By Maureen Pratt, Catholic News Service | Published April 16, 2020
The week before Ash Wednesday, I was driving home from San Diego when raindrops began to splash against my windshield. The sun was shining, so the precipitation was startling, but before I could fully grasp the sudden climatic shift, another sight appeared beyond the hills—a thick, distant yet distinct rainbow!
As I neared Los Angeles and my gaze alternated between the road and the colorful glory in the sky, a prayer of gratitude welled up in me. I thanked God for the impromptu show of beauty, a blessing during an otherwise tedious and painful (in rush hour!) trip home.
Now, as the pandemic continues and life is upended, my mind lingers on that brief interlude in late February. I am inclined to think it was no accident.
The sudden rain hearkens to the abrupt changes COVID-19 has brought to our lives. The sunshine glistening through raindrops on my windshield resonates in the stories of goodness and sacrifice we hear daily, even as the current pandemic brings loss, pain and grief.
And the rainbow, that beautiful, far-off rainbow, calls to mind so very much more than a weather phenomenon.
In the context of a long, difficult road, rainbows are a vivid reminder of God’s abiding presence and promise—a covenant sealed long ago, a sign of hope and love. However distant the “bow” in the sky and however long we are physically distanced from one another, by the faith that springs from that hope and love, we know we are not alone.
In fact, it is deeply heartening and comforting to witness how much we are being drawn together! The closure of our churches, the absence of public Mass, eucharistic adoration and other common faith practices have kindled all kinds of alternatives, blessed “workarounds,” that support and strengthen our bonds.
Prayers shared and reshared via email, social media and telephone; liturgies streamed day and night, and connections made and revived through individuals reaching out to ask, “How are you?” to say, “I care about you” —these and so many other movements of faith bring blessings to this harsh road and help us to keep the rainbow in our sights. And, oh, how we need the rainbow!
As losses mount and the virus persists, the emotional and physical toll of distancing and isolation can become more pronounced. Another aspect of the rainbow helps give some perspective to these very real challenges.
In the story of Noah and the flood, we hear how God preserved the lives of righteous Noah and his family, along with myriad animals in a wooden ark. For months on end, while floodwaters covered the earth and destroyed everything else living, Noah and his family (and the animals) were safe, though not, I’m sure, comfortable.
Imagine life in that ark! Imagine prayer punctuated by the sounds and smells of pairs of creatures large and small. Imagine waiting and waiting for the rain to stop, the earth to dry. Imagine the pain but hope.
After the floodwaters subsided, and the earth finally dried, it was safe to leave the ark. We’re told that Noah returned to familiar faith practices. He built an altar and made offerings of thanksgiving (Gn 8:20), and the Lord “set (the) bow in the clouds” (9:13), a sign of the covenant between God and the earth.
In many ways, we’re still “in the ark.” The road ahead is uncertain. But, the hope that shines with the rainbow and greets us with Easter illuminates our way. And with it, we endure hardship, yes, but give thanks for the blessings we find along the way, all the way, home.