Into the thick of that Saturday, there was another thing to do, something that was shoehorned in, a forty minute drive away. The day was surreally glorious, warm and sunny deep in the heart of December. I fired up the snarling great clatterbox of my motorcycle, and roared around the Beltway and up 270 towards my destination.
I was going to work.
Or, more specifically, I was about to spend a couple of hours serving food and scrubbing pans...just because.
My tiny church is located in the heart of Poolesville, Maryland, and while we open our space up for those in need in our community and work heartily to support our local service organization, the desire to serve goes deeper.
So we all make our way over to nearby Gaithersburg, where once a month we prepare and serve food to those in need. It's a feeding program, a classic soup kitchen, housed by the good brothers and sisters of St. Martin of Tours Catholic church. Some of the folks are homeless, some just lower income. Some are struggling with mental issues, some are just day laborers for whom a free meal makes a difference.
What struck me, in the rush and bustle of the season, was just how calming the work was.
I am not "in charge," nor am I the one running things. I offer the prayer for those gathered at the beginning, if invited, but after that I am simply a human being doing stuff. I'm running soup and salad and chicken pot pie out to hungry people. I'm scrubbing the bottoms of deep soup pots with a vigorous circular motion hitherto unknown to the people of this area.
I did not stop moving, not really, for the whole time I was there. And yet the two hours I spent were remarkably restful. They were as calming as a meditation.
I was busy, yes. But not with busyness. Because the only reason I was working, the only reason I was serving and cleaning? I wanted to. Voluntarism is activity, devoid of anxiousness. It is work, devoid of desire or grasping. I get no pay, I make no profit, I fulfill no community service hours requirement. I'm just there, doing a thing because it sings with both practicality and purpose.
It is practical in that it gets something done. It looks into the face of need, and responds materially and directly.
But it also has existential impact. I am part of people being fed, which resonates with my own ethical core. Service and voluntarism are integrating actions, things that give our souls cohesion. And in that, such actions are peculiarly joyous, in the way that things you do for love are imbued with joy.
I was reminded, through the good simple work of caring for others for the simple joy of it, of something dear old G.K. Chesterton once said about joy:
Melancholy is negative, and has to do with the trivialities like death: joy is positive and has to answer for the renewal and perpetuation of being. Melancholy is irresponsible; it could watch the universe fall to pieces: joy is responsible and upholds the universe in the void of space.
In a season when our mad rushing about can drive us to anxiety and melancholy, it was good to turn my whole self to something joyous, something that renewed both myself and others.