Grace in a time of drought

In the 1920s, Carl Jung was told a story by Richard Wilhelm, a Chinese scholar and theologian, which influenced him greatly, and which he repeated often through his life. It’s the story of the Rainmaker.

In the ancient Chinese province of Kiaochou, the story says, there was a drought so severe that people and animals were dying. Religious leaders asked for relief from their gods. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants said their prayers, and the Chinese fired guns to frighten away the demons of the drought. Finally, out of desperation, the people of the town called upon the Rainmaker. From a province far away there came a shrivelled old man. The old man asked for a small hut on the outskirts of town, and then locked himself up there for three days and nights in solitude. On the fourth day, it rained.

Wilhelm, who said that he was allowed to interview the Rainmaker, asked him how he made the rain. The old man replied by exclaiming that he did not make the rain, that he was not responsible. Not satisfied with this response, Wilhelm pressed him further. ‘Then what did you do for these three days?’ The old man explained then that he had come from another province where things were in order with nature; but here, in Kiaochou, things were out of order – and so he himself was also out of order. And so, he told Wilhelm, it took three days to regain Tao – and then naturally, the rain came.

In Chinese philosophy, the word Tao can be thought of as the natural order of the universe: that which keeps the universe in a state of balance. It’s similar to the idea of Ṛta in the Vedic religion. We don’t have a single word in English for such a concept; we have to use several to convey the same idea. But when I think of conveying Tao in my own language, two words always spring to mind: those words are grace, and flow. ‘Flow’ is easy enough to explain, in that the concept of Tao incorporates the idea that the natural order of the universe is always in flow – it is not in any sense a static condition which might one day be ‘achieved’. And that’s why the concept of Tao is so often associated with water.

And ‘grace’? Well, that’s a more difficult word to crack. Historically, it’s had several meanings, but it’s most often used in a Judaeo-Christian religious context, as ‘God’s grace’ – the notion that God might grant you something which is unexpected, or undeserved. I’m not much of a fan of Judaeo-Christian religious concepts, but I’ve often, recently, found myself using the word grace in a sense that is in some ways similar – but in other ways quite different, Grace, to me, is a condition not only of being in harmony with the natural order and flow of the universe – of being in something like Tao – but a sense that this condition is indeed an extraordinary, unexpected gift: one that is given not in return for ‘good behaviour’ or ‘right thinking’, but just because that is the nature of this particular universe – to offer up life as a gift.

But I can only catch myself in that state of grace – that state which is a remarkable mix of wonder, balance, harmony – when I let go of my grief and anger at what is going on in the wider world. When I stop focusing on the drought that is modern existence, when I stop feeling my determination to call down rain at all costs. When, instead, I simply sit by the stream which borders my garden and watch the water drift by, or creep down to the village loch and listen to the reeds whispering in the wind.

Grace happens when I stop striving. It happens when I tune into what is around me here and now, rather than constantly agonising over the state of the world, and how angry and hopeless it makes me feel. That state of grace answers all my questions about how it might be possible to live well in such intolerable times. Being in grace – being, if you prefer, in Tao – is the answer we need to begin with; the answer without which no other answer can make sense. And in the story that was told to Jung, the Rainmaker brought rain not by striving, not by demanding, not by weeping and wailing, or berating the drought for having the audacity to exist. The Rainmaker, simply by being in Tao, created the conditions in the world around him into which the necessary rain could finally come.

On the one hand, it seems wonderfully obvious – but on the other, simply being in a state of grace sometimes feels too small. It feels as if it isn’t enough of a response to a world which is spiralling into chaos at every level. I’ve come to believe, though, that actually, it’s the only thing that is enough. What we do in the world counts for little or nothing if we don’t know how to be; if we don’t understand that the energy we put out – the vibrations we put out (yes, all these words carry too much baggage, but they’re the only words I have) – affect the world around us in absolutely fundamental ways. Again: the most fundamental way we can affect the world for the better is to attend to our own state of mind – to cultivate the mindsets which bring us into Tao, rather than into chaos. We can choose which gods we serve. And whether we know it or not, we’re always serving some god.

So that’s my commitment to this world and this life, over and above anything I might write, or say, or do. To be, as much as I can, in a state of grace. For me, that means exploring and trying to travel alongside the natural flow and order of the universe. Within that over-arching idea, to be aware (my traditions, after all, are thoroughly Irish) of the flow and order and the need to be in balance with the otherworlds which run parallel to this one. All of that also means a commitment to living mythopoetically: to living in full conscious awareness of the mythic patterns and energies which underlie and inform each of our lives.

The curious thing is that this commitment is undertaken in the full understanding that I’ll never know how much it mattered; I’ll never be able to count the consequences. If my ‘energy’ contributes to the maintenance of Tao, or the natural order, in a radius of just six feet around me, maybe that will be ‘enough’. If it reaches out its Tao-tendrils and helps conditions in the wider world, all the better. The truth is, I’ll never know – but I plan to keep doing it anyway. There’s a curious sense of rightness in that. Because it’s when I detach myself from wondering always what is ‘enough’ – when I detach myself from the need to know what happened in the end – that the Rainmaker inside me is most fully in a state of grace, and the much-needed life-giving rain is finally free to fall.

