Last Sunday at the little country church the congregation sang “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” The drought, heat, and now the recent ravaging prairie fires have made us Nebraskans continually aware of the need we have of rain. It’s a shared longing. It’s the prayer of our hearts. There shall be showers of blessing; Send them upon us, O Lord.
Right in the middle of singing the hymn, I thought how childlike it is to imagine God up in the sky deciding whether and where to send down the needed rain. Deciding on the basis of what? Our prayers? Our conduct? As we all know, the hymn-writer used rainfall only as a metaphor for spiritual blessings upon the soul. And Jesus himself said that our Father in heaven sendeth the rain on the just and on the unjust.
Why pray for rain, then? Why ask, humbly and persistently, for our daily bread, for guidance, for mercy, for pardon, for peace? I have been thinking on these things. Such prayers, if they tell of our hearts’ true yearnings, may cause us to realize how little in life is within our control and influence, how much in life can be received only as a gift.
There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.
–(Daniel Whittle, 1840-1901
”One day closer to the rain,” my Uncle Albert used to say, standing in the doorway of his barn, studying the sky. There shall be showers of blessing. Oh, that today they might fall.
The belief that we humans carry within us a little bit of God’s own light may be attributed to Quaker thought. At least I have read of this teaching among Quakers, referred to as the universal saving light. We humans are made in the image of our Creator, as Genesis says. It goes without saying that we can obscure and all but obliterate this reflection of the Divine in various destructive ways. But it was there to start with, and God remembers.
The poem did not set out to illustrate my belief. Not at first. I saw the fireflies outside in the yard, their light made poignant to me by its brevity. A firefly reaches adulthood with about three weeks to live, if I understand correctly.
These latest nights in June they ride
the air in and out of the little wood
where is hid your house
sending their signal flashes of cool fire
even after you have left the porch
and come inside to sleep.
Like all inhabiting your life unnoticed,
friend, they bear aloft their light
whereof you do not know.
I never do this, let someone read a poem before I am sure it is done. Who am I kidding? I only have never done this before online. A new poem is a newborn creature, a baby calf or foal struggling to stand up for the first time. I could not have written here about anything else, not this morning.
There is a delicate line between honest human feeling and sentimentality. I hope that by keeping the focus on the husband’s clothing–the white shirt, in particular–the poem shows a decent amount of restraint and is not too sweet.
In the first line the speaker uses “barely an hour” to express minor annoyance with her husband for not staying indoors to get his needed rest. Notice how her feelings change as the poem goes along.
Our Sunday Afternoon
We’re barely home from church an hour
when he goes out to water the tomatoes;
this hot wind, he says, is so relentless.
There’s a little slope from the house
down to the garden. I watch from here
at the window, see his momentary
hesitation as he stands against the wind,
white dress shirt and trousers billowing
behind him, his two canes and his two legs
to hold him up. And I stay until he has
reached the garden and is settled into
his outdoor chair in the orchard’s shade.
I should like to keep a memory of the way
the wind-tossed spray dampens those white
cuffs, dried as soon again in that dappled light.