Showers of blessing

Neither my wife nor I grew up on a farm. The closest we’ve come is vegetable gardening: tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, beans, corn, even broccoli. We were always careful to prepare the ground well, but the results were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, the zucchini practically grew themselves, and we always got more peppers than we could actually use. But the corn, on the other, though sweet, was always plagued with aphids. Tomatoes were particularly finicky. And the green beans were a lot of work to harvest, as they played hide-and-seek among the green leaves.

One year, we got a brilliant idea: why not plant yellow beans? That will make them easy to find! We had no idea the leaves would still come out the same color as the beans.

Guess we’re not as clever as either Mother Nature or Father God.

One thing we never had to worry about, though, was water. Plants need a lot of water in the hot summer sun of Southern California. For some things, I’d set up drip irrigation; others we’d water by hand. But in those pre-drought years, we gave little thought to the ready availability of life-giving water. All we had to do was turn a spigot, and there it was.

Year after year of drought and wildfire in California has given us a new appreciation for water, and for the blessing of rain. Every time a few drops fall from the sky, we’re grateful — and we pray for more. Yet we still don’t know what it’s like to depend directly upon a good season of rain to be able to have food to eat.

The psalmists, I think, knew this much better. For them, rain wasn’t a metaphorical blessing, but a real one, a sign of the love and sustaining goodness of God.

. . .

Psalm 65 expresses the psalmist’s joy in the providence of God as tangibly demonstrated in a bountiful green earth. The psalmist seems to begin by coming to the temple to offer sacrifice. Drinking in the goodness and holiness of God’s house, the psalmist remembers the power of God to rescue his people (vs. 5). From there, the vision takes a cosmic turn: God establishes the mountains and stills the seas, and everyone is in awe of his works (vss. 6-8a).

But the dominant note is one of joy. It’s as if the psalmist hears the music of creation as the sun rises and sets (vs. 8b); the hills and valleys, pastures and meadows sing and shout for joy (vss. 12-13). The psalmist seems to envision the blessing of a good rain, which softens the ground and leads to the blessing of a good and plentiful crop:

You visit the earth and make it abundant,
    enriching it greatly
        by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
    because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
        leveling its ridges,
    you soften it with rain showers;
        you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
    your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
(vss. 9-12, CEB)

Here, I envision the furrowed ground, its ridges baked hard by the sun. The land has been plowed, the seeds have been planted. But there is no spigot to turn. All the work that can be done has been done, and now, the people must wait for rain, for the skies to open and pour blessing from God’s heavenly stream.

At last, the rain comes: can you picture it? The ground speckles as the drops fall, a few at first, and then steadily. The hard-packed ridges darken and soften as the rain loosens the clods. The soil drinks greedily at first. Then, here and there, you see pools of water beginning to form as the ground becomes saturated; the furrows begin to fill with water. In time, green shoots poke through the soil, the sign of new life. Seedlings grow into crops, until the hills and valleys are blanketed with food and grazing sheep, and the entire blessed scene sings out in praise to God: “The meadowlands are covered with flocks, the valleys decked out in grain—they shout for joy; they break out in song!” (vs. 13).

. . .

Meditating on this passage, I began to imagine it as a metaphor for Sabbath rest. The work of plowing and planting must be done. But after that comes a necessary period of waiting. It’s futile and even counterproductive to continue to plow the same field. Nor can we avoid the waiting by plowing still other fields.

We must await the rain.

And the rain comes, softening the hard places, loosening and enriching the soil, creating the conditions necessary for new growth to spring forth. We cannot force that growth by simply working harder. It comes as a blessing, given while we wait.

That is the cycle, the rhythm. We do indeed have work to do, and we must do it well and diligently.

But at some point, we have to take our hands off the plow and wait for the heavens to open.

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