Having a holiday – or, why I think I may be a minor rain god
My very first Easter Sunday Service was wonderful. (I mean, the first one I’ve led as a minister, rather than the first one I’ve attended.) There was a moment in the vestry when I looked at the elder on duty and said, “Why did I think having a baptism on Easter Sunday was a good idea? I don’t care what the early Christians did!” (Which was: baptise catechumens at the Easter Vigil after years of preparation. When I was approached late last year by a girl in the congregation about baptism I suggested that we follow that practice as closely as possible and baptise here at Easter.) But the service, with baptism and eucharist all went well; the girl being baptised, an eleven-year-old, made her responses beautifully and meaningfully; everything flowed.
My family was there in force: mother; grandmother; brother and brother’s girlfriend; sister and sister’s husband and my nephew and niece; my aunt (my god-mother) and cousin (my god-daughter); and even my brother-in-law’s parents. It was lovely to have them all there. And it also meant I did a bit of an audition for my brother’s wedding – “See, I really am a minister and if I married you you really would feel properly married”.
(My sister’s father-in-law, having heard me describe the liquid element of the Eucharist as “wine” all the way through the liturgy was expecting it, not surprisingly, to actually be wine. He was sorely disappointed by the traditional Uniting Church grape juice.)
Lots of Easter eggs. Every time I turned around someone was giving me more chocolate. I got there and there were eggs in the pulpit; I left and there were eggs on my car; in between the girl I baptised gave me a box of them and one of the youth group kids yelled my name and when I looked threw a big egg to me. Several weeks later my cupboard is still full of Easter goodness. I may have eaten them all by the last of the fifty days of Easter but I’m not so sure. Anyone need a chocolate fix?
And behind, above and around all this was, finally, a feeling of being absolutely in the Easter moment – celebrating the joy of the resurrection. Holy Week services had been sources of stress and concentration – what was happening next, what did I need to do. But on Sunday I just let go of everything else and celebrated the resurrection.
I think part of the reason I was able to enjoy Easter Sunday was the knowledge that my holiday started on Easter Monday. There were times during Holy Week when my mantra was “holidays start on Monday; holidays start on Monday”. After twelve months of work I really, really, needed a holiday. (And I know that the parents of small children will point out here that they never get a holiday – but I’m not as strong as the parents of small children, which is just one of the reasons I have decided not to have any.)
I was looking forward to my two weeks off so much, but they did not turn out as planned. The week before my holiday the temperature hit 39 degrees. The week of my holiday, when I headed down to the beach, the state got a month’s worth of rainfall in two days.
My holiday started weirdly when I realised that I don’t actually know how to relax and found myself having minor panic attacks about not having a to-do list. After all, I went for six years (1999-2004) without taking any time off at all (PhD followed by theological training) and it got me into a pattern of always needing things to do. But things improved as I gradually started to enjoy drinking enormous cups of tea while curled up in bed with Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver series and Quantum Leap tie-in novels.
Sadly, I didn’t get beach weather; it was too cold for swimming and I kept getting rained on while walking along piers and breakwaters and through the grounds of lighthouses. On my first day down by the beach I had walked out to the end of the breakwater before it began to rain, and as I headed back a car stopped and offered me a lift. “Oh, no,” I said, “we haven’t had rain up my way since before Christmas. I’m enjoying it.” But then it really, really, really began to bucket down and I got soaked through. For the next three days my room was perfumed by the scent of drying sneakers – not a good smell! After four days of this I gave up and came home; if my holiday was going to involve huddling indoors under a blanket while reading books and drinking tea, I decided that I might as well do that at the manse (while refusing to answer the phone or open the mail and pretending that I was still elsewhere).
I also wanted to visit my grandmother, who was in hospital, and my grandfather, who had just been moved into a nursing home. So I did that with my sister (on a day when she had decanted her small children at her parents-in-law; actually, sometimes parents do get holidays.) That was not really a good day - I ended up sitting in the gutter outside the nursing home crying on my sister’s shoulder because our grandfather didn’t recognise us. Thus ended the first week of my holiday.
The plan for week two was to drive up to Canberra to visit a beloved old friend and his wife and child. Child knows me only as the source of books that arrive through the mail; I thought it was time to get to know her properly. I packed everything up, unplugged all my electrical appliances, closed up all the windows and doors, and started to drive over to my mother’s place to drop off a spare set of keys.
I was almost blown off the road – a combination of very high winds and a very small car.
Things just got worse from there. Apparently Victoria was having what the radio described as a “once in a decade weather event”. The high winds were followed by rain, and then by a dust storm.
Did you know that if you combine rain and a dust storm it rains mud? Not really surprising, but not something I’d seen before. And since the dust is orange, the mud was red. Driving through it was a somewhat freaky experience. Very apocalyptic – the sky apparently raining blood.
So, the driving holiday was off, and I stayed home, doing more reading and tea-drinking. And thus I spent my fortnight off
I can’t work out whether I had really, really annoyed the weather gods or whether I am in fact a weather god myself. I go to spend a week by the beach and the town I stay in gets a month’s worth of rain over two days. I decide to drive north and the state gets a “once in a decade weather event”. When I told my congregations about my apparent power to make it rain they were very excited, but it only seems to work when I’m on holiday. As soon as I came back to work the weather became fine and sunny. Bugger!
It would be very useful to be a weather god. Yesterday the Romsey and Lancefield congregations both had Harvest Thanksgiving services. I used a prayer from the Lutheran World Federation as the opening prayer, but I cut out the second line: “we thank you for sending the rain”. God has been falling down on that job for quite a while. We did get a bit of rain on Saturday night: 7 mls in Lancefield; 8 mls in Romsey; 9 mls in Hesket. Any rain is welcome, but that wasn’t quite enough to thank God for.