God is in the Rain: Acknowledging Immanence
Rev. Cari Bourette, PsyD, 1/11/09
Last week there was a brief discussion about stories and story telling. This morning, I am going to continue the story telling theme with a collection of stories.
Those of you who have seen the movie “V for Vendetta,” know where “God is in the Rain” comes from. In this movie, one of the main characters, Evey Hammond, went through a period of great stress and personal transformation. Evey was locked in a cell and interrogated; she was very frightened and very alone. At a time of near despair, she found hidden in the wall of her cell, a story written by a previous occupant of that same cell, scrawled on toilet paper.
This story about that woman’s life helped Evey get through her own travails. She kept the little scroll hidden, and read it whenever she could. The story began, “My grandmother owned a farm, and she used to tell me that God was in the rain.” Later, Evey was released from the prison. She had been through so much, and was trying to make sense of it all. She walked outside and it was raining. She then experienced a moment where everything came together. She ran out further into the rain and held up her arms and understood. She looked up and shouted: “God is in the rain!”
Evey had one of those moments of extreme connection; some might call it an enlightenment experience. Her prison experience, the story, the grandmother’s words, the release from prison, the moment of truth, the rain that she found herself standing in—were all participating simultaneously. If she would have elaborated on her experience, she might have said something like: “Whatever it is that ‘God’ is, it is right here where I am, it is right here in the rain, it is right here in this very moment where I am and the rain is.”
Even if we haven’t exactly been through what Evey had, we can relate with the idea of going through a trying and painful experience. In general, for many, things are tough right now. Many in this country and in this world are going through a period of challenge and transition. There are those of us right here in this congregation that will be experiencing changes in our lives in the coming year and will have to make whatever adjustments are required.
However, it is in times of great challenge that people are often open to experiences of a spiritual nature beyond what they normally would be. Difficult times are disorienting. They force us to let go of our ideas of how things “should be.” This includes our preconceptions of how God or spirituality should work in day to day life. This idea of “God is in the rain” is referring to immanence. When God or the Divine is experienced right here where you are, within time and space, within the natural world, this is immanence.
I’m going to share several different stories to illustrate this. One from my life, and a few from people I know. I encourage you to recall your own stories of immanence, or to be open to a new one that is perhaps right around the corner.
These types of stories, shared with one another, can be a great source of strength and encouragement. They can help us remember that we are more than our problems, and can remind us, even in difficult times– that the universe is full of indescribable wonder. Theological differences don’t have to be an issue here. These are stories of experience. They are what they are. What any of them mean or imply as to the actuality of a God, or the realities of the Universe is a matter for personal reflection and interpretation. I’ll begin with one of my own stories.
My primary religious background through young adulthood was the Church of Christ. I learned that everything I needed to know about God was in the Bible. I learned the right way to worship, the right way to pray, and of course the one and only right way to be saved. I learned about God’s opinions about when and how sex should take place.
I often questioned what I was taught, but all questions were answered once and for all with the appropriate Bible quote. Somehow, in spite of all of this externally imposed rigidity, I still managed to maintain some sense of spirituality. Struggling to answer questions about sexuality and spirituality, I ended up at the door of the Metropolitan Community Churches. With a renewed sense of purpose and connection, I decided to answer the call to professional ministry.
With my extremely conservative background, attending seminary classes that were taught from a very liberal perspective was a traumatic experience. When I tried to challenge what was being taught by quoting from the Bible, I found that liberal theologians didn’t play by the same rules that I was used to. There were other authorities than the Bible, including your own thoughts and your own experience.
All of my nice, neat definitions of right and wrong, of God and salvation, were all being systematically dismantled. Then we began a section on feminine imagery of God, and the use of the word Goddess in referring to the divine. This made me quite anxious.
How many times had I been told that men were directly made in the image of God, and that women were somehow a second-hand creature made from the man-creation? This was the reason I was told over and over while I was still in the Church of Christ that a woman could not speak in church, let alone ever become a legitimate minister. This was a tender spot for me, and yet I had to deal with it somehow.
While struggling with these issues of faith, there were matters of a more mundane nature that were causing me angst. I had decided that the tires of my car must have some kind of magnet in them. They seemed to have developed an uncanny ability to attract very long screws. As I was driving on the freeway, I heard that sound… you know that thump, thump, thump sound. I pulled over and got out of the car to look.
