I must be fully adapted to life here in the Northwest. Even after the wet winter that we’ve had, I still like the rain. It plays a soft, percussive cadence on the roof and tinkles into the gutters and downspouts while I sit inside, warmed by the vapors rising from my hot beverage. I even enjoy a walk in the rain with my waterproof boots and jacket on, smelling the fresh air and feeling thousands of tiny pats on my head, shoulders, and arms.
Why do people find the rain depressing? Maybe because the clouds block the sunshine, limiting access to Vitamin D and the healthy effects of ultraviolet light. Or maybe they don’t wear the right gear so they feel cold and damp. But the benefits of rain far outweigh its inconvenience.
Suddenly I’m reminded of a portion of Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Aten:
All distant foreign countries, thou makest their life (also),
For thou hast set a Nile in heaven,
That it may descend for them and make waves upon the mountains,
Like the great green sea,
To water their fields in their towns.
How effective they are, thy plans, O lord of eternity!
The Nile in heaven, it is for the foreign peoples
And for the beasts of every desert that go upon (their) feet;
(While the true) Nile comes from the underworld for Egypt.
It doesn’t rain much in Egypt, so the Nile is the main source of fresh water there. But Akhenaten knew about rainfall in other regions, and how it provided the same benefit — thus a “Nile in heaven”. It’s interesting to me that credit for the water cycle goes to the Sun god here (the Aten), but that’s probably just a coincidence rather than any scientific understanding of the process — the Aten being the only god in Akhenaten’s religion.
As a student of Biblical Literature in college, I became fascinated with Akhenaten’s fourteenth century BCE experiment with monotheism. It represented such a marked break with the ornate polytheism of previous Egyptian religious tradition, and it was just as soon squelched by that priestly establishment after Akhenaten’s death. The images of the Aten (the Sun’s disk) are also markedly less anthropomorphic than other gods of that time, its only human touch being the tiny hands depicted on the end of each of its rays, caressing the king and his family. Of course it’s hard to say whether Atenism was truly a theoretical monotheism or just monolatry (“worship only one god” as opposed to “there is only one god”), it certainly seems to have been purer in practice than any stage of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. These three continue to condone belief in other divine beings such as angels and demons, who were after all originally lesser gods in the court of the high god El in Canaanite religion. And lets not forget the doctrine of the Trinity, whereby Christians add one plus one plus one and get one. Even if it might all be true, you can’t really call it monotheism.
If you have to choose one thing to worship, then the Sun seems like an especially practical choice. It’s something you can see every day that provides immense benefits to our world (more even than Akhenaten might have realized). “Lord of eternity”, though, is a bit overdone. The Sun may well be the most impressive phenomenon in our daily experience here on Earth, but we now know that it won’t last forever and that there’s much more to the cosmos than our star in one little corner of one galaxy among billions.