove, and we set to work: pulling out raspberry canes and raking up sharp twigs, clearing away clutter and debris, and encouraging the grass to grow.

And we hauled rocks. Sitting in worship today, I remembered the feel of the rough stones, rounded by glaciers or squarely split away from the slate beneath Kirk’s land. I remembered how dry the air was, and how dry and bruised and roughened my hands became. We stood one massive stone beside a half-buried glacial erratic the size of a calf: the standing stone to mark North in our circle, next to the altar we would use for rituals there.

We built cairns to mark the four quarters, and made them level and flat to hold mason jar candle-lanterns to illuminate the circle in the dark.

We built a fire-pit, and watched it carefully as we burned away scrap wood from a childhood fort that time had disassembled for us, and reclined, sipping water from bottles, resting our bruised and dirty hands and bodies, smelling the sweet smell of woodsmoke in a pine forest.

I have seldom felt greater joy and love in community than I did on that day, as Kirk, Black Lake, and I shared the joy of creating a worship-place together.

Maybe it was not on that day, but it would have been soon afterwards that I began the practice, on approaching the circle, of pausing outside the edge. Two saplings marked, for me, the doorway into the home of the goddess and the god. And in my going out or my coming in, I would pause, face the altar, and curtsy.

Those stones were only stones, and those trees were only trees. But if you could dive deep within the most ordinary of stones, reach into the heart of the most ordinary of trees, you would find something gold and shining, living at the core. You would find God, in whatever form you can see Her, smiling lovingly out at you. And that is why I paused, and that is why I always curtsied.

God doesn’t go away if we forget to pause. But we may forget to find Her. If we do not pause at the edge of the sacred circle, how will we remember, when we have left it, that we never do leave it, after all?

So I would pause, as I often do at meeting. (Though at Mt. Toby, I do not curtsy. Not outwardly, at least.)

And today, at meeting, as each person came into the room, I felt such a joy and a delight in their presence. Every entrance was a deepening of the sense of being home, in the sacred circle; every person came bearing another stone to build the temple.

And, at rise of meeting, when we shook one another’s hands, I could feel in the texture of skin against skin the vivid sense memory of those rocks I lifted, so many years ago.

How good it is, to build the temple with your friends.

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