The tire was completely torn up. It couldn’t be fixed. I had a spare, but only because the day before, when I had gotten my second flat tire that day, I had my car towed to a tire store and bought two new tires. This was just too much! What is going on here? I can’t afford to keep buying tires!
I called AAA to come change my tire. As I waited, I had a not-so-polite chat with God. I was angry. I was hurt. And, by the way, what good is God, if he can’t even keep you from getting flat tires? Maybe there isn’t even a God after all. Or, maybe I did something wrong and God was punishing me. “It must be that female God imagery stuff,” I thought. I had been giving it serious consideration, and apparently he must be offended and is letting me know.
I was getting bored waiting, so I picked up an essay I had written that was sitting in the back seat of the car. It was on the Book of Job and was called, “Experiencing God in Stress and Loss.” I looked at it, rolled my eyes, and gave a great big, “Hah!” But, I read it anyway.
It reminded me that in stressful times that it’s normal to get upset or angry with God for allowing or even causing the problems that we are faced with. It suggested that I reconsider the whole notion of God causing the problems, and instead look to God as someone or something that is present with me as I go through the situation. And above all it was pretty clear that the idea that God was punishing me for something wrong that I had done was oppressive and abusive theology.
I sat with that for a minute, considering this lecture I had just given myself while I continued to wait for the tow truck to show up. Finally, it arrived. Then, SHE stepped out of the truck. I had never before seen a woman tow truck driver, and I had seen a lot of tow truck drivers, especially recently. Although a woman driver was unusual, it wasn’t extraordinary. But as she walked towards me, I noticed that her T-Shirt had a word on. It was only three letters, but it dropped my jaw. They were G-O-D.
I didn’t say much as she changed my tire. I noticed that I had never felt so nurtured and well taken care of by a tow truck driver before. As she left I was feeling awe-struck and overwhelmed. My reality for that moment was that GOD just showed up in a tow truck driver and that SHE changed my tire.
During this experience, there were no natural laws suspended or broken. Yet I was left with a feeling that something profound had taken place, something beyond explanation. There was a string of events here that all came together in a way that perfectly fit what I needed to get through a very rough time. The faith crisis about feminine God imagery, the flat tires, reading my own words on experiencing God in times of stress, and a very nice woman with GOD on her shirt that changed my tire, all came together in one event right where I was. This is immanence.
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Daniel came from an opposite extreme. He was convinced that everything that was knowable and important could be discovered through science and science alone. He had no interest in such silliness as God or religion. Then he met Annie. She was a strange one. Annie seemed to have a mystical take on everything. She was into such things as medicine wheels and spirit guides and power animals.
Daniel took Annie to a family vacation house out in the country. It was supposed to be a nice place to relax and get away from everything. However, in the week ahead, Daniel’s reality was about to get severely challenged, over and over. When they arrived, they found that the water wasn’t working; no water was coming out of the pipes. The well was dry. Daniel called someone local to come dig a new well.
One of the men who showed up was a specialist in finding water. As he took out his trusty water-finding instrument, Daniel knew he was in for trouble. It was a stick with two branches coming off of it—a diving rod! As the guy walked back and forth across the acreage the stick would bob up and down. Supposedly, it would go down if water was underneath. Daniel was watching all of this, and started getting really uncomfortable with this nutty charade he was looking at. When he couldn’t stand it any longer, he walked over to the guy, and said, “Let me see that.”
Daniel walked back and forth with the stick. He first went over the area where there had been little sign of bobbing up and down of the rod. He was establishing a control. He was going to be scientific about this. He then walked over to the area where the strange old man had said he had found water. To his surprise, the stick pointed down as he got near it.
So, Daniel decided to try something different. He moved back and started towards the area again. This time he made a run for it. If he could run right past that spot without the stick moving he would prove the null hypothesis– that nothing really happened. As he ran up to the area of the supposed water, the stick went down and hit the ground hard. It bounced, and flew out of his hand.
Daniel screamed. This was so NOT OK! This could not have happened. Everyone knows this kind of thing just doesn’t really happen. However, Annie had a hard time understanding exactly what Daniel’s problem was.
That week in the country was full of events that were outside of what Daniel considered normal. He had difficulty with Annie’s mysticism and Native American spirituality, but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all. He had a frog jump on his shoulder and look at him, a bee showed up one morning as his “power animal.”
