Here in California, we’re blessed with a long growing season. The flowers I planted in May sometimes keep blooming into November. The problem, though, is that usually around late September, remembering to care for the flowers tends to fall off my radar. Maybe it has something to do with the onslaught of the first big essays that come in about five weeks after the start of school, the bane of every English teacher’s existence; I find myself having to put down the Miracle-Gro and snail bait and reluctantly take up a grading pen. So although my flowers are theoretically still blooming in mid-October, they are usually looking a bit leggy and wilty and neglected.
Not a bad metaphor for my prayer life these days, actually.
Last Tuesday evening, I realized that it had been at least a week and a half since I last spent a quiet evening session at my prayer desk. And I was feeling it. I felt at all once edgy and restless and dry and flat.
So about ten o’clock, I sat down at the prayer desk and lit the candle. And just as I did, I heard a roll of thunder off in the distance. There’s something thrilling about thunder, especially here in this part of the country where we don’t get it very often. I prayed a decade of the rosary and then the rain started: not a drizzle but actual rain, the kind of rain we haven’t had here since spring, the kind of rain that the thirsty dry earth was just dying to receive. Hearing it on the roof was very, very comforting.
And yet somehow, my mind just wouldn’t settle. I tried to pray but my mind, supercharged with tasks and obligations and deadlines, seemed to resist the peace.
Then an idea flashed into mind: maybe simply listening to the rain would be, in itself, a kind of prayer. And then I realized that I didn’t just want to listen to the rain. I wanted to smell the rain.
So I opened the window that looks out onto the backyard. The air was cool and it was totally dark outside, and there was that smell, that amazing smell of damp dirt and cold pavement and wet trees, a rich smell that made me breathe deeply. The sound of the rain was so much louder with the window open, a steady background beat punctuated by random drips falling off of the leaves just outside the window, and it was almost as good as being outside. I ended up blowing out the scented candle on my prayer desk, because nothing can compare to the smell of a garden during the first rain of the season. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and didn’t consciously think of much of anything besides what was happening on the other side of the screen.
I’d like to say that it completely settled my unquiet mind. It didn’t. I got up from the prayer desk fifteen minutes later and the massive list of things to do was still there, sitting like a boulder in the middle of my consciousness.
But some little thirst was sated by that quiet quarter-hour in the rain. Some of the dust was washed away, and my prayer life doesn’t feel quite as dry as it did before. It’s been refreshed, subtly and unexpectedly, by something I didn’t anticipate, something I couldn’t have controlled if I wanted to. All I could do was receive it and let it work on me and in me.
I think there’s a lesson there.