Lessons On the River

I recently read an article written by someone who enjoys the deep, philosophical, theological waters.   As I was dog paddling my way through sentences that require a day’s worth of careful analysis and a lifetime to absorb, I realized I am not a deep, philosophical, theological water person!  I can go there, if I focus really hard.  And I have found great treasure there to be sure.  But as a rule I’m more a river girl; especially one with rapids.

It’s not so much the rush of adrenaline that appeals to me as much as the finer aspects of negotiating the rapid itself.  It’s the slow motion moment that hits when I’m in the middle of navigating a particularly tricky spot.  My whole being is on task and my focus becomes razor sharp and the only thing in front of me is the next move.  Then there is the rush of accomplishment and flood of relief that comes after the rapids.

But it’s also the calm, quiet waters in between the rapids that are just as appealing.  Going through the rapids shakes and wakes up every nerve and sharpens your focus.  The transition from a rapid to quiet waters reveals an astonishing effect.  The trees are greener; the water is like flowing silk; the sound of the river is magnified; life is in high definition.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn every move on the river the hard way.  I’d like to say it was my talent that got me here but that would be a bold-face lie.  On my own, I always pick the wrong move.  Thinking I have had the best plan, I’ve ended up completely hung up in a boulder garden.  Moving too soon or too late, I find myself broaching in heavy water.  Not paying attention, I trip over a sleeper and abruptly become a swimmer!   How quickly I become a soggy, bruised mess in need of a rescue!

But I have learned the secret to navigating a rapid: the Master Guide and Paddle Captain.  Listen to His steadfast, precise instructions: “Assume the position…forward…backpaddle…draw…pry…lean in…high side…stop!”   What a difference it makes when one follows good direction!

After the rapids, there is that moment of refreshment where I learn to hear the whisper of the Spirit and the language of the current.  These are the moments of discovery; the moments of clarity when understanding becomes wisdom.  As much as I recognize the value of navigating well through a rapid, I have learned these quiet waters are just as significant.

The lessons of the river reminds me of a great passage in James, “Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4.

Trials just keep coming; like rapids building in class.  And yet, James declares them joy!  How radical is that?  And yet, how true.  The joy of accomplishment, of having survived what you thought might do you in, and the joy of the reflective, calm waters has taught me that trials truly are cause for joy.  But this is not a giddy “high” kind of experience.  No, it’s a deep joy that rolls over a soul like the rushing waters of…a river rapid.  The very substance that causes the trial is the essence of the joy it produces.

Who would have ever imagined a river could become so deep, philosophical, and theological?