Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Praying for Rain

Today, in the Jewish calendar, is the holy day Shemini Atzeret, which (together with tomorrow's additional holy day Simchat Torah) brings to its close the joyful festival of Sukkot, what the Bible calls the Feast of the Tabernacles, probably the most important festival in the New Testament period. It was on this day, according to John 7:37, that Jesus exclaimed: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. This probably referenced the Tenple-era custom of bringing water in procession from the pool of Siloam to the Temple on this day.

The Temple is long gone, but the water theme survives in that today is the day when the prayer for rain is recited for the first time, asking God to grant abundant rain. From today until the spring festival of Passover, this prayer is recited daily, corresponding to the traditional Israeli rainy season. After the dry, hot desert summer, a new year begins bringing the life-giving and life-sustaining autumn rain.

I have been lucky to live most of my life in places with predictably regular rainfall, where in most years it rains all year long (and sometimes unfortunately too much). But there are places (California, for example), which, like Israel, have a Mediterranean desert climate and are dependent on the winter rainy season for sufficient water to sustain human and animal life and agricultural production for the rest of the year, when no rain is normally expected. I can well remember visiting California in January and February as recently as 20 years ago when it didn't just rain, it poured. But global warming is rapidly changing the climate, and the American West has been experiencing severe drought now for years, with multiple consequences for the water supply, wildfires, etc. Whether this drought portends a climate-changed future for much of the American West, which will render that region ultimately unlivable, remains to be seen.

While there is no exact analogue in Christian liturgy to the daily, Sukkot-to-Pesach practice of praying for rain, the traditional Roman liturgy has long included, among its optional occasional prayers, a collect for rain. That traditional prayer Ad petendam pluviam somehow survived the 1960s liturgical cutting room (albeit shorn of its accompanying secreta and postcommunio). As climate change worsens, it is a prayer which perhaps deserves to be prayed more frequently: O God, in whom we live and move and have our being, grant us sufficient rain, so that, being supplied with what sustains us in this present life, we may seek more confidently what sustains us for eternity.

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