Thursday, March 05, 2009

Night Rainbows

I submitted another application to the Collegeville Institute writing workshop with author Eugene Peterson. Last year I submitted a midrash on the Transfiguration, and that got me a spot as an alternate (12 are accepted). I had to fight the urge to unimaginatively submit the same thing again, since it got me so close before. But, I decided to expand on a journal entry I made a few years ago.  

Night Rainbows

 I had just gotten my son dressed for bed, and a wave of dissatisfaction crashed over me.   Questions raised at a church meeting about my salary had provoked defensive thoughts about my worth to the community.  What was it that I did for them exactly?  I didn’t render any service but the occasional visit to the hospital or home.  And what exactly did I speak about with people when making these visits?  How the football team was doing, how the grass was growing.  Not exactly the kinds of conversations I was having in seminary. I didn’t produce any product except for some words on Sunday, hopefully helping people deepen their relationship with God—but that isn’t exactly a measurable quantity.  I needed some inspiration, so I prayed for it.

I took these questions with me outside to smoke my pipe in what had turned out to be a cold night.  I lit my pipe and stood there focused on the shed in my back yard.  As I was standing there, it suddenly grew brighter.  The trees cast shadows on the grass.  I looked up in the sky and saw a full moon.  The low hanging clouds were moving rather quickly across the sky, and as they passed, the moon would peek out from behind them and illuminate my whole yard.  The radiance of the moon lit up the contours of each cloud moving across the dark sky.  I felt like I was on the bottom of the ocean looking up at silver gilded hulls of great ships, moving in from the north.  From time to time, Venus or Jupiter would also peek through a small break in the clouds, framing the planet momentarily.  It looked surreal, like a photo negative.  As the moon drew my yard out of darkness and cast shadows of the fence and trees, the moment also drew my mind out of the darkness of self-doubt and worry.  I went inside to get Lara, and she had just finished putting Wesley down for the night.  I asked her to get a coat and come out with me.  She was thrilled by the sight as well, and pointed out that the moon was so bright that as the clouds grew thinner at the edges, you could see the water vapors in little wispy rainbows.  Rainbows at night: Symbols of God’s promise that aren’t restrained to the light of day.  Even on a cold dark night, the moon reflects the piercing light of the sun to the extent that it can be broken into colors by the prism of water vapor.  What a miracle!  I was overcome with joy, and took it as an answer to my prayer. 

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 65 was overcome with awe and reverence for the work of God in the natural world.  The poet lifts up the mountains and the oceans and all the things that generate a sense of wonder in the human heart.  That night, Lara looked up in the sky and said, “there is proof of God’s existence!”  She was thankful that I had shared the moment with her, and I was thankful that she had shared her experience with me. 

That moment in my first year of parish ministry has reminded me to look for the rainbows even at night.  I have learned that I can either accept the readily apparent darkness, or I can search for those uncanny and unexpected signs of God’s presence in the abyss.  God is like the wind.  Or perhaps a stronger statement that is no less true is simply that God is the wind.  The wind is more noticeable when it is blowing hard and rustling the trees.  We can see its activity by the things it moves: The leaves it blows across the yard, the tree limbs waving back and forth.  Yet we sometimes forget that we take this wind into our body and it moves us too.  It brings oxygen to our blood and powers the spark of life and consciousness.  Our relationship with our Creator is as basic as breath. 

So, any moment is “crammed with Heaven,” as Elizabeth Barrett Browning observed.  There have been many night rainbows that I have been too bogged down in myself to notice along the way.  I have been a blackberry picker.  God’s presence takes that acute awareness that Zen monks cultivate toward their own breath.  As Solomon prayed for wisdom, I pray for the attentiveness to “take off my shoes” and acknowledge the presence of God.  I pray for the patience to look at the world around me in wonder.  I pray for strength and insight to jettison all the burdensome mental cargo that makes me unwieldy and slow to shift course.  I pray for the humility to know that even when I see something spectacular, a more profound vision can be attained with the help and companionship of another.  

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful! I've submitted my application, too. Here's to meeting up at Collegeville again!