The swell of clouds rode into Dennis, Massachusetts that afternoon like a demon tangled in a little girl’s white dress. Today I realized that almost all of the best days of my life involve being caught outside in the rain. I think it’s something about the atmosphere shift that illuminates the previously arid world we once inhabited.
Derek and I sprinted from his car to the outdoor patio of a seafood place in this tiny surf town. Earlier that day I had sprinted along the coast as the clouds gathered opposite the sand bank protecting the shore. There was a shark watch at the time, but I saw the heads of seals bobbing in and out of the water, so I knew it was safe to dive in at the end of my run.
Today I’m working on an exercise given me by my counselor which delves deep into my past and the highs and lows in the life of Ethan Renoe. It’s simultaneously really hard and beautifully illuminating. Some of the memories are hard to revisit because they introduced a painful belief or a longsuffering wound. Others ache to call to mind because of how beautiful and pure the moments are and I long to return to them with everything inside of me.
But I can’t. Time only moves in one direction and I’m caught in her cruel current.
The summer of 2012 was easily the highlight of my life. It was the summer I was homeless on Cape Cod and living on the beach working as a stand-up paddleboard instructor. I had no car and no home. Every day was as fresh and exciting as the sunrise spattered across the morning sky. I didn’t even have a smartphone yet, so my mind was yet unadulterated by constant updates and anxious scrolling. I have very few pictures from this summer despite how beautiful the entire season was (The picture above is one of the few saved on my flip phone).
There was the day Bita and I were showing her friend’s cousin around and once again the warm rain struck. We had driven quite a way to find a ridiculously long dock which you could jump off at several spots.
One of my favorite things in the entire world is jumping off of things into water. (Even when I happen to kick a barnacle)
It was the end of July, as it is now, and we were caught in the warm rain, springing from the falling droplets into the brackish Atlantic; the tide was barely high enough to dive into the bay and we carelessly threw ourselves in.
Later, after driving back toward the mainland, we stopped at a path I’d wandered many times growing up. Today was different though. The woods were silent save the rain hitting leaves and the mist rising around the trunks of the trees.
The three of us were dressed in swimsuits and took off through the mud and puddles, dashing barefoot through the wet woods and experiencing a very surreal moment.
Then there was the rainy day in Thailand we walked past the trees draped in orange priest robes to reach the giant white Buddha resting atop the mountain.
The same happened years later when a storm rolled into Chicago and some boys from my dorm and I ran to the lake to see the gray sky penetrating the gray waters. Rain has a way of making even the busiest cities fall silent beneath its droplets. We dove into Lake Michigan as it was being broken up by the falling water.
Even years after that, I returned to the same lake during a midnight thunderstorm with my best friend. We ran barefoot through the city’s streets, even diving into the lake as it was being struck by lightning. (Not the best idea, but a heckuva rush)
The rain makes me feel alive.
There’s something messy about it, but at the same time cleansing.
It’s paradoxically peaceful yet active.
It’s vibrant but gray.
Rain is a singular thing made up of billions of things.
I’m teaching through Genesis for a few weeks at my church, and Rain is an interesting character in the book. Chapter 2 tells us that prior to the flood, rain never fell on the ground, but rather, streams rose up from the ground.
This is awesome because it makes Noah seem even more crazy to the people around him, telling them that water will fall from the heavens and flood the earth. Because that had literally never happened before. Knowing that gives new shape to the amount of faith Noah had when God told him a flood was coming. It’s one thing to hear that rain is coming that will flood the world; it’s another entirely when rain has never fallen from the sky before!
And when the rain does come, the Hebrew says that “the floodgates of the heavens were opened.” Put yourself in the shoes of a Hebrew several millennia ago: You have no idea what the sky is, what clouds are, or how far up anything is. You don’t know what the sun or moon is, nor do you know that stars are the same as the sun, just further away.
Suddenly all these things vanish and water starts to fall.
Like it does today.
To this day, the floodgates of the heavens still open and refresh us and bathe us. The water grows our crops and quenches our thirst.
Little pieces of heaven still fall on us, renewing our world and reminding us that there is peace in the chaos and stillness in the commotion.
One droplet of rain won’t flood the earth or change your life, but a collection of many billions will. And it is the chorus of raindrops that moves us and stills us. It is this gathered water that transports me back to that bay off Cape Cod or the Thai mountaintop.
When the floodgates of heaven open, pay attention.
Maybe it’s just me, but crazy things happen when we find ourselves caught in the rain. There is an enormous amount of freedom in letting go of your kempt and dry conditions and letting yourself run free, letting yourself be washed and allowing your skin to drink in the water.
Perhaps your preferred method of communing with the Transcendent is something else. Maybe it’s snow, books, motorcycles, or stargazing. Whatever it is, pay attention. The Lord is vast and imminent. He is both incredibly far and unutterably close. For me, the rain is something that brings the heavens down to earth and reminds me of the nearness of God.