Rain or Crops?

Presenter: 
Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 08/25/2013

Let’s
talk about rain for a few minutes, and how rain works – at least around here.

 

Ideally,
with rain, you want a system where you have, you get, a little bit at a
time. 

 

Of
course there exist in the world both deserts and also rain forests; there also
exist droughts and floods, marked by either not a lot of rain, or even far too
little rain, or else quite a lot of rain, or even too much.  These extreme scenarios prove my point,
actually, that the ideal situation with rainfall is that you get it bit by bit,
a moderate amount spread out over the course of time.  Whenever you get too much or too little of
it, there tends to be a problem, and we apply one of those special names to the
situation, like desert, or flooding.

 

Here
in the Washington area, this year in particular, we are usually blessed with
the right sort of rain, give or take a little. 
Sure, it’s wetter in May than it is in August, and we get our fair share
of ominous reports of drought and also flash flood warnings.  Still, you can tell by the abundant green all
around the mid-Atlantic region that generally speaking, we get the right sort
of rain, characterized by having a reasonable amount of it at a time.

 

It
has occurred to me lately that I like my life to operate a lot like how rain does.  I like things to come to me a reasonable
amount at a time, so that there’s a balance between all the things I
experience, and nothing is too much or too little.  I prefer it when my church schedule keeps me just
the right amount of busy.  I like it when
I see my kids and my husband just the right amount of time.  I handle it well when I experience sad events
and happy events in proportions that are acceptable to me.  I like having evenings at home balanced with
evenings at work balanced with evenings out. 
I feel best when I have a balanced diet, with equalish proportions of
all the different food groups.  I think
you’re getting my point here, and the word balance
is the one to watch, right?  I have
wanted everything to be balanced, aligned just right, because if so, I have
believed that my life will be as green and fertile as the mid-Atlantic region
is for much of the year.  There’s a Keith
Urban song[1]
out right now, if you’re the sort of person who listens to country music, and
it goes “I know I don’t need a whole lot of anything, I just want a little bit
of everything…na na na na, na na na na….

 

It’s
not just me who thinks we’re supposed to experience our lives in this way.  I didn’t invent the term balance to describe some ideal pace of life.  The first time I heard it was when I entered
the work world after college, when we were all encouraged to balance our work
efforts with our home efforts so we’d have time and energy enough for
both.  Don’t even get me started on how
much the concept of balance is
dangled before working mothers, the water in the desert that we’re all trying
to find for the supposed overall good of ourselves and our families.  And don’t get me started on how much the
concept of balance is sought after by
clergy, who for millennia have sought to be in
the world but not of it.  That’s a tricky point to perch on.

 

Without
this balance - without this rainfall-like distribution of good and bad, this
work and that, activity and rest, this person and that person - without that
even distribution, it is assumed that we’ll become like that new plant in my
bedroom at home, the one we’re not used to yet, that doesn’t get watered for a
couple of months at a time, then gets overwatered for two weeks.  Let’s just say it doesn’t look good.  Without life’s balances, it is taught, we
ourselves will get parched, or saturated, like that plant.  We’ll wilt and turn brown, or we’ll rot where
we stand, or we’ll be swept away by currents, or else by wind. 

 

Salvation,
the modern person is told, comes through balance.  We are to live like we are the rain.  Not too much, not too little.

 

Except,
it has recently occurred to me, that the pattern in which we experience
rainfall, a reasonable amount at a time spread out evenly over time, is
actually fairly unusual in nature.  There
are lots of natural events that don’t spread out evenly at all, and yet we
still benefit greatly from them.  Take
the seasons, for example.  Sure, they
overlap somewhat, but mostly the summer is relentlessly hot without a break and
the winter is unremittingly cold.  It’s
one or the other for a few months, and then that period is over and the world
moves on to the next thing.

