It's been raining pretty steadily for some while in St. Louis. The summer sun arrived like a big yellow balloon, then ducked out. While our flooding hasn't reached the epic scale of destruction seen in other parts of the country, we're soaked.
Trees and plants have it over us when it comes to adjusting to the weather. What they lack in freedom and consciousness, or other highly touted human virtues, they more than make up for in rootedness. I caught this weeping willow in early spring, struck by how the leaves seemed so thirsty, as if each branch were a straw destined to suck up all the remaining light of that day's dusk. The tree glowed as if its very sap were light.
I guess, in a way, the willow was coursing with light. You remember learning all about photosynthesis in grade school, right? How plants convert sunlight into chemical energy that gets
stored up as fuel? They take in carbon dioxide and water, then with the sunlight's energy they turn this into fuel for living that emits oxygen for us to breathe. Without trees and plants, no
life as we know it. They filter our air, maintain our planet's oxygen levels, and supply all the necessary organic compounds for most all of the energy necessary for our lives. Talk about
human/non-human interdependency! Plants exhale through the lungs of their leaves the very oxygen we breathe; we, along with the other animals, exhale carbon dioxide which the plants "breathe."
Optimally, we serve each other with a kind of synergy. You might want to run all this by my son, the high school Biology teacher, to be sure--but it's close enough for horseshoes.
Trees do what trees do. Trees don't sit back a make decisions to hog more oxygen than they need. They don't grab up sunlight by the leafy fistfuls and hoard it away in vaults as mine. What trees and plants take, they do so with the "intent" of giving back what the world needs. Their giving and taking are unitive, you might say, one bleeds into the other. What they give is as vital as what they take.
Humans? Not so much. A little thing called freedom means that we must decide. And, of course, these decisions have consequences. Global Warming is primarily a problem of too much carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere. Picture a giant blanket, trapping heat and warming the planet up. We are the ones who have wrapped the planet in this blanket. The ways we do this are legion: the
burning of fossil fuels for energy, cutting down and burning forests for pastures or plantations, certain waste management and agricultural practices also contribute methane and nitrous oxide to
the warming process. Trees and plants continue to pump out oxygen for our well being, but we're creating too much carbon dioxide for the planet's capacity to filter and balance. Of course, I'm
trusting the 97% consensus of the world's scientific community on this one. I'm naive like that.
But back to the rain. The other day I was walking Maya the Wonder Dog in a light rain and met this little blonde-haired girl of about five or so. She was dressed up in pale pink and blue, like
Princess Ariel, with pink boots on, a pink backpack, and a pink umbrella. Think pink. She stood at the end of her driveway, twirling her umbrella in the rain. As I approached, she complimented
Maya, said my dog was so pretty. Maya, as she is wont, took all this in stride. Then Princess Ariel added a little confession of sorts. Just right out sighed, "I don't know what to do in the
Sometimes I don't either, honey. I, too, catch myself just standing there beneath the dark and gathering clouds: African-American church burnings; corporate greed and injustice; the slaying of
innocents in the forgotten neighborhoods of our cities; the martyr of Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya; ice caps melting like wax into the ocean; a black church in Charleston, SC opens its
doors to a young white man for a prayer meeting and then, well, the White Supremacist rain falls. All this rain. Not to mention the garden variety rain that falls on all of us humans, despite our
politics: depression, loss, layoffs, damn cancer, bills, aging, accidents, etc.
Sure enough, I'm grateful when the sun parts the clouds for a spell. And it does: Pope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical on climate change; the lowering of Confederate flags; the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage; an African-American church in Ferguson, MO raises a new roof after being burned to the ground during the riots. But I know the rain's gonna fall, in fact, must fall: life is consequential. I know this in my bones, as surely as I know the power of fear mucking up my marrow and gnawing away at the chambers of my own heart.
