What is it that Father Paul is trying to understand in the story, "The man to Send Rain Clouds," by Leslie Marmon Silko?
Leslie Marmon Silko's story, "A Man to Send Rain Clouds," is a window into the juxtaposition of worldviews and traditions that are a common experience among Native American communities. In this instance, the reader is able to see the different reactions from the family of Teofilio, an old man who has died, and a young priest who has a small parish in the community. The family members readily accept that a combination of traditional beliefs and catholic practices are appropriate at Teofilio’s funeral, but the entire situation is one which Father Paul, the young priest, must struggle to understand.
The first thing that the young Priest does not understand is Teofilio’s condition. Father Paul is worried about the old man, as he has not seen him in several days. He asks the family about him when he sees them, and they tell him that they found the old man and that everything is okay now. Father Paul takes that to mean that Teofilio is safe, but the family means that they will take care of his funeral.
The misunderstanding between the young priest and Teofilio’s family concerning the fate of the old man leads to a greater misunderstanding when Ken, a member of Teofilio’s family, approaches the priest about sprinkling holy water on Teofilio when they bury him. The family wants the holy water sprinkled so that the old man will not be thirsty. It appears that this is not a tradition, but something from catholic rites that the family wants to incorporate into the burial. The young priest at first refuses. He is upset that he was not told that Teofilio was dead, and he is also upset that he was not able to perform last rites and hold a funeral mass for the old man, whom he regards as a member of his parish and thus Christian. Father Paul does not understand that the family wants to incorporate an aspect of the catholic funeral rite that makes sense to them.
The young priest acquiesces, however, and attends the funeral, perhaps due to his respect for Teofilio, but perhaps also so that he can perform at least some part of the rite he considers most important. He sprinkles his entire container of holy water on the old man’s body, and he is fascinated by the way that the blanket over the body and the sandy ground soak up the water as soon as it touches them. It reminds him of something, but he cannot think of what. Then the narrator puts it in the context of August rain, and the readers may take this to mean that the young priest then understands that the holy water is like rain, a scarce and revered resource in the lives of the Puebloan people.
The reader may further infer that Father Paul may now have some greater understanding of the mixture of traditions and beliefs that coexists among the people of the community. However, it may also be that the young priest will never fully understand the less structured and more adaptable people whom he is trying to serve in the only way he does truly understand.