Convivial Symbiosis

a newsletter article

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11


The obvious thing is these rainy days.

Yesterday I had shared earlier verses from Isaiah also about waters, rains, and springs in the desert, making the land rejoice and be glad. I’d shared those parched and longing words in early pre-surgery prayers, then was driving toward church through downpours of rain.

Yes, you read correctly: “driving.” Acacia later said I lucked out in needing the car, because she arrived at the library soaked through her raingear. Whether you’re trying to bicycle through it, walking with umbrellas, or awakened to hear night rains, the obvious thing is rain these days.

The proverbial “April showers” bring other things. Grass gushes with green growth, and trees unfurl miraculously. Rains bring forth splashing mallards and sidewalks of worms. Washing away the waste of winter, we may also say the showers bring beauty, in the abundance of tulips and the aroma of crabapple blossoms and the ghostly white of bloodroot.

The purpose of spring rains may be in bringing growth, to rejuvenate the earth. And it is life to be shared: green vegetation becomes food, pollen sustains our bees, the cycle of life is shed and given for you. It is symbiotic.

Symbiosis defines mutually beneficial partnerships to aid survival. From lichens to elephants and oxpecker birds, hermit crabs with sea anemones to you and your digestive bacteria, this is constantly proving the function of getting along together and not just a battle of nature’s fittest.

Or—in an exact parallel for the roots of “life together”—it is convivial. Though “conviviality” may seem less about details of being roommates, this same basis reminds us it’s not pure function but also joyful to share life.

So these verses from Isaiah 55 (it’s a lovely chapter; look up the whole thing!) envision the purpose of rain. That’s fairly obvious in these days.

Then they compare God’s Word to the rains, sent to accomplish its purpose. Can we say God’s purpose is also symbiosis and conviviality, sharing life together?

It seems fitting for MCC. We are in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial partnership. We are also in it for conviviality, for the delight of being together! We are formed inextricably into the Body of Christ, and breathed into new life proclaiming the Word “Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

It seems fitting for our other relationships. God’s Word is forgiveness, is peace, is reconciliation, is love. That is what God strives for in our families, in our friendships, at work. Sometimes as subtle as the dew or as hidden as life from a snowfall, God’s purpose will nevertheless be accomplished.

It seems fitting for the ELCA synod assembly this weekend. In these times denominations have reduced allegiance, with reactionary resentment against institutional religion. But assembly and UCC annual conference gatherings are reminders that the work of caring for refugees, feeding the hungry, addressing climate change, and celebrating God’s blessing is more than we can accomplish on our own. This is big work in the world, for God’s purposes of giving ourselves to share in life.

Amid God’s mission to stop harm and to spread life, we join convivially with each other and creation in celebrating God’s success:

For you shall go out in joy

          and be led back in peace;

          the mountains and the hills before you

          shall burst into song,

          and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. – Isaiah 55:12