22 thoughts on “Grace in a time of drought

  1. Going through exactly that this summer – grace, surrender, allowing for this summer to just be without resistance or trying to change it. It allowed me to be more present than ever with everything

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  2. After a year of transition, relocation which involved selling my home and moving to Scotland plus stress of ending my career in the form i have known it for decades, my resilience came from trusting the process. Now a year to the day i reflect on my journal entry 5th August 2017 which consisted of many unanswered questions, where next? will we manage ? what is the next chapter? i can answer those questions, this enabled me to sleep well last night knowing that although some uncertainty remains and some grounding still has to be done, a little like the dust the builders left behind i know eventually it will settle and i can sweep it away.

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  3. Lovely thoughts, Sharon, and this brought up lots of thinking for me. There is something to being responsible for our energy-even if it just impacts the six feet around us. But we know of the ripple effect and, of course, our actions reverberate much farther than we might think. I also think we are all responsible for the maintenance of the Tao. I’ll keep trying to live in a state of grace, too. May the rains of this world fall as needed. May I continue to do my rain-making part.

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  4. Six weeks ago I moved from the Midwest to the gulf coast of Florida, in a peculiar situation where this land chose me. Unfolding as it did, a house claimed us and settled us on a small freshwater lake, where an abundance of creatures reside. A sandhill crane that I have dubbed Kona, comes each day to the sprawling Southern oak to fish, preen, and spread his wings dry. A grey heron visits during heavy rains, slowly making her way up to the same tree, as if to pay homage. I love this land, and yet have struggled to keep my fear of alligators popping out of the water in check. I often stay back, only venturing up to the edge briefly, gingerly, always on guard. Today, after reading Sharon’s post, I stood barefoot on the edge of the sandy loam underneath the canopy of her majesty, the ancient oak, and waited by the water. Watched. A soft-shell turtle bobbed its head to the surface, taking note of the sunshine, its flippers paddling like a young child learning to swim. What a gift! What a perfect celebration of Teltane, where the sun and the earth come together in balance.

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      1. Teltane, also known as Lammas or Lughnassad (sp?), is celebrated August 1st. Celts celebrated a ritual marriage between Lugh (the sun) and Eire (earth), This “cosmic mating” of male and female energies was said to be vital to harmony. I’ve read that on Teltane, Lugh buried his foster mother Tailltiu beneath a great mound in Ireland (not sure where)…signifying the withdraw of the Mother Goddess into the earth in preparation for the fall… I’ve mostly heard of Teltane as the celebration of the beginning of the harvest, when people notice that the days are beginning to get a little shorter…and so they begin to prepare by picking ripe fruit, etc.

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        1. Ah, I see. It’s one of those fabrications, I’m afraid, that makes its way out onto the internet. It so often happens with things Celtic: people make things up and then present them as fact. (Which is all a bit irritating to those of us who are actual Celts!) Lughnasa is the Irish/Gaelic sort-of-harvest festival; Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent. There is no ‘Teltane’. And Celts don’t and didn’t celebrate a marriage between Lugh the sun (he wasn’t) and Eire the earth (she wasn’t; she was Ireland). Tailltiu was buried in a place now anglicised to Teltown so perhaps that’s where the name was created from. Sorry for the lecture – it’s just a clarification for anyone else who reads these comments. Much of my work and courses is based around trying to correct these things 🙂

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      2. I have no idea where the word Teltane comes from, but according to google, it’s another word for Lammas.

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  5. Thankyou for this,it’s what I’m striving for at this chaotic and troubling time,and so beautifully put,I love your blogs,keep them coming,and,I’ve just come back from my first flight in a Cessna,and took the controls! Your first book has stayed with me,and touched many others ,again-thankyou x

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    1. Oh, well done! Did you read my first novel, ‘The Long Delirious Burning Blue’? It’s very much about learning to fly in those tiny Cessnas, among other things …

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  6. This is just what I needed this Sunday morning in San Francisco. I am far from being in this state, but close to understanding it. One thing I have added is a prayer of Thank You when I am aware of being in the flow or blessed by grace. Why? Having been in the fullness of grace in a hospital recently, I then had to go to a parking garage and drive my car. I was dizzy and insecure about my ability to see the traffic. Thank You helped bring me to ground.

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  7. Sharon, this is a profound and perceptive post. I couldn’t agree more. It is so hard to let go and be and trust that in being in the flow of grace it is enough. I have struggled with this for a while now. Feeling frustrated and helpless, which of course is the most debilitating state of all. It is one fostered by the society at large. However, the grand gestures are not always the most useful. The small understated ones often gain the most results. Being all shouty get very little done, but being in the calm of grace and letting the flow towards balance occur, that is when change begins. How tru that we will never know if what we do is enough, but that as you rightly point out that is not the most important thing. Letting the subtle energies flow from the Otherworld in to this one, that is what is needed. That is the place from which balance and reordering will begin and where it will end.

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    1. I tried to “like” Aurora’s reply but WordPress wouldn’t respond. Anyway, thank you, Aurora, for your succinct words. “Letting the subtle energies flow from the Otherworld into this one..”

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