In August 2009 I moved to the suburbs of LA to finish my University education and attend graduate school. This last May I returned home to the Central Coast and near perpetual 68-70 degree weather, and I experienced something I had very little experience with in LA, rain. I had not realized how much I missed the rain. How I missed the sound it makes as it falls through a tree catching the leaves in a roar of applause. How I missed the green that miraculously appears the next day. When it rains I sometimes think about the enchanted world of the past where pagans thought rain to be the result of divinities waltzing in heavens and thunder to be the peels of Bacchus’ laughter as he tipped back another vessel of vino. I think about how I would rather live in that world than the mechanistic one that drains our youth of imagination by cutting out the God of Creation who hovered over the waters, thinking the scientific process—that I believe God created and sustains—is all that is necessary to answer the troubling question of why water sometimes falls from the sky. We so often confuse the how with the why, a surprising error in the epoch of being spiritual but not religious. What good is one’s spirituality if it does not see the mystical in nature or contemplate meaning in the midst of the unusual. I suppose that is the key though, rain is no longer unusual to us. Like the internet and electricity, we now simply take for granted that these things are facts of life.
When it rained this past Saturday I opened the window of my study, made a cup of tea, and played my Miles Davis station on Pandora. You might be surprised but a good Northern California downpour is the perfect accompaniment to Davis. Having just finished Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary—a book I cannot recommend highly enough—I considered how I might turn such a moment into a reflection on the goodness and gifts of God. So I paused on the goodness of a life of sensation—the gifts of music and the sound of the rain, the gift of color and beauty of creation, the gifts of aroma and flavor. In the midst of my reflection, my mind wanders to the day before. How thousands, if not millions, of Americans frantic and frenetic laid siege to cathedral like shopping centers in search of consumerism’s salvation. Justification by acquisition, sanctification by spending, penance by purchasing. Theologian James K.A. Smith says that ‘I shop therefore I am’ is the epistemology consumerism.
The last couple of Christmases my wife and I have thought about how we could give gifts and use our time in a redemptive and meaningful way. We talked about how we want to give gifts that are not designed for obsolescence and that won’t end up as space holders in storage facilities or land fills. We decided to intentionally and slowly make purchases with individuals and our relationships with them in mind. No purchases just to purchase. We lamented the increasing concern that each of us feels with the draw of novelty. My phone screen is cracked, do I need a new phone or can I make do? If I do need a new phone, do I really need the newest phone? Warren writes “I need rituals that encourage me to embrace what is repetitive, ancient, and quiet. But what I crave is novelty and stimulation” (33). Warren’s reflections are about the spiritual, but there is a rational component as well. In his book on fallacies titled The Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli writes:
How will the world look in fifty years? What your everyday life be like? With which items will you surround yourself? People who pondered this question fifty years ago had fanciful notions of how “the future” would look… But hang on a second… You’re sitting in a chair, an invention of ancient Egypt. You wear pants, developed about five thousand years ago and adapted by Germanic tribes around 750 BC. The idea behind your leather shoes comes from the last ice age… Assume that most of the technology that has existed for the past fifty years will serve us for another half century. And assume that recent technology will be passé in a few years time. (206-207)
Our technology does more an more, but does it do it any better. After entrusting much of my note taking to various Apple apps, I am returning to the simplicity of paper and pen—in my opinion for them better. Such an obsession with the new, what Dobelli calls neomania, is a ramification of consumerism. Another ramification seems to be the rapidity of our holiday pace. How can anyone be thankful on Thanksgiving when they are bundling up to take advantage of Christmas deals before the remaining turkey and potatoes can justly be called leftovers. How can anyone be thankful for gifts that are still only a year old when they are already penning their Black Friday shopping lists. What concerns me a bit more, however, is the worry that if we can’t be thankful for the Macbook or Xbox we got last Christmas, which is still less than a year in our possession, then how can we be thankful for the rain, a bit of old music, or the smell of freshly pressed coffee. My inclination is to let such subtle and ordinary graces of the day pass by me unnoticed as I work to accomplish today’s to do list. But I am going to try to resist my tendencies. Try and take a moment to be grateful for my one-year old son’s smile and laugh, for the peace and silence of a winter morning, and my connection to history as I indulge my love of English literature.
The weather report forecasts rain tonight. I think I will cue up Miles.
Thanks for reading,