Every year I wonder whether to write something to mark Beltaine, the Celtic feast which celebrates a cross-quarter day in the year’s wheel, the end of the dark half of the year and the beginning of its half of light. I celebrate the waxing of the arc the sun’s path makes across the little slice of sky I can see from my bedroom window, lengthening the daylight, extending the twilight, elongating the stirrings before sun-up. The mystic in me reaches back in time to dance with the Celts round their fires, hearing their circling prayers as they do so, being bound with them into the Great Wheel. I reach back to listen to the songs of the May-day, Mary-Day, celebrations, watching young women entering into the mysteries of the holy feminine, embracing their potential to birth the Holy, to tend the sacred in the everyday, to serve the earth and all it feeds. Amongst this cloud of witnesses, I also hear the shouts of workers banded together on Labour Day, revelling in the freedom of a ‘bank’ holy-day, their passion for justice and equality being an energy to which I could pay more heed, a demand for fair pay and right treatment fuelling an anger whose spark is still needed in so many places as we each fail to fulfill fair-trade agreements in the light of demands for our own comfort.
Such voices take on names, then grow into faces as my ancestors appear before me, my name ‘Kate’ receding back down the generations, and I thank God for those women who have gone into the making of me. I thank their God and mine because the beginning of May marks my birthday, signalled by the beech hedges beginning to burst tight buds, when cracked, dry brown drops away to reveal such a fresh green it causes my eyes to hurt with joy.
Every year this season of another year’s uncurling brings mixed feelings, a new noticing of my own transformational ‘unfurling’ process into becoming the woman God has created me to be. Every year the occurrence of Beltane creates in me a tremendous mix of thanksgiving joy, welling grief, and longing grace. The paradoxical weakness of this year’s potent buds (the earth’s resurrection mirrored in me and vice versa) marks the beginning of my 31st year of learning to live with a chronic illness. I recognise again the times I tried to push through the pain, mess and discomfort, and the periods I could do nothing but stop for a paralysed rest. I glimpse the ways in which I tried to seek different employment, before each career attempt was brought to a close by the next wave of demands from my body and mind. Alongside such sadnesses, I can pick out my experience of individual days going back years by remembering the photographs I received and the images I made, knowing who I was with, and how the light smelt. I can see favourite, and feared, places by colour. I can note swathes of time passing by the creativity I explored, the poetry of #practicingresurrection with the community at Abbey of the Arts in 2015, the multi-media Oak Tree project when my ceiling collapsed in 2016, a summer #projectyellow marking a slide into intense depression in 2017, a painting adventure into ‘little Katie’s’ eyes in 2018, bringing a cosmic smash book on self-trust into being whilst in hospital in 2019.
There is so much to be so thankful for. In allthe gifts from darknesses that have punctuated the last 31 years there are indeed such spots of ‘bright fire’ (Bel-Taine) to celebrate and honour. There, where the power of God was made present to my weakness and Spirit transfigured frailty into outpourings. So as I move across this sacred timely threshold again and for the first time in the midst of all that is strange and familiar about the circumstances of COVID lockdown, I pause, praise and give thanks.I hear again and for the first time Abba Moses ask me ‘why not become fire?’.
May my inner flame be strengthened to its fullness in bright depths of colour, may they thrill and fuel both my creativity and my compassion, so that Grace can call forth from me all that I have been designed to be just exactly for this moment in time, for whomsoever I mightmeet in my isolation.
May this year’s cycle of unfurling begin.
(all images copyright Kate Kennington Steer)
Thank you Kate for sharing your story of pain & growth. I can see that through your years of many losses you have gained much in the Lord. I thank God you have been able to share it in such a positive way to to inspire & encourage us all. In Australia we are moving into winter, but the symbolism holds in different ways. Bless you.
Barry, thank you so much for taking the time to leave this word of encouragement for me. Somehow writing about my birthday made me feel particularly vulnerable in a way I hadn’t anticipated, and I was concerned there was too much me in this and not enough God! So thank you. I pray that as your days shorten in proportion as ours lengthen, you will be able to see how the darkness illuminates the Light in all the circumstances you find yourselves in. All blessings on you this day and all days.