A little rain
A number of years ago I spent 5 weeks in Zimbabwe pursuing a research project on post war spirituality. I lined up interviews with many farmers and villagers, along with some city dwellers, aiming at a sense of how the civil war (“the war of liberation,” many of them called it) had changed or affected their spirituality and religion. I never finished that research and never wrote that paper on post-war spirituality, although it remains an interest of mine. My Zimbabwean subjects advised me that if I wanted to study something that really affected their theology and spiritual practices, I should ask them about the drought. So, I changed course.
In the 1980’s a long drought affected most of the African continent. As a young chaplain, I was also pastoring a small church, and every Sunday, for several years, we prayed for rain in Africa and we prayed for those who were starving and suffering under the effects of the lack of rain. Little did I know that I would, in the 1990’s, meet some of the people for whom I had been praying.
The stories they told were harrowing, told with bravery and tears: stories of giving children the corn gruel, and adding sand to the leftovers to serve to adults. They told of death, loss, and famine, families separated by loss of work, desperation, and spiritual crises. One woman told me that she put her infant on the ground to do something else and a wild animal came from the bush and took the child. I’ll never forget these stories and the trust shown to me in the telling.
Then one day, the skies filled with dark clouds. People came out of their homes to watch as the rainy season came to pass. The first day it rained, they danced in the streets, raising their arms and hands, gleeful at the drops of life-giving water. I was cold and wet; the people of the village rejoiced.
On that day I decided that I would never in my life complain again about rain. Every single time it rains, when I feel wet and cold (as I inevitably do) I think about the gift of water, and what life would be like (and was and is in many parts of the world) without it. I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna but trying to see it from another perspective. There is always another perspective. Floods, seasonal affective depression, and mold aside, water is the precious gift of life. We have too much rain, sun, wind, choice, privilege, and somewhere in the world, even nearby, others have too little. And then we have choices to make about our response.
If it’s raining, and it has been, I—for one—choose to give thanks for it, for the food it nourishes, for dirt washed away, for lives sustained by what seems an inconvenience. And to be honest, I am still motivated and empowered by solar energy, and I rejoice in this gift as well.
One final note. Over the months as I have written these reflections, often my colleague Brenton Smith has replied with a song that matches it. So, this time I asked him preemptively to provide a song for your enjoyment, and this is his choice, Prince at Superbowl 2007 preforming Purple Rain in the driving rain.