I have to be mindful of the baskets of flowers that hang below the eaves. Even though it has rained for four days, the eaves have sheltered the flowers from the rain. This means that though the road is washed out and water sits upon the ground with no where to go, even though the dock is below the lake’s surface and the warbler flycatchers have to hunt not in the air but up and down the hemlocks seeking mosquitoes for their chicks, even though I am living in a surfeit of good cold rain, the flowers might die from thirst.
Spiritually, this is also true. How many spiritual leaders and regular religious adherents have I met who are going through a tough spiritual drought while all around them is running lush and wet? When we’re in those spiritually dry times, everyone we meet and the world around us can seem tremendously fresh and full and juicy, making our own thirst worse, somehow crueler.
Watering these hanging baskets by hand, refreshing the water in the dog’s bowl, I stop to pour myself a glass of cold water, knowing that I can ignore my own thirst for a very long time. I’m busy attending the thirst of plants that cannot draw up their own water, or the thirst of a dog who remains puzzled as to why there are no paws-alone working taps in the house, or to the spiritual thirst of a seeker, a stranger, or a friend. That needs doing. I also need to drink a glass of water, too, stopping to refresh my body and stopping to refresh my soul.
I’ve been quieter than usual lately, largely due to the acuity of an illness I live with – and expect to live with for the rest of my life. I’ve been learning my new limitations, adapting to what has emerged as patterns. Adaptation is just what human beings do, and I believe spirituality is our biggest adaptive response. The Unitarian Universalist minister Forrest Church taught: “religion is the human response to being alive and having to die.” That may be so. I have found that spirituality is my response to the challenges of living. We innovate, we renovate, we create, and these are all forms of adaptation to change, to opportunity, to energy, to possibility. This season of my life has been a wet one, rich with opportunities to grow spiritually, full of change, most of which are not ones I would choose, welcome, or wish for someone else.
Yet, despite all these rainy blessings, I grew thirsty, inattentive to my spirit, my attention absorbed by other changes, by the needs of others, by loss and by the physical difficulty of each day. If one lets a basket of flowers dry out completely, a flood of water will wash off the top of the dry soil. One has to rehydrate the basket slowly, with sips, with gentle attention until the soil is full and spongy again. The same is true with our spirits. When we have gone through a drought or neglected to tend our spirits, we have to return with small, regular sips of life-giving blessings. As we do, our senses come back into balance, and we are more able to serve, more able to struggle well with what is needful, more able to laugh generously and to forgive, more able to fulfill our faithful promises and love this life sparkling in wonder and growing in hope.