Unexpected music accompanies me at the moment. The rain tapping on the roof echoes my fingers tapping on the keyboard. Or perhaps it is the other way around. An improvised jam session of writing and raining. An intertwining of nature and culture through these accidental, gentle sounds. Pretty neat.
Avram and I had planned to go to Longwood Gardens to see what late spring brings to those who work hard coaxing glories from the earth. It was to have been a belated celebration of my birthday. But then it decided to rain. We have rescheduled our trip.
A while ago, for my fiftieth birthday, we had planned to take a week off from work, five day-trips, touring around the mid-Atlantic, checking out parks, hiking and spending all our time outdoors. It rained. All week. Non-stop.
Not to be stymied or bested by nature, I decided to put that week in the bank, safely deposited in the vaults of time to be withdrawn and celebrated sometime in the future when the sun is shining and we are able. It is still there, waiting to be redeemed.
Many years ago, my husband and I were to be married outdoors, in the biblical garden of a synagogue, under the shining dome of the heavens. We weren’t. It rained. Poured. The wedding was held indoors.
This seems to be a pattern to the celebrations of our lives. We even had a favorite book in our family, about a pig, a parrot and a potto who lived in a tropical rain forest. Every day they tried to have a tea party at 4:00 pm. And every day their tea party was rained out, ruined. The book was called, appropriately, And It Rained.
But Judaism knows how to comfort us: rain is a blessing, it tells us. Time and again at our wedding, people sidled up to us, put their arms around us, leaned in close and whispered, “Rain is a blessing.”
And indeed it is.
The Bible speaks of the blessing of rain, earth’s nourishment, conferred as a gift from God in return for our faithfulness. “If you listen obediently to my commandments that I command you this today, to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, He will send the rain (matar) for your land in its season, the early rains (yoreh) and the late rains (malkosh), that you may gather in your grain and your new wine and your oil. He will give you grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 11 and the second paragraph of the Sh’ma.)
This theology of causality, imagining that human behavior determines the weather we experience, seemed more far-fetched, even quaint or primitive, a few decades ago. But with human behavior now affecting the earth’s climate, Deuteronomy’s theology reads like a cautionary tale. We cannot control the ways of rain, but we can influence them. Not on such an immediate, day-to-day basis, to be sure. But our collective behavior is affecting the weather as climate changes over the course of time.
What, then, are the commandments we are bidden to obey so we may reap the blessings of rain and not its curses? What shall we do to earn the gift of abundance, know an end to hunger and enough for all? It is this: to live justly within the bounds of earth’s renewing capacity; to be sated with enough; to avoid waste; to share with those who are in need the wealth bequeathed to us by living well. Yes, also, we must study and learn the ways of nature, discover how to safely resist pests and rebuild the soil, how to produce bulging harvests without poisoning the land, how to get the produce quickly and safely to the market. Like the rain and my typing, nature and culture need to work well together to yield the greatest blessing.
If we can learn to do that, then, hopefully, the rain will come in its due season, yielding the fruit of the earth, and not fail to come, or come too often or be too much. And may it always be the background music exciting our creations, urging our souls and enabling our bodies to dance.