 

And
although it is true that the mid-Atlantic is green much of the year, the things
with which it is green vary a bit more than we may notice.  I’ve been trying to move from being an
adequate gardener of decorative plants to being any sort of gardener of
vegetables.  So far this move has been
entirely unsuccessful.  But it has made
me remember what I would have automatically known if I lived even 60 or 70 or 80
years ago like my Uncle Dugan has.  Food,
crops, don’t come into being like rain does. 
Vegetables don’t grow steadily all through the year, even if it is warm
enough.  Food, crops, are available for a
short time only.  They are overwhelmingly
available during that short time, if you’re having a good year.  But no matter how good your year, your
vegetable or fruit is there for just a while, a couple of months at the most,
and then it is gone.  Here today; gone
tomorrow.  Present; then absent.  Not a lot of useful middle ground in between.  Not a lot of what we might call balance, if
balanced means a steady amount at a time, all of the time.

 

When
you look at life from the crop perspective or the seasonal perspective, you see
it as the opposite of balanced.  You see
it instead as a series of predictable feasts and famines, even in the best of
cases.  Summer is summer, and you just
sweat it out until September.  I hope you
like zucchini because you won’t be able to get away from it for four weeks at
least.  Same for strawberries, and
tomatoes.  And no matter how much you might
love and rely on lettuce, you can’t really grow it here in July and August, at
least as far as I can tell. Of course, I can’t really grow anything, but at
least the lettuce isn’t my fault. The no-lettuce rule in the summer can make
you feel cranky, or panicky, unless you remember that you can get it well into
the fall, or right away in the spring.

 

When
the world works on a feast-or-famine system, it can be alarming, especially
during the times we see as famine, when we don’t get what we need or what has
been so abundantly available.  As a
child, my uncle Dugan was always thrilled to see the trout start to run in the
spring, because that meant they’d have enough to eat after a long winter of
being restricted to home-canned food, and an early spring of just being hungry.  Once the fish started, though, then there was
no stopping them, and it would be tons of fish for dinner for quite a
while. 

 

Not
really balanced, this food supply, this supply of the stuff that keeps us alive
and strong.  Not balanced, the seasons of
the world in which we live.

 

And
such is my life, actually, if I see it as it actually is, without my
misguidedly aspirational fingerprints all over it.  My church work comes at me like a blast from
a fire hose for two or three months, then trickles away to the point where I’m
almost waiting by the phone for someone to have some unexpected surgery and
need a hand to hold.  My kids are
omnipresent now, in the summer, but come the fall they’ll be involved in so
many different activities that just an hour for family dinner will seem
precious.  Come to that, my kids spent at
least seven years, 1998-2005 I believe, continuously attached to my ankles, but
I know that sometime very soon they won’t be living in my house at all, and I
will be one of those mothers who says “I wish you’d call more often.”

 

There
have been times in my life when so many bad things happened to me so often for
so long that I actually got used to the riptide I was always caught in, and
came to call it home.  And there have
been years that stretched into decades where only lovely things happened to me,
so lovely they were almost miracles, but miracles so common that I saw them as
routine, and hardly noted their comings or their goings at all.

 

Feast.  Or else famine.  Abundance. 
Then scarcity.  Then abundance
again.

 

I
have tried to seek balance, as I said, but balance is, I am coming to believe,
a mirage.  I am coming to believe that
balance is neither possible, nor required. 
What’s more, I am coming to believe that balance might not even be the
best choice, even if we were able to choose, which we sometimes are.  I think that life is supposed to be more like
crops than like rain – and, when I’m feeling wise and confident, it turns out
that I might prefer it that way.

 

I
want variety, of course, especially over the passage of time.  Overall, I want work and play, friends and
family, alone time and together time.  I
recognize that bad times come with good times, and I’m okay with both of those
things.  But I don’t need to have them
doled out in equal measures for them to have value to me, and I certainly don’t
need to force them into boxes of equal size and spread them out evenly over the
course of my days.

 

Instead,
I’m wondering if it might be better for us all, metaphorically speaking, to eat
practically nothing but strawberries for those three weeks in May, so many
strawberries in so many ways that we are entirely sick of them by the end,
wishing the season were done so we could dive into, I don’t know, blueberries
instead, until the utter lack of strawberries causes us after a while to
wistfully long for and eagerly anticipate their overwhelming return. 

 

Isn’t
there something precious about the anticipation of something you’ve been
without for a while, and the initial joy of its arrival, and the peace that
comes from such abundance that the thing becomes common and expected, and just
then, when you start to get sick of the thing, the relief of being entirely
done with it and left to start over again, waiting for its sweet return?

