We had spent all of the morning and most of the afternoon indoors. Come the late afternoon, we were in need of exercise and a change of scene. We got in the car and drove to Brandywine Creek State Park. As usual, the car park was full (a by-product of all the gym closures), so we drove up the road and parked in the street. We looked at the sky and noticed the darkening clouds, but thought, “well, if it rains, we have our raincoats, and what difference will a little rain make?”
We were about ten minutes into the walk the rain started to fall. At first it was a sprinkling of rain, which got heavier very quickly, and then came the hailstones, small at first, and then they got bigger, a solid shower of them, so many that we felt under attack. Amidst the noise of falling hailstones I cried out, “Oh shoot!” It didn’t let up. Our raincoats were taking most of it, but my trousers, shoes and socks were drenched. The barrage didn’t let up – it was ridiculous, almost comical, but what could we do?
I tried to shelter next to a tree, which helped a little. Ruth went on ahead, but didn’t know I had stopped. I could have called out, but she wouldn’t have heard me above the sound of hailstones. Eventually it eased up and then, as quickly as it had started, it stopped altogether. Ruth and I looked at each other. We were like two drowned rats. It was so absurd we laughed. We were too soaked to continue our walk, so we decided to make our way back to the car. And then we saw it.
A rainbow, but unlike any I have seen before. This rainbow was not in the sky, but in the woods, sitting among the trees about thirty feet away. For a moment we were both transfixed, as we gazed at this extraordinary vision. A rainbow among the trees, like something celestial fallen to earth, washed downed from heaven by the rain and hail and standing up unexpectedly before disappearing again.
In one way, of course, it was a perfectly natural phenomenon. But the vision has stayed with me ever since.
Later it struck me that the rainbow in the woods was a kind of Easter motif, a symbol of the resurrected Jesus who suddenly appears and then disappears. The rainbow also speaks to me in our current situation, with the coronavirus having turned our lives upside down. We stay in our homes, waiting in uncertainty; or we go out, trying to avoid other people who may be carriers of the virus.
We are experiencing a national trauma, although at times, when I look out at the spring flowers and feel the sun on my face, I forget for a moment what has happened. And then I recall how different – how very different – life has become in such a short space of time. I don’t really think it has sunk in yet.
The rainbow is a reminder of the presence of God who comes after the storm, who never really went away, and who welcomes us to share our fears and anxieties with him. It is a perpetual reminder to me not to lose hope or to despair, but to put into practice what I have learned. That God is present, and loving, and that through the power of the Holy Spirit he gives me strength to continue to live in Christ and to serve faithfully in the world. This short prayer seems to fit our current predicament.
God our comforter,
send your Holy Spirit,
to reveal your hidden mercy
even in our failures and troubles;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The following day someone asked me, “did you see the hailstorm yesterday?” I smiled and said “yes.” I thought of Ruth and me, soaked from top to bottom and slightly dazed from the downpour, being given a glimpse of something beautiful and mysterious. I asked myself, where else can I see God in the present time, in the midst of disruption and uncertainty? Knowing his abiding and grace-filled presence is before me, I do not fear where he leads me.