“What About a Rainbow!”
By Pastor George Van Alstine
Michael Jackson was given a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at last Sunday night’s Grammy Award Show. In tribute to him, a number of major pop music stars joined in a stunning production of his “Earth Song.” I had heard that song, but never listened very closely to the lyrics. It’s a call to better care for the earth we inhabit, as well as the people with whom we share it.
The simplicity of the first two lines struck me:
“What about sunrise?
What about rain?”
World leaders loudly argue about economy and politics, often threatening force. Various nations assert their strength and pride. Global corporations make mega-decisions to carve up the wealth of the world. The many voices try to outshout each other:
“What about the financial bottom line?”
“What about the nuclear weapons you have stockpiled?”
“What about the settlements on the West Bank?”
“What about terrorist attacks?”
“What about my 401K?”
And in his unrealistic childlike way, Michael Jackson says:
“What about sunrise?
What about rain?”
“Go away, kid, we’ve got important things to talk about!”
I had my own Michael Jackson moment a couple of weeks ago when Southern California was experiencing a series of violent rain and wind storms. One afternoon, I was driving east on Woodbury Road during an hour-long window between two storms. A pile of clouds were stacked above the mountains to the north, and another cloud-army was marching up from the south. But here in between, right over Pasadena, the sun had just broken through. And directly ahead I could see a bright and glorious rainbow. It was visible from end to end—I could almost make out the pots of gold.
I’m not sure what had previously been on my mind, but I know I had been mulling over some things I had to do at the office, as well as some people-problems I had to deal with. But in an instant all those thoughts disappeared. My entire attention was on the rainbow, and my response was as much emotional as rational. In fact, it was downright spiritual.
My worries and concerns tried to force themselves back into my consciousness:
“What about my telephone calls?”
“What about the writing I have to do?”
“What about the difficult conversation I need to have?”
But they were overwhelmed by my one dominating impression:
“What about that rainbow!”
(My rainbow thought ended with an exclamation point, not a question mark.)
I’ve had my own personal rainbow journey. When I was a child, every rainbow was a miracle. I could see why even in primitive religions, they were seen as a sign of God’s presence or God’s favor. I understood how in the Bible a rainbow would be a powerful message to Noah after 40 days of rain and a great flood. It was God’s promise that he would spare his human children from the full force of his anger and nature’s fury. Rainbows are magical.
Of course, I grew up and learned the truth about rainbows. There’s no mystery; scientists can fully explain them. A rainbow is an optical phenomenon that results when sunlight shines into tiny droplets in a rain shower. The drop of water acts as a prism. A ray of light enters on an angle, and is bent as it enters; it reflects off the back of the drop and is bent again. The white ray of light is really a combination of many colors, and each color bends at a different angle. So when the light comes back out from the front of the raindrop, it has been split into the familiar color bands we know—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Multiply this by millions of individual rain drops, and there you have your rainbow!
I have a scientific bent, and my mind demands explanations. So this perfectly logical account of how a rainbow is formed ought to be enough for me. But it’s not. It adequately explains the science, the how, but it says nothing about the why. It does not account for the artistic beauty I sense or the wonder I feel when I experience a rainbow.
Science does not begin to tell me why I am convinced that God has paid me a personal visit when I see a rainbow.