Snapshots of the Life-Giving God. Week 1: God the River.
Snapshots capture unique moments of our lives that often suggest something about who we are, what and who we care about, where we find joy, and how we make meaning. In a similar way, scripture provides snapshots of the God who loves us, cares for us, and shapes us into the leaders God has called us to be. So for the next few weeks we’ll be reflecting on several roles, images, and expressions of God as life-giver and sustainer. Our prayer is that you’ll be encouraged and inspired along the way.
I love the Chattahoochee River and feel privileged to live in a neighborhood that backs up to it. When I have a couple spare hours, I like to paddle up the river in my kayak about a quarter mile to the first set of small rapids, pull over to some larger rocks where I can sit and read a book, fish (without even a smidgen of success), and from time to time take a nap one of the rocks near the bank. The sound of the rushing water, the breeze, the diverse wildlife, the scene as a whole is good for my soul. Life-giving.
On these little excursions I am from to time reminded of the way scripture talks about God’s rivers, or even God as a river in some cases. The Psalmist praises God in Psalm 65:
9 You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
The river of God is full of water. And if you’ve ever tried to wade through even a small river, perhaps while fly-fishing or hiking (or in my case backpacking!), or boating across a river in an awkward direction, you find out really fast what coming up against a river full of water is like. The water pressure is immense and continuous. The water just really isn’t interested in what would be convenient for you. At all. It’s easier just take your time, go with the flow as much as you can, and not fight the water. There is a world of difference between trying to go upstream or across stream vs downstream. I think this is in part what Richard Rohr was getting at when he wrote just a few years ago, “…faith might be precisely that ability to trust the big river of God’s providential love, which is to trust the visible embodiment (the Son), the flow (the Holy Spirit), and the source itself (the Father). This is a divine process that we don’t have to change, coerce, or improve. We just need to allow it and enjoy it. That takes immense confidence, especially when we’re hurting…. Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are already in it. This is probably the deepest meaning of “divine providence.” So do not be afraid.” (Rohr, https://cac.org/daily-meditations/trust-the-river-2016-02-04/)
The first time I read these words from Rohr it occurred to me how frequently I had preferred to go against the flow of God’s “big river” or just go off and dig my own trenches for new rivers. And as I scan the landscape of church and ministry leaders across the country in 2023 and beyond, I do worry about that same temptation, trying to force God’s river to flow differently, or feeling the need to dig new rivers entirely. This need frequently emerges from our anxiety, fear, and or cynicism. Alternatively, we might want to commit to ongoing discernment of how the flow of God’s river is changing, reshaping the banks, the rocks, the other features we’re used to. It’s the same river, but the landscape is never the same. Always changing. Always under the force of the flowing water.
Of course, profoundly, Jesus says this same river will flow from our hearts. We are such beloved, intimate members of God’s triune life, that the very river of that life begins to flow out of us.
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as[f] the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive…
Friends, be encouraged and emboldened, God’s River is ALWAYS full, ALWAYS flowing, ALWAYS giving life, and ALWAYS at work in you and me, to continually shape and reshape the landscape of our hearts, and from there our congregations, communities, and indeed all of creation, which the psalmist says is shouting and singing for joy upon being watered by God. (65:13).
So, let’s go with that flow.
I’m giving the final words to Nick Cave (whose recently published book, Faith, Hope, and Carnage, one of the best I’ve ever read on faith, grief, and art, is a must read!)
Going to the river where the current rushes by
I’m going to the river where the current rushes by
I’m gonna swim to the middle
And stay out there a while
Hand of God, hand of God, hand of God