Monday, October 22, 2007

Praying for Rain

(From the Anglican General Synod in Canberra)

In a General Synod so far dominated by procedural and legislative concerns, one large and pressing issue has made its presence felt – water.

At the time of writing, Synod was waiting to deal with scheduled motions addressing the environment, and an unscheduled proposal to give a large slab of the national Church’s financial reserves to Dioceses affected by the drought.

Local delegates from the Canberra-Goulburn Diocese have made clear their own concern and struggles arising from the drought. A bus trip from Canberra to Goulburn was also a visible reminder of the challenge facing rural Australia. One leader at the opening prayers was visibly moved, choking on the words “God, send the rain”.

The need to place an issue so wrenching in words of deep, even desperate, prayer is real. The Psalms reflect the same deep honesty of those who suffer deeply from natural or human causes, and who call out to God seeking relief and even challenging God, asking why they have none.

The yearning for God’s intervention is profound when it is “doxological” – in the immediate context of prayer, as the transparent statement of our deepest longings and hopes. Yet praying for rain does not have quite the same significance when made “systematic” – as a general statement of Christian belief about the world and its relation to God.

The Church cannot afford to make it seem that praying for rain is the major, let alone the sole, form of Christian response to this crisis. The risks are various. First there is the danger of a crudely mechanistic view of God’s activity, as though divine presence consisted in otherwise unexplained alterations in natural patterns and processes. Second, there is danger of a transactional view of God as a sort of cosmic concierge who fixes things when asked properly, or often enough.

Faith is deciding to make sense of life from the perspective of the ultimate. Droughts as well as storms, and everything in between, are capable of being signs, and not just when they are either surprising or yearned for.

Christian faith in particular places the cross at the centre of history. It is a sign of God’s triumph, but a paradoxical one. To see God in Christ is to acknowledge that God’s solution to human suffering and crisis is not as easy – for God or for us – as pulling meteorological or political strings. God’s response is first that of solidarity with us, of sharing in our sufferings and our hopes.

This does not have to mean that fatalism is the preferred alternative to the cry of hope for rain. Much of what we suffer – including, it seems, climate change – is the result of our exercise of freedom, and the consequence of our failure to use it properly. To expect that relief should come from the clouds without significant change in our patterns of life is as much impious as naïve. The Church must change its own practice, partner with those most deeply affected, and challenge the whole community to treat the gift of creation with reverence.

And then, still, pray: “God, send the rain”.