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The First Drop of Rain
By Leslie Parrott
Copyright © 2009
The Foundation for Healthy Relationships
All right reserved.
Chapter One seattle rain
Here in Seattle we think a lot about rain. Actually I don't need to think much about rain - I never carry an umbrella and rarely pull on a coat - but rain is an ever-present part of the landscape, my reality. It's a steady companion, a gentle mist that follows me, day by damp day.
Rain, with its dark skies, gray days, and dreariness, is liquid disappointment. Rain is a symbol of ruin, a catalyst for corrosion, a creator of rust. We steel ourselves, stockpiling resources for a rainy day. Discouragement dampens our spirit, and no one likes to hang around a wet blanket. Rain is a pain, a bother. Our children sing, "Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day."
Yet this is not the whole story. In the forty-fifth year of my rain-drenched life, I have come to see rain as compelling proof of God's gracious, giving nature.
An absence of rain turns a place into a desert, a wasteland. If you've ever been parched and felt faint and studied the horizon for the smallest sign of hope, then you know the feeling. You know the feeling of hope at a softly darkening sky, the sharp-sweet scent of wet air, and the transparent but tangible first drop of rain.
That first drop of rain begins a transformation from hunger to fruitfulness. Rain streams down from clouds like banners across the landscape of your life.
The rain in Seattle is soft today, something between a drizzle and a mist. It's not showoff rain like the magnificent storms from my childhood in Kansas. It's a continuous slick soundtrack to my life. Most days it's so familiar that it fades into the background. It's not until I find a still, introspective center that I am captivated by the rain. My eyes follow drops outside the leaded window, drops that sparkle and shine as they form, fall, slide, and gather in shifting, mirrored pools. Each drop holds eternity - from cloud to ground and back, world without end.
A professor once told me that nothing can belong to us, even our own experience, unless we understand it. I watch my life with my eyes. I touch it with my fingers. My mind considers and my heart longs. Across the landscape of my interior, truth coalesces and I begin to understand. As I write my stories, I begin to understand.
Each drop of rain is ancient and new. "If there is magic on this planet," says Loren Eisley, "it is contained in water" (The Immense Journey, 1957). Rain is the mystery of God's presence and God's absence across the landscape of my life.
1. What comes to your mind when you hear the word rain? Is it positive or negative and why?
2. When you hear that nothing can belong to us, even our own experience, unless we understand it, what do you think? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Chapter Two the wasteland
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats. T. S. Eliot
All too often I find myself in the desert of life, peering up at the beating sun in a cloudless sky. This is the wasteland. T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land describes this desert life. I first encountered Eliot's visionary poem as an undergraduate when I signed up for a required literature course. As it happened, the course - focused entirely on The Waste Land - changed my life. As my professor helped us see the layers of allusion, language, and imagery, I felt my spirit expanding. It was the deepest encounter I had ever had with the printed word outside the Bible.
I became a student of poetry and of culture. The course opened my eyes to how much there is to know and say. I saw layers beyond the surface. I understood that something true in its simplest form grows truer still as you unpack the wisdom within. The Waste Land contains narrative from Scripture - Ezekiel, Isaiah, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Philippians, the Gospels - and is replete with images borrowed from and allusions to the great works of Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Dante. Eliot weaves images from great operas, celebrated plays, and masterful visual art. The English language cannot contain the poem, and it spills over to include Greek and Sanskrit. The Waste Land is a difficult delight.
Studying this poem taught me how to be thoughtful about my own experiences. It taught me that image and metaphor can reach my heart, that insight is gained more easily through indirect teaching. When we allow ourselves to be caught up in a story that isn't ours, our guard drops and, almost without realizing it, we are able to draw conclusions that are both personal and insightful.
Eliot makes visible the unseen journey of life and faith. His poem, even twenty-five years after I first read it, describes my interior landscape with startling accuracy. It helped to form my understanding of how vast, complex, and layered the territory of the soul is - a great stretch of undiscovered wasteland.
Now I am forty-five and balancing the parenting of two young boys - spelling tests, book reports, Sunday school, soccer games, ortho appointments, vision therapy, field trips, play dates, and something important I'm forgetting - with a marriage of nearly twenty-four years and a career that requires frequent travel and weekly teaching responsibilities. And still, Eliot's words nurture me. On my way home from work with the never-ending skritchsloosh of the windshield wipers, Eliot's lines come to mind: "At the violet hour, when the eyes and back / turn upward from the desk / when the human engine waits."
I watch the sky turn to deeper hues of blue violet and finally darken. That transformation pulls me away from urgent details of my daily life into a hushed reverence, into the quietness of God's presence in the darkening sky.
When my life is a desert, I feel dry enough to crumble into a handful of dust. Like this morning. I set my alarm for 5:45 to steal a bit of time for coffee and contemplation, for a momentary echo of the interior conversations I used to engage in before kids and chaos intervened. I sport granny glasses now - not because I need them but because I am so tired my eyes won't focus (maybe I do need them the teensiest bit). Glasses perched, I sip my coffee, spiked with French vanilla cream, and attempt to focus on my Bible, on what God is doing here and now and how I am to cooperate.
Life seems as blurry and unreadable as the small print. Like when three of my dear friends told me they are moving across the country simultaneously. When a recent phone call told me my aunt - between jobs and without health insurance - woke in the middle of the night with a feverish illness. When my son's emotional meltdowns must mean something important that I can't manage to discern.
I don't need to know every answer. I just need, for a moment, to get my head above these present circumstances. What is God revealing to me? Where is he moving? What is my place in this world?
But what I really want as I sip my coffee is to go back to sleep. That's when my son Jackson runs out of the bedroom to snuggle with me on the couch. I look at the clock. We have thirty minutes to get out the door before my other son, John, gets a tardy slip. I hurry through the required motions - not with deep inner strength and certitude, but with puffy eyes, blurry vision, and anxiety about how I'll navigate the day ahead.
This is where I live - somewhere between the wasteland and the rain.
1. When do you most feel like you are traveling in the desert of life? Be specific. What makes you feel this way?
2. Do you ever feel as if you are living between the wasteland and the rain? Why?
Rain You coalesce in clouds Grow heavy Stretch Let go Snap into a tiny ball And fall Gathering speed in flight Liquid simplicity Transparent as glass Yet holding mysteries beyond Our knowing Locked in molecules and gas. How is it you defy gravity? Drawing nutrients up To nurture plants, And more amazing still, Throughout me. You act as a prism - reflecting light Creating rainbows in your flight. Dissolving rocks You trickle down And at the lowest point Begin to rise Changed by the sun (A new disguise) Until you find your home With other drops A cloud to form. I stand And let you drench me down I see your pools Collecting on the ground But all the while I sense Hinting at Something You are a clue A reflection Of the One Who is not you.
Excerpted from The First Drop of Rain by Leslie Parrott Copyright © 2009 by The Foundation for Healthy Relationships. Excerpted by permission.
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