It’s a dry season here in the Bay Area. Brown hills holding their gnarly oaks roll east from the Pacific toward the Sierras. “We need rain,” a friend said. “As always,” I said. “Tahoe was down fifteen feet,” someone else told me. “No snow pack I guess,” I lamented.
Man has always battled the natural world, has always been subject to “Mother Nature,” a fickle mother. When we are dry, she doesn’t always give us rain, and we have learned to store water in great basins carved from our mountains and valleys. We do not want to be prodigal with the gift of rain; we must ration it for the future.
And as Joseph instructed the Egyptian pharaoh, we build storehouses for our grain. We use our intellect to breed better crops to feed not just ourselves, but the world. We invent better machinery to deliver food from farm to table. But even so, we can’t control the weather. We still do rain dances; we pray and plan in the full years to be ready for the lean ones. We have savings accounts, or wish we had. We buy insurance or wish we had. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “See a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.”
We are little people doing battle with the the great universe. And yet we have these huge egos, believing we can fly close to the sun with waxen wings. We are the boy David facing the cosmic Goliath with a sling and a stone. We are full of hubris, pride that goes before the fall, the Greek nemesis. We want to be our own gods. We do not see our wings melting.
I sometimes wonder how these great contrasts between reality and unreality, between who we are and who we imagine we are, live together in our souls. I suppose such pride can be good, for it propels us forward, encourages us to create as God creates, drives us to better our world and its peoples using a mind that reflects God’s own, made in his image. Somewhere deep inside, beyond politically correct and cool and longing for acceptance, we want to be good and true. There is a kernel of humility in each of us, a mustard seed that we want to water to grow to be fully good.
Christians explain this dynamic between good and evil, humility and pride by pointing to our innate goodness having come from our very creation, being made in God’s image, birthed by his love. We point to our sinfulness – our desire to disobey God – as having come from our fallen nature. Somewhere deep within our human beginnings, deep within the garden we call Eden, so long ago, we made a wrong turn, and that turn led to other wrong turns, which led to others.
The saints are those who try to correct those wrong turns, those who try to re-turn onto the right path. We want to learn from them for they know the way, opening themselves to God through prayer and sacrament. They scour their hearts through confession and repentance, re-turning. They prepare a place for God to live, to dwell within. We tell the stories of the saints to one another and to our children. We tell of saints from the past and the present, yes even some who live among us, so that we might touch the hem of their garment, so that we might learn how to re-turn onto the right path as they have done.
As Christians, we have a way, a path out of the jungle into the light into God himself. When we are thirsty, we have sacramental fountains and scriptural rivers of water and life that make sense of all the dry seasons. We store our water and grain in the heart of the Church, so that we will not thirst or hunger.
We have a way forward as we move among one another, healing and loving as God heals and loves, allowing him to work in and through us. So that the natural world – with its storms or lack of storms, with its heat and its cold, with its lions that devour and bears that maul – is set in perspective. It is a good world, but a not-always-friendly world. Yet its goodness lies at the heart of each seed sprouting to the light. We know this is true. So it is good for us to use our talents as best we can to be good caretakers, producing foods and storing water for a hungry and thirsty world.
We are in the dry season. Fall is coming soon. The leaves will die and turn and drop to the earth in glorious color. We too will die and turn and drop to the earth, our ashen flesh becoming dust, our souls bursting in their own glorious color as they wing to the light. We watch and we pray and we give thanks for it all, for the goodness of even the dry times, for the harvest of God is always plentiful.