May is the only month in the calendar whose name has been made into a verb. (March does not count because “to march” is not derived from the name of the month.)
To “may” or to go “maying” is a splendid old European custom which has fallen into disuse in our modern culture of dull secularism and cold practicality. The mere fact of May was worth celebrating to the medieval European mind. People took a break to just goof off and enjoy the fine weather with sporting, food, and general jollity.
Leisure, says the great Catholic thinker, Josef Pieper, is the basis of culture. We have been so brainwashed with the worship of economics that we forget it was goofing off (by present-day standards) that gave us almost everything in life worth working for. Myths were not told, the Iliad and Odyssey were not written, philosophies were not born, and Scripture was not composed on company time. Indeed, even in our own lives we find the principle holds true. Our loves for music or mathematics, basketball or billiards, indeed, our own romances with our husbands or wives were not kindled nor were our children conceived for the sake of a buck. And when we lie on our deathbeds, our dying words will not be, “If only I had spent more time at the office!”
All these things-the things we love most dearly, the things poets have sung, the things that make us catch our breath, the things we would die without and die for-these things come from our leisure. It is insects, not human beings, who think the sole point of life is industry.
This is why the “Show me the money” theory of human existence can be so right about small things and yet so disastrously wrong about big ones. It is true that economics plays a big role in human existence. It is not true that it plays the important role. Human beings, at their most human, do things which make no sense to economists. They fall in love. They take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They write sonnets, paint cave walls, invent break dancing and perform thought experiments about relativity during their lunch hours working at the patent office. They go maying, frittering away a perfectly useful day of productive work just to romp in the sun, eat heartily, and thank God for the fact that grass is green, wind is sweet, the universe is a strange place, and life is a gift.
It is the fact that life is a gift which lies at the root of things. In his magnificent cookbook The Supper of the Lamb Robert Farrar Capon said, “The world will always be more delicious than it is useful.” Creation is not a grim necessity. It is, says Capon, “radically unnecessary.” It is “the wishbone in God’s closet, the orange peel on His chandelier. He likes it. Therefore it stays.”
May reminds us of this all-important fact. And in her wisdom, the Church has always associated Mary with this month. For she is “full of grace”; full of the gratuitous, absurd and giddy generosity of God which, in the end, has loves, not reasons, as Capon put it.
Medievals, who celebrated maying and feasting, also celebrated Mary. They liked the fact that she, like the month, is full of grace. They liked it that God was not under some fatal obligation to make or choose her, but that He did so freely and with delight, as a painter chooses his brush, oils and canvas. They liked that in her, the whole of God’s delight in us could be seen at play, delight in a humanity that need not have been, but was because God rejoiced to have it so. This, despite the modern myth of cold efficiency, is still true. So let her be crowned again with flowers-the delightful, useless, extravagant, uneconomical, leisurely, lovely, graciously-given flowers of May.