Living in California during its recent drought, I prayed in concert with thousands, even millions, of people for rain, ritually and regularly. Reservoirs were low; the mountain snow was thin and melted too early. Relentless blue but dry skies hinted at earth’s exhaustion. Throughout the state, people prayed – in parishes and synagogues, and mosques; on their knees in church, with their friends holding hands, and alone in forests. And when finally it rained, the parched ground becoming sated at last, I somehow imagined these same people might want to offer thanks, having prayed so hard. Many did, and many did not.
The ancient Hebrews experienced drought when they turned away from God to worship “the Baals,” foreign yet impotent gods. The Baals could not make it rain.
At the time, my view of the drought tended to be human-centric: it was all about me. My need for rain. How long, I wondered, would it be before I could take a shower again without turning the water off to soap? When would I be able to water the garden? But water issues – and those of earth – are not about me. They are about all of us.
We all know that human-related weather and climate issues are real. The California drought did not end; it moved to Germany. Melting Greenland ice recently turned a dangerous corner, while super-storms wipe out whole towns. Does this winter feel surprisingly cold? It is, unnaturally so. Were you aware that the Colorado River pretty much never reaches the ocean because human beings withdraw so much of its water? In Tennessee, where I now live, the Smoky Mountain haze, once caused by humidity, is caused primarily by pollution.
To the extent Scripture is to be regarded at all – the natural question one might ask is: did we [humans] cause the California drought? Worshipping the Baals, and all. Perhaps Californians in particular and global citizens in general were not worshiping literal Baals, but what about the gods of lifestyle? The gods of superfluous excess, those deities that demand its worshippers live to excess?
A few years back, I cancelled my subscription to Outside magazine. I am an active person who likes to read about adventure. I cancelled my subscription because the editorial trend troubled me. Feature writers no longer told stories about ordinary people attempting extraordinary adventures, they told stories only about extraordinary people attempting impossible adventures. It was no longer enough to run a simple marathon; to be adventurous, you had to run 300 miles through a desert with a pack on your back. You had to enter the Tough Man race in England and slosh through swamps, slide on your belly under barbed-wire fencing, surmount absurdly impossible barriers, and run through fire. Which makes me wonder…
When is enough, enough? The god of excess, and could it be that our inadvertent worship of this god caused the California drought? Climate change? Who walks or rides the bike to work anymore? Who waits until summer to eat peaches? These questions are not political, they are spiritual. My appetite seems insatiable, so what a nerve I have praying for rain, just so I can take a longer shower.
But I did pray for rain, as did so many, many other people. But these days, I pray for mercy. Not just for me, but for the trees and the birds. The Tennessee white and red oaks, and the bear and the deer and the red-tailed hawks. My prayer is that our God will have mercy on all of creation, rather than on my way of life. My prayer includes a line for amendment of life – that I might develop the will and strength to change what needs to be changed in and about me, and in and about our global society. I would like, when all is said and done, to leave the campground in better condition than I found it.
I know of one spiritual trait that will help me with all of this – simplicity. To practice simplicity, and to live gratefully.