When it begins to rain, do you lie down on the ground until the storm passes?
Probably not, but Andy Goldsworthy does. He is an artist, and a sculptor who works in the landscape, often with materials he finds where he is: usually leaves, sticks, rocks, and thorns. Most of his work is intended to be temporary, so he takes photographs and publishes illustrated books. The simplest thing he does is called a Rain Shadow. When he sees that it is beginning to rain, he lies down on the ground, or a rock, or a big tree root, and waits for the storm to pass. When he gets up, there is a human-sized print on the landscape—a dry spot where everything else is wet. It is as if he has placed a human signature on the landscape. It says, “I am here.” It says, “I matter.”
But Andy Goldsworthy’s work operates on a lot of different levels, and he invites us to look beyond the surface. He invites us to a deeper level, which got me to wondering about his process, and the time he spends creating the Rain Shadow. It is beginning to rain, and he lies down on the ground, or a road, wearing a sweater and jeans and rubber boots. The rain is cold, because he usually works in Scotland and England. Even if he has his eyes closed most of the time, he must open them at some point. And what does he see, as he is lying on the ground? Thousands and thousands of drops of rain falling right on him. That view revises the statement as a question. Not “I matter,” but “Do I matter?”
That’s a question we all ask—do I matter?
Not in the peaks, when we are pretty sure we do, but in the valleys. At the beginning of life, when we are just figuring things out, looking for our identity. In the middle of life, when we ease up on the accelerator and reflect on our lives, looking for meaning. And especially during the tough times when we are dealing with loss, with death, when we are sick, or lose our job, or someone we love, and we are walking through that valley–you know the one I mean. We need to know; do I matter?
I don’t know if Andy Goldsworthy knows the psalms, but as he is lying on the ground, in the rain, contemplating, he must be thinking something like:
When I consider the heavens, the work of Your hands,
The moon and stars You set in their courses,
what are human beings that You are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8)
Beneath that question: do I matter? Is the deeper one: do I matter to God?
In the Gospel, we hear that Jesus was walking from the countryside with the disciples. They were accompanied by a large crowd of people who were following him because they had heard his teaching and experienced his healing, and they wanted to be with him. He was approaching the city, and as they neared the gates, they encountered a funeral, a large one we are told. The person who died was a young man, who had died before his time. His mother was there. His mother was inconsolable. In the midst of that crowd, Jesus stopped. He was filled with compassion for her grief, her loss. It mattered to him. He touched the bier, and spoke the young man into life again, and restored him to his mother. And how did that enormous crowd react? They were shocked! They were joyful! And they immediately began to tell each other: “God has looked favorably on us!” Or, another way of saying it: “We matter! We matter to God!” That was what they experienced in that moment—not only that the young man was resurrected, but that the entire community was healed by this Grace, this presence of God.
A few weeks ago, I was at a funeral very much like the one in Nain. There was a large crowd at a walk for peace in memory of many young people. I was there to mourn Jorge Fuentes, the young man who was such an important member of St. Stephen’s youth program, the B-Safe program, who was shot last September while he was walking his dog, while his mother was cooking dinner. About 20 people, including adults and youth, were there representing St. John’s at the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace in Dorchester. There were nearly 700 people representing the Episcopal Diocese. In total, there were 10,000 people there.
It was rainy that day, but nobody thought to lie down on the ground and make a Rain Shadow.
It would have looked too much like a crime scene…in a neighborhood that had too many crime scenes already. But there were human images everywhere—the families and their friends who had lost someone were wearing tee shirts with the faces of those they had loved and lost. The tee shirts bore their names and the dates they were killed too young. The shirts also bore a statement like: “we’ll always love you,” or “you’re never forgotten.” You matter. You could identify family groups because they were all wearing tee shirts with the same photos–like handprints on their hearts.
We gathered together and walked three and a half miles to say: “Do they matter? Do they matter to God?” At the end of the walk, we came together to celebrate the Eucharist. That was how we experienced the compassion and presence of Jesus that day. Bishop Tom Shaw, Bishop Gayle Harris, and Bishop Barbara Harris celebrated communion in the park, as we held our umbrellas in the rain. The chalice bearers for the Eucharist were all members of Jorge Fuentes’s family. And together as a group we said, “Yes! They matter. They matter to God.” And there was healing and the promise of new life.
Andy Goldsworthy’s Rain Shadow photographs, with the outline of a figure in the landscape, can look a little lonely.
They reflect how lonely you can feel when you are engulfed by grief and a lack of certainty that you matter. Remember, no matter how lonely you feel; God’s compassion is boundless. God’s love is unconditional. You matter. You matter to God. In Baptism, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. And no storm can wash that away.