California is going through the worst drought on record. The drought extends through much of the Western United States, and according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report, the impact ranges from wells running dry to no food sources for cattle to graze on. Farmers are being forced to sell off their livestock as a result.
“This is the most serious drought we’ve faced in modern times,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.
Experts say California would have to see heavy rain and snowfall every other day from now until summer in order to get back to its average annual precipitation totals.
I moved to California a little over a year and a half ago from Texas. One thing I missed tremendously was the torrential rainfall. Anybody who’s lived there knows that the rain doesn’t discriminate. You could be having a summer barbeque in scorching heat one minute, only to have the party crashed by heavy wind and sheets of rain the next. It drives us crazy, but we brush it aside like we do that one crazy uncle in the family.
Governor Jerry Brown of California is organizing efforts focused primarily on water preservation, urging Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. This seems to be the best measure until the rainfall decides to make its presence.
The lack of rain is causing some panic here, and it has been a focal point of discussion at the workplace, community centers, and religious congregations.
As a Muslim, I join my faith community on Fridays as our Sabbath. Before communal prayers, our community leader leads a sermon that is supposed to help guide us with some positivity for the coming week. The goal is to internalize that positivity into fruitful action, whether spiritually or as action-based work with the community.
This past sermon was different. The Imam (spiritual leader) asked us to join him, and the entire San Francisco Bay Area Muslims, for a Prayer for Rain.
Yes, A Prayer for Rain. I had no idea such a thing existed as a formality in our religion. He said that we should join our fellow Christians, Atheists, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others, in a joint plea for rain. Ancient peoples have adopted this practice and have continued it. Apparently, this is not something new. Prayer groups of various faiths do this often. Many Native American tribes continue to pray for rain, establishing a tradition that dates back many generations.
Now, I don’t have a problem with prayer. I see it as a personal, yet valuable mechanism to connect with a higher power. I don’t hide my beliefs but I try to be very careful not to impose my religion on others.
When my parents immigrated to the U.S. over 30 years ago, they saw this land as a beacon of hope. They saw it as a place where their dreams of raising children free of oppression, be it religious or political, could be realized. They were practicing Muslims. Their intention was never to go back home.
America was home.
And we all know that due to ignorance or poor representation, Muslims are sometimes seen as outsiders here. Part of that is because we aren’t vocal enough about our attachment to this land, nor are we vocal about our collective pain when calamity reaches it.
So when the Imam pleaded for us to pray for rain, it made sense to me. Why not pray for something I love? How is it any different than praying for wealth or success? But that isn’t what got me. Getting down on your knees and asking for something is one thing. Taking initiative to transform oneself is another.
The criteria for the rain prayer were to look at oneself and make a change for the better. We were asked to fast for three days and seek forgiveness. It’s not an obligatory fast. It is a conscious act to focus on your shortcomings and try to rectify them.
Okay, but what does that have to do with rain anyway? The idea is by breaking down the wall of arrogance within ourselves, to expose our faults and admit we’ve made mistakes, and that we are trying to fix them, somehow the wall of pressure preventing the rain would be removed. It’s totally a metaphysical thing.
What I liked about the idea was that it wasn’t a “hocus-pocus” kind of thing. Its not like we expected rain clouds to manifest in the sky as we made our prayer. Sure, some did. That would have been awesome, but definitely is not the point.
I liked the idea that if you want anything to change anything about your condition, you have to put in effort.
That’s why I connected with the fasting and introspection. It’s not just a request for water. It’s a transformation process that can help with anything. So I bought in.
It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Tree leaves rustled through a cool breeze and the air felt good to breathe. It was a prototypical good ol’ sunny California day. But the mood was somber. People were quiet and contemplative. They didn’t want sunny California. They wanted days of nourishment to feed the earth and her livestock. They wanted rain.
The Imam led a congregation of more than a thousand Muslims, joined by members of various faith groups, in a Prayer for Rain. People cried out to God with their hands held high, seeking forgiveness for their sins. It was a moment of humanity joining together for a common good, rarely seen these days.
After the prayer, rain clouds didn’t form and bring torrential rainfall over the congregation. There was no shock and awe.
People hugged old friends they hadn’t seen in ages, picked up their belongings and went about their days. But it appeared that they had left transformed in some way.
That night, before I went to sleep, I thought about the weather forecast. Would it rain? I closed my eyes realizing that maybe if it didn’t rain, I had still accomplished what I had set out to achieve. That even if the result didn’t show itself immediately, as long as you put in the work to transform yourself, your goal could be attained.
When I opened my eyes the next morning, I got up and looked out the window.
My wife, having been up already for a few hours, looked me and said, “What, you didn’t know?”
It poured last night.