State of Formation’s topic for the month of April is “April showers bring May flowers,” how do we prepare, plant, and cultivate inner (and outer) change in our lives whether quickly or deliberately? The humour of this little phrase is not lost on me. Let me explain. I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year – a nation that rains constantly, and in fact, nearly every day. When I lived in Scotland, I never let the rain stop me. I didn’t let it hinder my plans. I still went about my daily life, I still walked to the City Centre (a task that took approximately an hour), and I still visited all the major attractions (many of which would have been more pleasant without that added layer of wind and hail). However, even though I was tempted to curse that miserable dampness that permeates your bones causing all your muscles to ache with a hot shoulder pad only offering minimal relief, I also began to see rain as a blessing. Many cultures praise the rain. Aboriginal traditions for example, often dance and invoke the spirits to bring rain upon the earth. Other cultures as well engage in calling out to their gods, fasting, and even inflicting physical pain in an attempt for the heavens to hear them. We need rain, and even though in the moment it can be seen as a mere annoyance, I also realize that the reason Edinburgh is such a green, lush, and beautiful city is exactly because the rain inhibits the possibility of drought and thus brown grass.
I have only been home for 6 months, however, my understanding of the rain has significantly changed upon my arrival. I have noticed that now, instead of valuing the rain, I stay huddled up in my house, oftentimes hidden under a warm blanket and will the day away. But I don’t think that the physical rain is my only motivation for doing this, I think the answer goes much deeper and that rain simply has become a useful metaphor.
Growing up, I was always a hyperactive, energetic kid. The fact that I was able to stay focused long enough to become a theological scholar is an irony that is not lost on me. For me, preparation was always an active thing: reading books, attending seminars, taking copious amounts of notes, interviewing leading experts, writing, and pouring my soul into research. For me, education was always a goal to be attained – you put in the work in order to reap a result and then you hope to somehow benefit the world with your knowledge and expertise. Thus, the idea of being sick in my mid-twenties was never something that would have crossed my mind.
At first the illness appeared slowly. I noticed my hands felt weaker and I was not able to accomplish many tasks with the same amount of strength as I previously had. Soon even simple tasks such as cutting food became a burden. Finally, I was forced to admit that something was not right. I moved home with my parents and tried to regain as much of my life as I possibly could. It was difficult because when I was at home, I did relatively little. I hated sitting around doing nothing. I felt it was very unproductive and was not preparing me at all. However, over time, I began to view it as a gift. Being at home was a perfect time for me to develop some new passions. I was granted the gift of rest – a gift that is so precious in our culture, and yet we rarely take time to relish in. I soon realized, I might never be granted this opportunity again and while on my bed began to hear my soul whisper that this illness was the perfect opportunity for me to tune into my heart’s wishes and truly learn how to LISTEN.
Eventually, I was able to move out and got a position at a rural church. At the time, it seemed that many of my symptoms had abated, however, upon arriving and starting my new work, I soon discovered many signs that something continued to be wrong. I visited many doctors, did many tests, and tried my hand at medical research (something I wouldn’t advise unless you are skilled in this area). The answer kept coming back negative. Despite how many specialists I saw (and there were several) no one could even scratch the surface of what was happening. Meanwhile in my discouragement, I heard that same voice over and over again “now is the time to LISTEN.”
I suppose in our culture, being still is likely not a popular method of preparation, however, I do think it is one of the most valuable. In the Christian tradition, spiritual disciplines including activities like fasting, prayer, meditation, and being still are practiced by many and reap good results. Some monks and nuns even move away from civilization in order to be alone and listen to their heart and God’s whispers into their lives. The very whispers that are so difficult to hear when we are bombarded by noise and a culture of “doing.” Similarly, other religions including Judaism and Islam also employ practices such as Sabbath keeping and observing specific prayer times in an attempt to silence one’s own desires and hear from God. I particularly love the image of the Dervishes who spin around in what might easily be seen as hopeless devotion, but yet who find such exhilarating ecstasy through reaching a point where God is paramount and all else fades away into a fuzzy blur.
We all will have times in our lives when it feels like life is much more than a drizzle. In these times of doubt and confusion whether brought on by illness, loss, grief, despair, or hopelessness the rain may seem to unrelentingly pound on the house. Yet, it is exactly in those moments when the basement feels flooded that we need to cry out and embrace a Higher Power. In these difficult times, we need to listen to what our heart, and God are telling us. Sometimes that preparation may include a specific action, but more often than not, it is only a gentle whisper “BE STILL.”
Photo Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/alwayssomeday/under-my-umbrella/?lp=true