Last week I spent four days camping with 14 fourteen-year-olds. It was a week of rain and more rain. Heavy rain; rain in big drops; torrential rain; angled, driving rain; fireside chat-ending rain; tent-penetrating rain; shoe-soaking, toe-wrinkling rain. Canoe-filling rain.
We paddled one morning on a day when the weather forecast was “90% chance of 5ml of rain.” The 5ml had fallen before breakfast, which we ate under a tarp. After breakfast we donned personal flotation devices that had been “drying” outside overnight, and paddled for four hours upstream, in the rain.
The 100 millilitres that had fallen in the catchment area the previous day was flowing at us. The tide was against us. The rain was in our faces. As the water level rose in the canoes, we resorted to bailing by hand. Backpacks in the bottom of canoes became waterlogged, all the heavier to carry on the scheduled afternoon hike. The river stretched long and straight before us. We sought respite for aching muscles by rafting up while hanging on to overhanging branches of trees on the river bank, so as not to be swept back the distance we’d covered. Four hours were spent cajoling pre-growth-spurt Year 9 boys to keep paddling, preferably with a bit of steering that produced something closer to a straight course than regularly alternating visits to each bank.
But for those with capacity to notice, the banks were a delight to behold. Towering tree-crowned cliffs rising up out of deep and mysterious looking waters. Scurrying water dragons. A side inlet leading to a serene billabong teeming with birdlife. Bubbles plopping on the water surface as rain and drips from riverside vegetation intermingled their percussion notes. Gnarly gums lured us from midstream for a closer inspection. Hidden waterfalls beckoned the curious with their siren call. Curvaceous caves told the story of the river’s history. Extraordinary, palette-stretching hues of green, and the long and the short, the thin and the thick, and the flat and the rounded leaves of the Australian bush bore testimony to the marvellous variety of creation. Reflections on the water at times pulled our gaze way beneath the surface.
Being in such a setting, surrounded by things that dwarf me and my strength, warranted reflection on the wisdom of 3000-year-old poetry. The futility of our attempt to prevent the rain from the skies soaking all we possessed reminded me of the magnitude of those skies. The feat of paddling eight kilometres or so against the elements seems worth crowing about, until we compare that distance with the 40 trillion kilometre distance to the nearest star. And that’s just the nearest one! Even without understanding how far away the stars were, the poet David expressed his awe of God, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8)
How astonishing indeed that the creator who can make widespread rain fall at will would care for a creature utterly helpless to stop the rain in even one place! If the immensity of the truth that God cares for us is not a jaw-dropping reality, perhaps we have not quite understood it. When we do understand that immense truth, it is cause for confidence when we are faced with experiences and obstacles that threaten to make us feel helpless and overwhelmed. We can respond to such feelings by echoing an ancient declaration: “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121)