 

Where
else can we dive into a crop mentality? 
Here’s one:  I wonder if it’s
better for us to have all the quiet time in the world in winter to tuck up at
home and read books in dim light, and eat stews with our families, saving our travelling
and our visiting and our gallivanting to our summer months only.  We are a nation that seems to have entirely forgotten
how to constructively rest.  What if we
took the resting cues from our environment entirely to heart, to practice in
our lives?

 

Here’s
another:  I wonder if it’s better for us
to submerge ourselves in our tough times, rather than bravely acting as if
nothing is wrong as Americans are so often encouraged to do.  Would that help us to see that some things in
life are painful, but they are also normal, and after their time, they will come
to an end?  I think religious practices
like sitting shiva, as observant Jewish families do for a week after the burial
of a loved one, come from this crop-based view of life.  Does covering your mirrors and wearing somber
clothes and just sitting on low chairs in your house with everyone you love for
a week help you learn that yes, grief will surely come in life and when it does
we will immerse ourselves in it like zucchini in August – but like the
zucchini, it’s only overwhelming until the weather changes, and the time comes
for the next normal thing to take over - ?

 

I
read somewhere recently, and you astronomers can tell me if it’s true, that the
fecundity of our earth owes everything to its tilt.  Earth doesn’t sit in space straight up and
down.  Earth isn’t balanced.  If it were, the light would hit wrong and the
sun would be less effective and little would grow.  It’s the imbalance of the world that creates
its fertility.  I’m wondering these days
how much of our own creativity might be owed to our imbalances, our own
particular tilts, rather than our straight-up-and-downs.

 

I
used to think that life was more enjoyable when it followed the rain model and
everything was doled out in reasonable amounts. 
But what if the crop model, the feast or famine model, is far better
fuel for our creativity, and productivity, and true rest, and utter
appreciation of what we’ve got and what we can do.

 

There
is a Roman Catholic lay religious organization called the Xavarian Brothers
whose motto is:  In harmony, small things
grow. 

 

What
do they know that we may not?  If we accept
this crop-based pattern as the way life is supposed to be, the way to live in
harmony with the earth and with ourselves and each other, then what small
things might we grow? 

 

I
don’t want to glamorize anyone’s hunger. 
But if the trout run all year, and we aren’t longing for them and
waiting for them in the early spring, do we miss noticing those little oniony
ramp plants, the tiny ones that uncurl out of the ground and taste so good?

 

If
we stuff our faces all year long with long-traveled giant factory strawberries,
like I do, do we miss growing the small ability to really savor the first
seasonal berry eaten just after picking? 
That first berry just picked tastes better, and is appreciated more,
than a crate of the winter ones sent from far away.

 

If
we try to control the floods and droughts of our lives with whatever might pass
as dams and drainage, do we then learn to treat everything we do as common,
constant, not in need of our attention?  Conversely,
what small thing might grow when some other important part of our lives is
completely lacking, at least for a time? 
What new idea might come to you, when things are otherwise quiet?  What resourcefulness might grow, when
everything is difficult?  What skills do
you learn when you’re really busy, and how do all your ideas gel together when
you finally get to rest?

 

There’s
something to a life lived the way that crops grow.  There’s something there that has
promise.  Anytime we unpry our tense
little fingers from the world and let it run the wild and life-giving way in
which it is so inclined, we have the opportunity to learn something and become
something we weren’t before.  Yes,
sometimes we’ll be tempted to believe that this is the one year that no
tomatoes will come at all, so we better make sure we can get some in February
from Mexico.  Sometimes we’ll get so sick
of the zucchini that we don’t think we’ll ever miss it, not ever.  Sometimes there will be hungry times, right
before the trout run again, as they do every year. 

 

But
rather than trying to change it, how about if we trust the system.  Let the harmony move back into your world,
the way it once did 60 or 70 or 80 years ago. 
If you do, it’s just possible you’ll be lucky enough to see the small
things grow.  And that will be the most
valuable crop of all.

 

Amen.

 



[1]
Keith Urban, “Little Bit of Everything,” Fuse.  Released May 2013 by Capitol Records
Nashville.