Sunday, 22 July 2007

And then the rain

The previous afternoon, my eldest son had greeted me as I arrived home with the words, “Welcome to July!”
The sky, for anyone within even the most distant sight of the Malvern Hills, had dispersed all blues with its blue, and the sun had beamed warmth and light into everybody’s lives. We were reminded of how summer should feel; even the forecast of more rain the next day did not entirely brush aside the possibility of more of these potentially friendly, neighbour-greeting, laughter-filled, soporific, insect-humming and scent–filled days.
But then came the rain.

The day felt good; the warmth was welcomed and God was thanked for it. In what must have been a similar appreciation to that of the inhabitants of Eden when in their garden as the Near-Eastern heat decreased at the end of the day, the raised temperature and the sunshine brought a smile of contentment and an ‘Isn’t life wonderful’ feeling to the moment.
In Eden, “The man and his wife heard the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, …” (Genesis 3:8)
In my own garden, in the heat of a glorious summer day, I sensed His presence in the light, the warmth, the shade and the gentle whispers of leaves stirred by the softest breeze.
And then came the rain.

I love the rain: I love the rain at least as much as I love the warm sunny days; and with the possibility of the following day not being ideal for cutting the grass, the mower was brought into service for three hours or so as I put the lawn (a somewhat loose use of the word) into the trimmed version of itself that would allow me to enjoy other aspects of the garden, and other uses of my time at home, without the nagging thought that I needed to get it cut.
As I completed the task, and as I relaxed into the knowledge that I would be home for the following three days, the blue sky faded and hid behind a deepening greyness that drifted like a vast stadium roof across my world. July seemed to be disappearing again. Preparation time was over; it seemed that the roof closed in preparation for a major fixture: the big match.

As yet I was unaware of the game to be played.
And then came the rain.

During the evening, the first few spots dappled windows and paths with a sensual touch of life giving water; the quiet sense of nature’s balance and the rightness of all things rounded the day with a continued sense of God’s presence. I was able to look forward to the falling rain in the satisfied knowledge that the mowing was done. The day drew to its contented and prayerful close.
And then came the rain.

I first awoke at 6:00 am. The rain was falling steadily, greyly, beautifully, quietly. I watched from the bedroom window for a while before returning to bed where I slept on for another couple of hours; I had not had much sleep while at work the previous night, and the beautiful sound of falling rain soon drew my consciousness into distant realms.
When I finally arose, the world was unchanged; the light, the sounds and the feel of the morning were exactly the same. I watched the rain once more and then went downstairs where I opened windows and doors to let the sound of it permeate the stillness of the house.
No radio to hear the news, no music of whatever sort to fit, to change, or to create a mood; no sound to interfere with the gospel words of rainfall that blended with my whole being as I breakfasted before the vision of overflowing grace and calm that displayed its silvered greyness across the green of my private world.
And still came the rain.

I spent several hours with my annotated works of St John of the Cross, which I had not looked at for the last ten years or so. I had brought them out to look for the quotation I used in the previous post; the image of the bird restrained by a fragile yet unbroken thread has always been deeply lodged within me since first I read it.
The sight of the rain was a display of beauty; the sound of it was an enveloping and soul-filling whisper that spoke of peace, of gift, of our helplessness in the face of all that is real. The power is not ours; the control is not ours; the will is not ours. Ours is to be as we were made to be. Ours is to empty and deny ourselves before the ultimate truth of our existence, in an attempt to fuse our longing with the unimaginable hand that created and sustains us.
My son had welcomed me to July; he now shared my contemplative peace in the music of a time-annulling drench cloaking our lives.
And still came the rain.

What followed is in fact of little consequence.
Our garden is lower than those of most of our neighbours, and the possibility of a repeat of something that has only happened once in the last thirty years was sufficiently remote to be regarded as well-nigh impossible. This was based on the memory that the previous occurrence involved the combination of heavy and persistent rainfall with the rapid thaw of the heaviest snow we had seen for years; and this after all is July.
The first wavering of my confidence came when the pseudo-pond that I thought we would never see again, began to re-form in the middle of the garden. The beauty of peace laid upon me during the preceding hours, finally gave way to an increasing sense of urgency when a trickle was seen coming under the fence near the house. Surely not! One look into the adjoining gardens was enough; it was about to happen again. Memories of sodden carpet, and hacking plaster off living-room walls do not fade easily, and both my son and I spent the next six hours attempting to prevent the same situation arising again. Because, from previous experience, we knew what could happen, we acted quickly enough and drastically enough to succeed in our endeavours. The grass, so gladly cut the previous day, is now bisected by a deep and ugly scar which is the trench we had to dig to carry water away from the house to lower ground. The flow from the neighbours’ land increased to a freely flowing and seemingly endless stream, but the day ended with our carpets being dry: - just.
And still came the rain.

It was a long time before things could be regarded as being under control, but all the while, without knowing what was occurring elsewhere, there was the overwhelming awareness that we had no problems at all compared with others who would be truly suffering as a result of this same rain in which we had been delighting for much of the day.
And still came the rain.

Of the thoughts arising from the day’s events, two, I feel, are worth conveying to anyone who may read this.
Firstly, however sure we may be that we can control our own lives, that we can make all the decisions entirely on our own, and that our resulting actions will lead to real progress and the empowerment of our true selves, we are not in a position of authority over anything; each of us has a Master, and this Master can manifest Himself in the elements we so easily take for granted.
”I will go tomorrow,” said the King. “You will wait my will,” said the wind. (Hebridean Altars. Alistair Maclean.)

Secondly, we can either help or hinder our neighbours in their time of need.
Whether through the consequences of, or through our reactions to what they may do, or through the effects of our own actions upon them, we can influence the generation or the destruction of harmony between them and ourselves.
My neighbours’ gardens were filled to the brim, and there was only ever going to be one destination for their overflowing: - my garden.
The eventual outcome was that much of what poured towards my home and accumulated as a lake before me, would gradually (very gradually) soak into the ground, but not before the overflowing from my land had coursed through another garden and garage to form yet another pool – a longer lasting one – in yet another neighbour’s garden.
In working to help myself I helped to reduce one neighbour’s problem, but simultaneously appeared to be adding to the misfortunes of another. The reality was that the water would go where it would go; what damage it would do while on its way was partly dependent on what actions we all took to speed it on its way. By hurrying it along we minimized its depth at all points on its journey and thus reduced and prevented the real problems. To have done nothing would have meant that no water would have overflowed to the next home until it had done its worst with each of us.

Before being soaked in rain’s physical presence, I had been immersed in peace. The very rains that caused me some concern, but very real distress for others, had been a source of deep quiet and contentment. It would be easy for me to loll back in that relaxation and ease, and to dismiss the day’s events as a close shave; to mind my own business and leave those who had been less fortunate to fend for themselves. We are not here to blissfully sunbathe in what we hope will be a bright and sunny summer; we are here to turn the black days into grey, and the grey days into gold: to strive for ourselves, for others, and for God, that every day may roll back the roof from our world, and, even if the clouds themselves do not, let the light and the blue sky announce that it is indeed July.

“… I suppose it is a long time before any one of us recognizes and understands that his own state on earth is in one shape or other a state of trial and sorrow; and that if he has intervals of external peace, this is all gain, and more than he has a right to expect.”

(Parochial and Plain Sermons. John Henry Newman)

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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