When my kids were younger, we’d spend August vacations at one of the South Carolina beaches just north of Charleston. The South Carolina August is always hot, and the occasional stiff ocean breeze never assuaged my lethargy. As a jogger, I found myself relegated to early morning runs to beat the heat, but even then, the tepid overnight temperatures laced with humidity would take their toll. Using the word, “hell,” might seem like hyperbole, but not by much.
I remember one August day when it rained all day long. Typically, coastal South Carolina spawns afternoon thunderstorms pretty much daily by the conflagration of conflicting airflows, thunderous humidity bumping into cooler ocean air. On this particular day, however, the rain was different. It was steady, having started late the night before and continuing lazily through the following afternoon. I decided to jog anyway, that morning, in the rain.
Running in the rain may not sound like your idea of fun, but a southern summer rain is warm and lonely in that lovely sort of way. I ran, and the drizzle fell to silence, like snow in winter, the graceful hush stilling both ocean and soul. I ran, and thought only of beauty and love and God, of friends and grace and kindness, of the past and present and future. Ocean waves tumbled rhythmically, slipping water serenely onto the beach near my footfall. I recalled then and there why I like rain, why dark days don’t bother me the way they do some people.
I wanted to share the exquisite sense I had with my kids and their cousin who had joined us for the trip, all teenagers, so I woke them early to walk with me on the beach. I thought they might want to experience the solitary side of the beach for a change, to walk without an umbrella or any apparatus protecting them from nature and God. The four of us walked and combed the beach for sand dollars, shells, jellyfish and sponges. That beach – normally crowded – was virtually empty. After a while, we found our way to the northern end of the barrier island where we saw pelicans lining a spit of sandbar just off in the water, a congregation convened for prayer and praise.
That is when I thought of churches, my own in particular, but all of them. Our own spits of sandbar, where we convene likewise for prayer and praise. Most congregations organize themselves around the sunny summer days, when, in the words of George Gershwin, the livin’s easy. But, what of those rainy days when we as God’s people feel the need to hang close to home? We metaphorically huddle together, reading novels or playing board games. Rainy days, and don’t they offer some idiosyncratic gift of holy silence and transcendence? Don’t they strengthen deep roots that secure trunks of faith? In churches, too, not just families.
It would be trite for me to refer to the storms of life, the deepening of roots, the strengthening of trunks. Yet, there is something deeply spiritual about drizzling rain and its attendant solitude. Isn’t there?
And what of the church? Our little spits of sandbar. Living through rainy days. Do we despair that just because the sandbar seems to be shifting with tides, that it will at last disappear? In the rain? Or is God preparing for something else, something extraordinary, just letting us – for the time being – hang together? In prayer and praise.