All-Gathering decentralized worship designed by younger Friends was scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday. I hadn’t resisted a single offering that day and had risen at 6 a.m. to take in everything: worship, Bible study, workshop, the peacemakers’ presentation and break outs, tea with John Punshon, plus all the conversations at meals and in hallways. The weather had been in the 90s.
Directions to the Black Cats’ (grades 4-7) version of a worshipful experience led me behind a building. Bounded by parking lots, there turned out to be a large, open grassy area with a maple tree in one corner. A gentle, blond Black Cat directress greeted me as I stepped into a grassy world in the cool of the day. She assured me I didn’t have to do anything if I chose not to, and each station had options, but I was invited into a sequence. Imagine the number five on a die: four dots on each corner and a dot in the middle. That’s how the experience was arranged.
First came feet washing. I anticipated it by taking off my sandals, but first I needed to cross to the shade of the maple tree where I could see other weary pilgrims seated on folding chairs or lying on painted white sheets on the grass. I felt the stiff grass on the soles of my bare feet. We were instructed to rest in silence. I lay down on half of the sheet. It turned out I was head to head, hair mingling, with a dear friend. I stared beyond the maple leaves to the sky and noted the paths of birds. My fingers became acquainted with the grass. I had arrived. There was no further thing to do, no worry, only resting.
Much lightened, I felt the grass again on my feet as I crossed to the next station: an arrangement of chairs, containers of water, and strips of white sheet. I sat and watched a brown-haired Black Cat wash the feet of a fellow mortal. Then she cast her smile at me, and it gleamed with more than her braces. The cleansing began with the thrill of cold water poured on my feet. I felt I couldn’t accept such loving service unless I washed her feet in turn, and she assured me it wasn’t necessary. In the end, I persuaded her I really wanted to, and she sat down so I could practice what she had taught me and commune with her feet, the skinned places chafed by sandal straps and by her having played a rough game. I was careful with those places.
I was touched when she thanked me and said I was the only one who had offered to wash her feet.
Now, lightened and cleansed, I walked on my refreshed feet to the station of fire and bubbles. We could write painful thoughts on slips of paper and then consign them to flames, or think of those thoughts as attached to ephemeral bubbles. I chose fire. As a mother of three sons, I could imagine the pleasure of the two boys fitting the paper between the tongs of kitchen forks and seeing it consumed by tea lights. Dark thoughts about someone else and about myself shriveled to white ashes. For good measure, I whipped off some bubbles and a girl Black Cat stomped those that endured at all, reassuring me, "You see, they’re popped. Gone!"
Then to the last corner station for relaxation exercises and stretching in preparation for soaring with incipient wings. I was given guidance for two different sets of exercises.
Finally, at the station in the center, I could take in water or lemonade.
The Black Cats had included a complete menu for the restoration of a soul embodied in the flesh: rest, mindfulness of the moment, cleansing, unburdening, loosening, and the quenching of thirst. Now, I carry in the soles of my feet the memory of mindfulness, with water and fire as additional reminders.
Thank you, Black Cats, wherever you may be, now dispersed far from the Gathering, for the timeless time you gave to me.