Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rainbows



When you think of rainbows, what’s your first response? Your first imaginings?

As a child, I loathed rainbows. I refused to draw them, except under duress. I would much rather draw dragons, thank you, and trees, if I had to draw something besides dragons. Perhaps it is because I was a child in the 70’s and early 80’s, and the rainbow was then a symbol of the pursuit of personal ecstasy, of fantasy happiness. I mistrusted me-centric, teddy bear filled and artificial strawberry scented happiness, and so I mistrusted rainbows, which I associated with them. The rainbows I saw most often had nothing or little do with the rainbows of nature or the rainbow as a sign of the Holy’s covenant with the descendents of Noah, that is, all of humanity.

Last spring, I spent a wonder-filled hour watching rainbows form and reform on the edge of a storm during a long, slow spring dawn. I lived in wonderment and found my spirit renewed and refreshed, discovering great wells of gratitude filled by that simple experience. As I sat later, I thought about Noah and the rainbow as sign of the Holy’s covenant with all of humanity. There is a new creation, a new hope, but there was also incredible grief and suffering. The rainbow is a sign that means a season of trouble and terror has past.

Yet Noah and his family also have to come to terms with the terrible destruction the Holy has wrought. They’ve survived, but so many have not. They’ve come through, but their friends are lost, their homelands irrevocably altered. They’re exiles even as they have been saved. They have to rebuild their lives and start again. And they had little choice in the matter. How can they not live in fear and trembling all their lives? How can they trust the Holy? How can they find a blessing and call it good? The Holy has to recovenant with Noah and his family. And then they all have to live into those promises, day by day.

Each day we have a chance to reconnect to our promises to the Holy and the Holy’s promises to us. Many days we’ll be grieving, hurting, struggling. Many times in our lives we’re likely to have to learn to trust again, to learn to bless and be blessed. But we cannot forget the promise of joy.  Joy transcends how many donuts or teddy bears we have. Joy is not the same thing as ecstasy, for joy follows struggle and grief, involves enduring for a blessing, carrying on in our sacred promises even when there is no immediate reward.  For Noah and his family, renewal came through the waters of destruction and the tears of grief. The rainbow reminds us that when the waters recede, joy may flower.

Many christians are embarking on a penitential season, a season of turning, that begins on  Wednesday February 22 and continues until Easter.  It is a time of recovenanting, of attending to the struggle and to our failings, and of turning back to our holy promises anew. There is grief in all of this, yes, and there is also joy, wonderment, hope. We need not  avoid the rainbow, the fig bursting forth in new fruit, the sun warming the earth and shining as the cloud cover breaks. There are signs of wonder and of blessing to carry us onward and encourage us for yet another day.

Cazin, Jean-Charles, 1841-1901. Village Street with a Rainbow, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=50267

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