Every so often a window blows open in the wind and rain lands in unwelcome places – the fresh laundry pile, the pile of books beside the bed, the pot plant. We shield ourselves from rain in the construction of wood, concrete and glass over our daily lives, but sometimes a crack appears in the ceiling, our umbrellas turn inside out or we get caught by surprise.
We hustle to open our umbrellas while clambering out of cars on our way to the office or the grocery store. We try to avoid the rain, to escape the wet. Why this aversion of skin to rain? Why do we run from it?
There was no shelter on the path I walked home from school and I hated the plastic rain coats we used to wear. Hated them with a passion so during winter and spring, it was nothing to arrive home soaked to the bone. Under the trees of Great South Road I would surrender to the forgone conclusion but I didn’t mind it as much. Damp, uncomfortable wool and polyester of my school uniform clinging to my body, hair at maximum frizz and curl or relented to the weight of the water. Drenched in the rain, I’d strip off and take a warm shower.
Why is water so cleansing and good, so welcome when it flows from pipes and faucets but when water falls from the sky, raw and uncontrolled it makes our skin jump, our shoulders hunch and our faces fall inwards with new wrinkles around the nose and eyes? How can I leap into oceans, rivers and lakes and climb to waterfalls gleefully when I choose to do so but when the water chases me, pouring out of the sky, I flinch?
When I began wearing glasses, I started to flinch from the rain in ways I hadn’t before. Rain can be like tears, hard to see through. Exposes the weakness of my sight. Reveals that clothes are just fabric, susceptible to the elements as we are. I am exposed in the rain.
Is it the control I resist relinquishing? The rain falls without invitation. The intimacy of the raindrop that falls, catching on the skin of my neck, coursing a stream into places unseen? Exposing my vulnerability with the abruptness of the touch that comes without invitation? These questions lead me to ask what I must do to recapture the delight of the child that jumps in puddles.
When I was even younger, a large cyclone bore down on my city and we watched from our classrooms as great grey clouds rolled across the sun. We lost the light into greyness for a week, only knowing the dampness of our toes inside our shoes from the moment we left home. Across puddles and in those uncomfortable jackets, drips escaping down sleeves and soaking into socks we never feared the rain. Even the discomfort of the squelch… it was a joyous delight. I watched the floodwaters in the playground and at intersections on the way home like swimming lakes to be conquered. Rain was an adventure, to see what the weather might do.
One summer camp, we were flooded out by a summer storm. Buses evacuating one thousand teenagers into a local high school and I found myself forming a group of volunteers to load and unload trucks in the storm. Hair plastered against cheek, I felt brave and strong to stand in the rain so, doing what I could to help out.
What changed between then and now? Was it when I started to wear expensive shoes and carry an iPhone in my pocket or when I exchanged my polyester and cotton for finer fabrics? When did I learn to love the sound of rain on the roof and against the window pane, feeling secure and under shelter more than the cool splash of the elements and wind against my skin?
I used to be so raw and unashamed to be exposed. At least, I think that’s how it was. Maybe it’s just I’ve become used to being dry. Maybe I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be exposed to the elements. Maybe you have to? We get so used to waking up in the morning, jumping into routine and the clothes we wear, the roles we play that we need a reminder. We need to be pulled back into the elements from which we come.
We are 90 percent water, after all. Shouldn’t the rain feel like coming home? We spend so much time in our lives looking up and out to find meaning and connection that when the universe comes falling on our sacred skin, comes reaching towards us – we flinch. It’s a touch we’ve forgotten but somewhere, it feels familiar. A memory of the kids we used to be – curious, shameless and delighting in the sensation and freedom of being drenched. Fearless in our vulnerability.
This weekend I spent a lot of time in the rain and let myself relax into it. I didn’t rush out of the falling water. I stood above a waterfall in the rain and let my glasses get misty. I didn’t want to get back in the car. Watching the water cascade over the falls and touch me at the same time, I wanted to be raw and vulnerable again. I wanted to be exposed. Inside, I felt the storm was inside me and the best I could do was surrender to the storm that was falling down on me.
It was gentle. It was momentary. It was happening all around me and I simply had the invitation to be in the midst of it or to run back to shelter. I felt the raindrops that landed on my neck and the dampness of my cheek. I resisted the urge to flinch. I welcomed the rain and it felt like a caress I had been waiting for a long time.
Floodwaters will rage from time to time. Storms will come and rain will fall then sometimes not fall. It’s a rhythm and cycle of how the earth works. Despite our best intentions, our storm water systems, drainage and strong buildings – rain still falls. Sometimes it creeps in through the cracks and sometimes it will be torrent. We build and construct our plans to control the impact of the rain but we cannot make the weather. “Rain, after all, is only rain; it is not bad weather.”
“Rain, after all, is only rain; it is not bad weather. So also, pain is only pain, unless we resist it, when it becomes torment.” – The I Ching
We cry out when dry, thirsty and stricken with drought for the rain to come – when we are ready. We turn and run from floodwaters that expose our weakness and threaten our security. But I would rather be rain-soaked and taken by surprise by the proximity of God, than ever to be dry again. Let it rain.
If theology is a conversation about our ideas of God, then talking about rain is a good place to start. What if we could learn to live in rhythm with the rain? We are meant to live in communion with our environment and each other. To nurture it more than we do and in return, be nurtured by it. The rain is our life-source, after all. We could learn to live around the rain and in the rain, rather than build our palaces to hide us from it.
I have never felt so close to the Universe as under the raw sky in a canvas tent, smelling the rain and dirt as the Earth goes about the business of replenishing and withdrawing from itself. I have had moments of profound aliveness walking through the bush soaked in rain to bathe at the bottom of a waterfall; listening to the birds and forest sing with the life-giving refreshment the rain brings after the heat of a summer day.
If you watch and wait, the clouds will gather and cover the sun. The rain will fall and the earth opens, releasing her fragrance again. Green appears from the dust and the crickets, birds and trees rustle into their songs again as the light emerges from the passing storm. The earth breathes, the water cools and refreshes the land.
That’s the thing about God. Ain’t no bully, despite what some say and demonstrate. God is gracious and gentle. When we flinch, God rarely pushes. I believe it is in the nature of the Universe to be so, allowing us the wilful fortitude of closing the door on unwelcome invasion and waiting for the beauty of invitation. We, yearning for control in a world that seems spinning, so often say no. The universe gently persists and reminds us with a raindrop or two, that our vulnerability is welcome with God.