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Transformation: Visualizing Spiritual Practices (Life in the River)

Transformation Blog

 

 

Transformation: Visualizing Spiritual Practices (Life in the River)

Brandon Cook

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but sometimes it’s more akin to a raging river.

Imagine a river, wild and rushing.  Its roar prevents you from hearing much of anything, its currents create huge sprays of water, its waters pour over you and echo up the hills all around you.  This river represents modern life—hurried and loud.  The easiest thing in the world is to be swept down its current, trying to survive, then to arrive at river’s end asking, “Where did the time go?  How did it go so fast?” 

Indeed, imagine that you are being swept down the river, but in front of you there is a huge boulder, interrupting the current’s flow.  Water rushes to either side of the great rock, but behind it, a dry space has been created, untouched by the water’s stream.  At first you are frightened by the boulder or what might happen if you encounter it, so you swim to the side, trying to avoid it.  But then you realize that the boulder might offer you something that the river never can, since the river never really lets you rest.  So you start swimming towards it.  With some serious effort, you are able to exit the wild rush of water and stand in the dry space, no longer knocked about.  You can breathe easily.  And, miraculously, as you step into the space, the roar of the river somehow recedes.  There is quiet.  You can hear your own thoughts, connecting with quiet in a new way.

When you enter back into the river, things are different.  The current doesn’t seem as strong.  Or maybe you’ve just become a better swimmer?  Still, the roar of the river seems quieter, too.  And your heart is encouraged when you see another boulder in front of you.  You repeat the process and find that when you engage the waters again, the current seems lesser still.  Now, rather than being afraid of the boulders or wanting to avoid them, you are, with gladness, on the lookout for the next one!

In this little parable, the boulder represents a spiritual practice.  A practice creates a space that we can enter for the transformation of our soul through encounter with Jesus which empowers us to live in a new way.  Through the space created by spiritual practices, we are literally able to receive grace and power from on high so that we can be in the water completely differently.  For example, the week that I wrote this chapter was, in a word, crazy.  The river usually is!  The week culminated in my wife, Rebecca, and I being called home from a short getaway to be with our son who was having a serious asthma attack.  One rushed trip home, one hospital visit, and $2,500 later, we were rejoicing that he was totally fine!  But I found myself, upon waking up the next morning, tired and disappointed that we had had to cut our trip short, and thinking, too, about money, since we hadn’t been counting on a large medical bill.  Plus, I had a ton of work to do for the coming week.  So yeah, woe is me and all that.  I was feeling it.

In the midst of all this, a word from scripture lodged in my head.  “Life is more than what you eat.” [1]  Where did that come from?  I knew it was from scripture, but was it just a random thought popping in, as they do?  The more I meditated on it, the more I became convinced that Jesus was speaking to me.  I followed the thought and created some time in my morning to sit and pray into the scripture, where I became aware that Jesus, as he usually does, was asking me to trust him and not to worry.  In fact, the same passage says so explicitly: do not worry!  And I found that as I responded “yes” to that invitation to trust, there was a tangible buoyancy within me.  When I came out on the other side of the prayer, there was a new infusion of life within me that had not been there ten minutes previous. 

Did my problems go away?  No.  Still had a hospital bill, still had a lot of work to do; the river was still strong.  But in the midst of it, I was different.  I was gentler towards Becca and I was kinder with those whom crossed my path.  Through a time “behind a boulder,” I was transformed to love and be with others in a new way.

Now, the difference between real life and the river metaphor is that in real life, we are responsible for placing the boulders in the river.  We have to take responsibility for our spiritual lives by arranging them in a way that creates space for encounter.

Jesus did this, which is surely why he “often withdrew to solitary places to pray.”[2] He was leaving the wild waters of life, with its raging currents and, in a space of quiet, engaging deeply with the quiet, empowering voice of his father.  Jesus, in fact, never really left this conversation of prayer.  Sure, there were times of explicit prayer, but Jesus was also engaging with the voice of God all the time, wherever he was.  Prayer remained a discrete part of his daily and weekly rhythm, but it was also a constant conversation.  Through it, he learned to be continually abiding in the place of his Father’s goodness.  Again, even when he was on the cross, he was able to draw upon this source of generosity, prayer for those who executed him, “Father, forgive; they don’t know what they’re doing.”[3]  Where does such compassion come from, in the midst of overwhelming pain?  Simply from being connected to his Father, The Divine Source of All Goodness, whose love and grace is greater than death or any other sorrow we might face.  Yes, even in the face of death, in the most wild current of the river, Jesus was in that dry place behind a boulder, abiding and trusting. 

Jesus’ invitation is that we would abide in him.  If we practice this abiding, we will thrive in the river and survive the storm, when life is sweeping over us with its waves and with its torrents.  The more we grow in spiritual practices, the more they will become a natural way of life.  Rather than being things we do because we’re supposed to do them, they will become part of us; we will see them as the means by which we connect with the core of us, where we abide in God and find all life in Him.  We will, in short, naturally become the type of people who do God’s will and ask and act according to the heart of Jesus.[4] 

[1] Matthew 6:25

[2] Luke 5:16

[3] Luke 23:24

[4] John 15:7 and I John 5:14