What constitutes rain and sunshine for me may not be the same for you. In fact, I have many friends and relatives for whom the above examples might be flipped completely. But whatever our politics and values, I trust each person's capacity before God to figure out what to do when it rains. My Baptist tradition calls this Soul Freedom: we are both responsible and response-able. When the rain falls, we can stomp off and pout. We can stay inside and stew. Or we can dress appropriately, even dress up, and greet the day and what it brings with our best umbrella in tow. Why not follow the weeping willow and soak up the sunshine as it comes, as we can? Why not stay innocent enough to keep venturing outside and greet whomever comes your way with a heartfelt compliment and a humble, honest exchange?
We are not our politics. We are not the culmination of whatever occasions of rain or sunshine we've experienced. We may vote Red or Blue. We may be black or white. We may be seen as rich or poor, smart or dumb, religious or atheist, gay or straight, strong or weak, lazy or industrious, etc. But none of these things describe us at our roots. Their descriptive powers can't reach that far. They are, at best, impermanent indications. Provisional. Partial. Ways we identify ourselves as best we can according to our own lights. But beyond and beneath all this identifying, positioning and posturing rests how we are beheld by reality. And all the major religious traditions call each and every one of us Beloved. The revealed religions call us God's Beloved. Beloved, come rain or shine.
But being Beloved does not end the conversation. It begins it anew with from a renew ending. We look out each day and enter each moment from a future of welcome and restoration that only God can pull off. We live much like this blog lives. When I wrote this yesterday, I thought I was finished (with the previous paragraph). But things happen with blogs when they go live. It's called community. Loved ones like Fred Wear and Steve Hollaway read what you've written. They comment wisely. Other things happen. You sleep on it, in the Colorado desert, then can't sleep, then wonder about your life and life itself beneath the stars of your hermitage which seem to glow brighter and brighter as the moonless night wears itself out into morning and you grow more still. You wake up and determine that your blog is beautifully incomplete.
You want to say, again, that being Beloved is enough, but not enough to end the conversation about the rain. Your friend Steve reminds you that biblical rain, occurring as it does in the desert,
is always a good thing, and that, yes, "It falls on the just and the unjust," said the Apostle Paul, who likely did not have an umbrella but nonetheless believed in an impartial God. Your friend
Fred reminds you that facing off with Global Warming, while necessary, may not work in the end. He knows of things you do not. (He's a rocket scientist. Yes, really.) He speaks of large
complications, volcanoes and the vagaries of sun spots and flooding. He names the mysteries of the Milankovitch cycles and the Maunder Minimum. He reminds you of the "year without a summer"
possibly caused by the explosion of Krakatoa. He even touches on aircraft contrails and their dramatic effect on the earth's temperature. Even trees themselves toss off carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere as they die. Did I know that there were quadrillions of tons of methane-hydrates on the floor of the ocean? I did not. He says, however, it remains prudent to limit and reduce our
human contribution to carbon emissions, though we may not detect a positive change in the next century.
Something your friend Steve says reminds you that this blog actually had its beginning with your remembering a Horton Foote film from way back, Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1965). There was
a song with the same title, but it's the film that stays with you: black and white footage, grit, a small town in south Texas, two lovers (Lee Remick and Steve McQueen) whose love is not enough.
It's all beautiful and sad. One of the reviews by a critic from the New York Times faulted the film for allowing us only to see "that these two people are
frustrated and heart-broken by something that's bigger than the both of them. But we don't know what it is."
I'm no film critic, but I'm wondering if what's being named as the film's flaw isn't actually its great strength. It might be that life has never been about figuring it all out in the end. Maybe our "need to know" is as simple as knowing that we're up against something bigger than all of us. Maybe knowing this--being open-eyed, overwhelmed and out numbered--is both our peril and our glory, for it calls us to face together the insurmountable as the Beloved.
Which means, I guess, that every day the conversation continues, as does our conversion, that we get frustrated with things and each other, that our heart sometimes breaks, that we back up and try again, revise our lives, come rain or shine, because we place no faith in the odds--we only trust the One who makes all things new, come rain or shine.