The Rain Bow: A Short Story

The Rain Bow (image adapted from Buddhasit @ Flickr)

Like most of my stories, this one started with a question.

What if the rainbow in the Genesis flood myth was an actual bow?

The question rose quite naturally as I was re-reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, another flood myth which parallels the Genesis story in remarkable ways, right down to the rainbow promise at the end. Only, in the Gilgamesh flood myth, it’s not called a rainbow, but is referred to as a string of jewels, a necklace in the sky.

It got me to thinking about how we take for granted natural phenomenon and might not consider at times how something like a rainbow would require a supernatural explanation in some ancient cultures. Some for instance saw it as bridge to a different world. The Hindu religion sees it as a warrior’s bow.

This led me to the original Hebrew for the flood story where with the help of my friend Mark Sandlin at the God Article, I learned that the word “qesheth” is indeed the Hebrew word we have translated into “rainbow.” It also just so happens to be the word for the bow a hunter or a warrior uses. So when Noah sees the rainbow, he isn’t just seeing pretty colors. He is seeing God’s weapon in sky.

That, of course, led to a much more troubling question.

What does it mean that God used a lethal weapon on creation? How does that change the dynamics of the flood story? Doesn’t it make the story less about Noah and his merry ark and more about God and his Rain Bow?

It was a question so intriguing I felt it best answered with fiction, which I offer as a free download today. I hope you will do so and take a moment to comment here or on my Facebook page or even offer your own reflection in a blog post which I can link to later.

I’ve offered short fiction here before, such as my Christmas, Undocumented story.

This time, I have a partner who has offered his own compelling essay and sermon along the same lines as a companion piece to my work of short fiction. Mark Sandlin’s own work on the flood is just as provocative and just as challenging. We happily bumped into one another’s insights and decided to offer a Story and a Sermon to re-envision this story completely. Please visit his site, The God Article, and check out his essay (or download it here) reinterpreting the Genesis flood story. He reveals in powerful language why this story might be the least appropriate for nursery walls in our churches. It’s the kind of sermon that make the pulpit worthwhile.

The Rain Bow

By David R. Henson

The bow had tempted him for ages, and now, holding it in his hand, he understood why. The Rain Bow was as beautiful as it was terrible. He felt its seduction, the thrumming power coursing through its arc; he beheld its splendor, wrapped in shimmering colors as ephemeral as dew on a spider’s web. He had been wise to hide the bow out of his sight for so long, entrusting it to the children of the humans and the Nephilim, the great heroic warriors of old. They never understood its limitless power like he did, never grasped that a thing so graceful could be so destructive.

He had forged the bow in a fit of rage, when the humans had first taken life. In fury, he had ripped a sunbeam from sky, the heat of his anger fracturing its colors and warping it into a gentle curve. Its power had shocked even him and he had cast it out of the heavens as forcefully as it had been made. But as he watched the earth buckle under the weight of humanity’s iniquity, the temptation to take the bow back grew stronger.

Download the story to read the rest by clicking here.

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Jcomer2001

    Do you forge a bow? Of wood? The ones I’ve seen are made either of wood, bent with steam; of layers of wood and horn, attached with glue; or with modern materials. Never seen a forged-iron bow.

    • David R. Henson

      I think the method of fabrication depends on what the weapon is made of. If you’ll notice, the weapon is made of a ray from the sun, not wood or iron. The forge is anger.

  • Rhhibbert

    I read and appreciated both your story and Mark’s sermon. You expressed a struggle I have had with the Flood story for a long time. I had a question unrelated to the theological, biblical and homiletical questions you both raised. Progressive Christians have tried hard in my lifetime to eliminate masculine pronouns for God. Yet both of you, in describing the violent acts of God, chose to use masculine imagery throughout. Was that a deliberate choice? Would you also be willing to describe compassionate and grace-filled actions of God with masculine pronouns as well?

    • David R. Henson

      How observant! I’m actually glad you picked up on that. In writing this, the first choice I had to make was whether to use a pronoun or use the self-referential God at all times. In a fiction piece, the latter would be so cumbersome it would distract from the story itself, I feared. Then it was a matter of going to the source material, which presents God as a “he” in most of our translations and the “he” is what most people who know the Noah’s Ark story are used to. I am already asking my readers to reinvent the flood story in their heads. I thought it would be unfair to go further. Not that they couldn’t handle it, but that it would distract from the primary point.

      I think a more interesting question was whether we would be willing to describe God’s violent acts with feminine imagery! And whether we too would use feminine imagery to describe God’s grace-filled, compassionate acts. When we think about it, we, even progressives, already use masculine pronouns for God’s compassionate and grace-filled actions every time we reference Jesus. It can’t be helped since Jesus was a physical man.

      • Rhhibbert

        Thanks for a thoughtful response. This serves, I think, to illustrate why communication is so hard, especially in the English language. It has always been hard for me to find ways to talk about God without using pronouns. Having come of age in a time when our consciousness about this had not been raised, I was accustomed to masculine terminology. Trying to avoid that always felt awkward and cumbersome. Using feminine terminology was uncomfortable for a long time, and it felt “trendy.” Using neutral terms was unsatisfactory as well, because it seemed to make God impersonal when I believe in God-in-at least Three-persons. So I continue to wrestle with this and am intrigued by others’ use of language. Hence my question.

        When you mention God’s incarnation in a male person, you point to the cultural and social realities in which God’s actions are experienced. That’s why it’s good to revisit and rethink ancient “truths.” Your story and Mark’s sermon are good examples of ways we can learn new lessons from old stories. And I thank you again for that.

      • ieh

        I saw the God in the story as a white male. In the “world” where I live only white males have the ability to do and have done similar things. Feminine imagery would be fairy-tale-ish or make it look like the feminine was trying to act like a white male.

    • Mark Sandlin

      Rhhibbert – I use non-gendered language for God, but in this peace I did use the masculine pronoun to speak of a violent God. For me it was an literary device which helped point to a more traditional understanding of God. I rarely do it (and even avoided it in many places in this sermon – not in all), but felt this was an ideal place to make an exception.

  • Lisaenos

    MAybe it was an EBANI in the sky…check out this documentary on what’s happening in Mexico’s skies: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Crop-Circles-UFOs-Ancient-Mysteries-Scientific-Speculations/246667595346687


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