One eventful day, he was wading in a pond and was enthusiastically nibbled on by fish, and when he stepped out the sky turned bright silver. He looked up and there was an eagle flying towards the pond, and then it began circling around it. Another eagle flew towards the pond and joined the first. Then came another and another. After awhile all four eagles flew away. First one, then the second, then the third, and then the forth.
Each of the experiences of that week was awesome and overwhelming. All of them together, for Daniel, were life changing. The entire week, the water not working, the old man with the divining rod, the frog, the bee, the fish, the eagles, Annie as a guide to help him try to make sense of it all. It was Nature interacting with Daniel right where he was. This too is immanence.
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Immanent experiences don’t always have to be this dramatic, and they don’t always have to be life changing. If we are paying attention, we may find these moments of connection and things coming together in smaller, but no less profound ways. There is a professor in the religious studies department at Western who was teaching a class I was taking on Monasticism.
We went on a field trip to the Gethsemane monetary just outside of Elizabethtown. We were all outside at lunch sitting on the grass, and some of us for some reason started picking clovers and looking for one with four leaves. He asked us what we were doing. We told him. He pulled one up nonchalantly and looked at it. “This one seems to have four leaves.”
Now we had been doing this for awhile, and no one had been successful. My response was simply, “Wow!” “How did you do that?” He replied, in his unattached way, “I just pulled one up.” And as he said that, he reached down as before and pulled up another four leaf clover. While this event was not life changing, the effect was still one of awe and wonderment for some us that “something happened” here right in front of us, right with us, right where we were. There was a feeling of connection with the Universe, with the Earth, and with each other. This again is immanence.
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One further example is a story my friend Gretchen told me. She had been thinking about a dresser that would look good in her room. She had a picture in her mind of what it might look like. Later that day, she was driving around and saw one just like it on the curb. That very day, it ended up in her room.
This is a very simple story with a very practical result, and yet it was still a memorable experience and worthy of acknowledging by sharing it. The tell tale signs were there: a feeling of awe and wonderment, of “Wow! Something happened here” and I was a part of it. There was the connection of the image of the dresser, the dresser on the curb, and the happening to be there at the right moment. This is immanence as well.
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While always somewhat profound to experience, immanence can be a normal part of everyday life. Sharing these types of stories is a way to acknowledge to ourselves and to each other that these types of experiences do happen. Also, sharing experiences is the best way to keep them.
In these times of global upheaval and economic downturn, life can get rather trying. During the Great Depression, many people turned to religion to find meaning in their lives, and an answer to the question of why is this happening? At that time, the Unitarian church lost membership. I challenge us to do something different this time.
It’s not for us to give people answers. We are good at encouraging people to find their own. We don’t want to mess with that. Perhaps in addition to valuing independent thought and individual theological understanding, we can balance that with more sharing together in the mystery of spiritual experience. Telling of our personal stories of how we interact with the Divine, with Nature, and with events in general can enhance our sense of connection with our own stories, and very importantly strengthen our bonds with each other.
The last thing anyone needs in times such as we’re beginning to experience is a sense of isolation, of I have to get through this on my own. One way of doing this is in the small groups that already exist, at a meal after the Sunday service, or even in an event such as a monthly Share the Mystery night where we share our latest spiritual adventures with each other. I don’t have the answer, but I challenge us to consider this further. The evangelicals don’t have a corner on spiritual experience. Let’s make sure we remember that, and remind each other by sharing our stories.
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Cari Bourette has an extremely diverse background. Her degrees range from a Bachelor’s degree in Physics to a Master’s in Counseling and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. While working as a software Engineer for an international aerospace corporation she attended the required seminary classes for ordination as a minister in the Metropolitan Community Churches and completed a year of clergy internship.
In learning and experiencing a diversity of theological understandings, her personal theology broadened from a relatively conservative Christian framework to a more universal one–and she found that she could not complete the final steps in becoming a clergy person in a Christian church. She completed an alternative credentialing process, and started a center for emotional and spiritual healing. In 2003, she moved to Kentucky and has been researching combining the discipline of science with archetypes or common themes found in religion. She applies this research on a daily basis in her current work with A New Story Foundation.
The message is about encouraging people to recognize those moments of “connection” or “immanence” in their lives, and to share those stories with each other to bring hope and encouragement in increasingly uncertain and difficult times.
- Opening Words: 526
- Opening Hymn: 83 “Winds Be Still”
- Responsive Reading: 611
- Closing Song: 346 “Come, Sing a Song with me”
- Closing Words: 701