Let the winds blow and the rains fall
Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to attend a lunch with a visiting group of professors, theologians and scholars to wrestle with concepts of god and the nature of the universe. This year, three of my local colleagues were able to attend, adding a different dimension to our discussions. As we sat outside on that beautiful February day, conversation turned to the weather: the relentless cold and snow in the Midwest, drought in California, and winter warmth here in Florida. It did not take long for the conversation to jump from weather observation to theological inquiry. The first question was posed, “do prayers for rain work?”. Do we with our ritual connect with, control, inspire god somehow to create our desired outcome? Reverend Scott Alexander, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, bravely opened the discussion with a hearty no. He does not envision God who we can control in that way or that is tuned into the minutiae of human experience to connect prayer for rain and a rain event. Part of me agreed. How presumptuous of us! If we say our prayer for rain (or sun or warmth) works, then what are we saying about the prayers of someone in weather misery or disaster?
And yet, I also was ready to argue. It has been very strange how many times I do rain rituals, rain experiments or rain text studies and the next thing I know, it is raining. From rain dripping on a podium in front of me after acknowledging Miriam as one who found water for the People of Israel in the desert to a deluge following study of Jewish water rituals, time and again there seems to be these strange coincidences. I never felt like I was actually causing the rain to follow, but it has happened enough to where there are people who start to wonder about water prayers/rituals and me.
We ended up having an amazing and thought provoking discussion. I had to run out just as lunch was finishing up and did not think more about it until my phone rang a couple of hours later. Our host was calling. Even though the chance of rain in the forecast that day was low, wouldn’t you know, it was pouring at his house! The first thought was to call Reverend Alexander to razz him. See what an “I told you so” moment. Two things hit me at once. First, did I really think we caused the rain? It is funny to think so but hubris to believe it. Second, in making it an “I told you so” moment, I would be undermining the power of our lunch together. The whole reason for sitting down in discussion, to wrestle with our beliefs, our thoughts and our ideas is to grow in understanding and fellowship. We might disagree, but in learning from and about each other we create the bonds that truly bring peace and holiness into our world. Ultimately the whole discussion was not whether prayer has power over God and weather, but rather how can we all be responsive and responsible for cycles on nature. If we can keep challenging and discussing with each other and keep laughing together we build relationships and communities. With these connections, we will be in a stronger position to respond to drought and loss or appreciate rain and bounty that might come our way.