Sunday, 17 November 2013

How The Rainbow Works

This blogspot was originally published on 17th November 2013... 

Please watch the clip above before reading on...

Last Saturday I was driving down the road that links the two congregations I serve. I was in a hurry, I had an urgent appointment to make. Someone needed to speak to me over a very important matter, something was seriously troubling him. I remember I was growing increasingly frustrated at the slow moving traffic. I have lost count of number of times I’ve got stuck on that road. By now the weather was beginning to turn quite ugly. The song “Storm Clouds” by New Model Army was blaring out of my stereo, it is an aggressive and intense number. I could feel a bit of a storm brewing inside of me, so I began to connect to my breath and relaxed. As I did I began to look up above the line of traffic, probably in desperation, asking that ludicrous question, why does this always happen to me? As I did I was confronted by an incredible sight, the most intense skyline I have seen in some time. The blackest clouds I can ever recall and just in front of them was a beautiful vision, just the most luminous double rainbow.

I continued onward the traffic was clearing by now and then the heavens opened. Not just bouncing intense rain, but hailstones too. Weather of Biblical proportions I thought. I arrived at my destination and had the privilege of engaging in the most beautiful and open conversation I have had for some time.

I left a few hours later and by now all was once again calm outside. As I walked to my car I recalled the image I had seen in the middle of my frustrations. That double rainbow which shone ever more brightly against those dark thundering storm clouds. This got me thinking once again, more about that song that I had been listening to than the dramatic sky. I was particularly thinking of the chorus and the following lyrics.

“There's a line of shadows on the far horizon. It could be stormclouds and it could be mountains. All my life I've been gazing to the far horizon. It could be stormclouds and it could be mountains.”

It got me thinking about what I see when I look out onto the world. Do I see stormclouds and the terror they can bring or do I see mountains? What do any of us see see when you look out of our windows and gaze at the far horizon?

We are very fortunate in this country that we do not have face the extreme weather conditions that many other people in far off lands have to. We have witnessed once again the horrors that the people in the Philippines have had to face these last few days. Typhoon Hayian has reaped utter destruction and taken thousands of lives. It has caused damage that will take many years to recover from. We can do our bit to offer support, but really there is not much we can do for them. We do what we can; we pray and we send what aid we can, that said we cannot take away their suffering. If only we could! A grim reminder that we are all at the mercy of the elements.

Where do these souls turn in time of trouble? Where do any of us turn in times of trouble?

I was deeply moved by the following words by Crisante E Igama.

"The Typhoon"

In the darkness of the night,
roaring flow of waters,
not a single scream was heard,
outpouring rains and howling winds,
baldness of the mountains uncovered,
giant logs came rushing,
angry rivers eating away the lands,
floating haven,hogs and bodies,
wildly running with the debris,
not a single scream was heard,
only the mad voices of the angry waters,
pulling away the happy memories,
into the rivers, into the sea,
blinded by the thick mud and too much garbage,
in the middle of the night,
hope flickers with a single rope,
cling on, cling on, sing with the rivers,
even the roof detached the dream of yesterday,
sleep and gone with the rivers,
heard a simple and powerful prayer,
help us, help us, please…

"Help us please..." Three of the most humbling words we will ever hear...

Over the last few weeks Psalm 121 has been floating in and out of my consciousness. Several people have quoted the opening verse to me as they have struggled with grief and other distress too. A member of the Altrincham congregation Ann Molyneux who recently moved to the Lake District and whose husband Bill died within weeks of them moving there told me that every morning after Bill died she would look out of her window in Keswick, stare up at the hills that surrounded her and would ask this very question that the Psalm begins with “I lift up my eyes to the hills-from where will my help come?” It’s a good question. Now of course the Psalm answers it in the very next line by stating that God is the help on offer and not the hills themselves.

Now while the hills themselves cannot offer help directly I still suspect that they can point to it, they certainly do for Ann as they have for countless generations. They are symbolic of something larger, something greater something that can hold us in our times of need. The hills that Ann stares at each morning are the very same hills that Wordsworth described in his poetry. His memories of walking them created “spots of time” that held him through darker days later in his life. Hills that generation after generation have come to know through the beauty of his words. Now those hills are not the same hills as those referred to in Psalm, but perhaps they lead to the same summit.

Sometimes by just asking the question we make a beginning, we open a channel, maybe a bridge to something more than self...

The Psalms to me are prayers. They often begin with a question that is cried out and then followed by an answer. How often in life do we all do this? How often do we cry out a prayer? Are these ever answered? Some say no, of course not do not be so naive, but I’m not so sure. I suspect that they are always answered it’s just that we rarely hear the voice of transcendence. We need to learn to listen with the ears of hearts in order for the language of the heart to break through. To listen we need to make the time and space in our lives. This I believe is what those hills point to. They may not quiet the external storms of life but they will give us the courage to walk through them.

