Watering in the Rain
by Talitha G. Phillips
California has had a bad year for rain. In late January we were informed it was the worst drought ever recorded. We’ve all been putting buckets in our showers to catch water for our gardens – an early morning ritual performed with increasing fervency, nearly a prayer.
At Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California, we have a community garden, constructed and mostly maintained by the youth group members. A large rainwater tank stands nearby waiting to fill up with rain. We planned to plant seedlings as an act of faith, trusting that the rain would follow. And indeed it did better than that – the rain met us on our planting day. The youth and I dug into the garden on the day of the first significant rain in months. Our pastor had welcomed us to church that morning with an “It’s raining!” dance to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus, and we were glad indeed. The dry trickle of a stream in front of the church building had swollen to a moderate flow, and young children stood on the little wooden bridge throwing sticks down to watch them float quickly away. The umbrella stand straightened up with pride as it finally had a job to do. Prayers were joyful.
When the youth gathered after church there was some grumbling about the impossibility of having a garden work-day in the rain, and some fretting about a pair or two of new white shoes. After all, we had gotten used to warmth and sun through these long months of drought. The light rain seemed like a deluge compared to the mist we’d received at other times this year. The mud and puddles seemed an insurmountable obstacle to some. But we put on jackets and went out to do our work planting in the wet garden.
We turned over the ground and found that the moisture from our “deluge” of rain had penetrated barely 3 inches into the earth. Below, the soil was dry and dusty as if nothing had changed. We slowly came to realize that if our seedlings were going to be well-watered, we were going to have to water them even while it rained. And the rainwater tank was still nearly empty. Duly humbled, we turned on the city water.
Watering in the rain isn’t too bad an idea, as long as you don’t over-water. With moisture in the air so high, you don’t lose any water to evaporation. But as we stood there with rain ever so lightly falling, while watching the water drip from its plastic tubes onto baby seedlings, the morning’s joy was… well, dampened. Even with all the abundance we had, we still needed more.
In justice work we come to that point often. Even with all the rain we have, we need more. Even with gardens overflowing at harvest, we need more food for more hungry people. As much work as we possibly can do, the needs are endless, and beneath the surface the soil is dry. It is painful to see, but we must remember and remind one another that our work is not in vain. Each act of care for the land, no matter how small, is measured not just in its efficiency but in its faithfulness. One of our little actions may be a “tipping point” for someone, finally inspiring them to a new lifestyle or new commitment… or maybe not, and the ground may remain dry. Regardless of whether or not the results are apparent, the work is worth it. And God is with us through the drought and through the rain.
Photo by Talitha G. Phillips
Talitha G Phillips works with children and youth at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California. She was previously a member of the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Food Justice Fellows. She aspires to keep larger gardens.