When we look out on the far horizon what do we see? Do we see storm clouds or do you see mountains?

And what of the rainbow? What does the rainbow point to? What does the rainbow mean? I don’t mean how is the optical effect created, which is of course fascinating in and of itself. Please do not get me wrong I am not being literal here. No what I mean is what can the rainbow teach us? What does the rainbow symbolise?

The rainbow is central to many of the great religious traditions. In Greek and Roman mythology they were considered a path between Heaven and Earth. There was a similar understanding in ancient Norse Mythology, where they were known as the Bifrost Bridge which connects the homes of the God’s and humans. In Hinduism and other ancient traditions they were considered the bow of various deities.

In the Epic of Gigamesh the rainbow symbolises the jewelled necklace of the Great Mother Ishtar that she lifts into the sky as a promise that she “will never forget these days of the great flood” that destroyed her beloved children. This myth is almost identical to story of Noah’s Ark found in Genesis (Ch 9 vv 13-17) and the great flood. Here the rainbow appeared as a resealing of God’s covenant with his people.

Many people see the rainbow as a symbol of hope for the future, but I think it is more than that. It is also one of connection and not just with the future but all time. This is message that is found in some of those ancient traditions. It seems to be a bridge to the eternal a link between past, present and future. When I look at a rainbow it reminds me of that connection and it is this that sustains me no matter what is going on around me. It’s carried me through many a storm.

At the beginning of this blogspot is a video clip reading of the poem “How the Rainbow Works” by Al Young (If you have not watched it please do so before continuing). He wrote it for Jean Cook a woman he worked alongside who was struggling with grief following the death of her mother; now her grief was not just about the physical loss but also about the fact that she and her mother had never really got on. He also explains that the poem is not only about our connection to those who have died but all that has existed and all that will exist past, present and future. It links every moment to eternity; the rainbow therefore is the bridge between now and eternity. It points to the eternity of all life what happens before we are born, what happens now and what happens beyond. The poem The rainbow therefore depicts the rainbow as a symbol of eternity.

Here is the poem in written form:

“How the Rainbow Works” by Al Young

(for Jean Cook, on learning
of her mother's death)

Mostly we occupy ocular zones, clinging
only to what we think we can see.
We can't see wind or waves of thought,
electrical fields or atoms dancing;
only what they do or make us believe.

Look on all of life as color -
vibratile movement, heart-centered,
from invisibility to the merely visible.
Never mind what happens when one of us dies.
Where were you before you even get born?
Where am I and all the unseeable souls
we love at this moment, or loathed
before birth? Where are we right now?

Everything that ever happened either
never did or always will with variations.
Let's put it another way: Nothing ever
happened that wasn't dreamed, that wasn't
sketched from the start with artful surprises.
Think of the dreamer as God, a painter,
a ham, to be sure, but a divine old master
whose medium is light and who sidesteps
tedium by leaving room both inside and outside
this picture for subjects and scenery to wing it.

Look on death as living color too: the dyeing
of fabric, submersion into a temporary sea,
a spectruming beyond the reach of sensual
range which, like time, is chained to change;
the strange notion that everything we've
ever done or been up until now is past
history, is gone away, is bleached, bereft,
perfect, leaving the scene clean to freshen
with pigment and space and leftover light.

"Where are we right now?" is a very good question indeed

The more I grow and understand the more I see that everything is connected in ways we will probably never fully know or understand. To me this understanding is so central to the religious life. Everything is connected to everything, there is no separation. I’m not just talking about the human family but all life and that that is beyond life. We are not even separated by death. I’ve been thinking of this over the weeks of November. Everything I’ve been experiencing has been connecting me with these thoughts and feelings as I moved through all that I have experienced and witnessed and heard said. Everything is a part of everything, it is not limited by time and space; life is not the beginning and neither is death the end. 

"Sometimes all we need to do is search for what is at the other side of the air." Anon

I have not always thought this way and I know many will think this nonsense, I have thought very differently myself in the past. I may change my mind in the future, but right now my whole senses seem filled with this truth.

When I look out of the windows of my soul through these eyes even when I see storm clouds I know at the other side I will also see those beautiful mountains and I know that I will soon once again glimpse the messenger of hope, the rainbow, and that this will link me to all that is and all that will ever be. By doing so I stop worrying and can once again focus on what I can do instead of what makes me afraid to live the life I have been given. I can offer whatever help I can to my suffering brothers and sisters.

I’d just like to end this little chip of a blogspot with something I recently heard from an anonymous friend.

"There is a rope that connects everyone to God. Sometimes these ropes break. When a broken rope gets retied, however, the distance between us and God becomes shorter."

"Storm Clouds" by New Model Army

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