The River

Spirituality understands true transformation not as something that happens when you DO something or DESIRE something, but when we are at last willing to STOP doing and simply be still. It is in neither action nor inaction that we find God. It is in cooperation.  This is what most Christians don’t get, and what Eastern religion teaches far better.God does, and we respond — always. We are always, in the words of Eugene Peterson, “seconding the motion.”  There is a beautiful verse in Hebrews that says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Let us make every effort to enter that rest.” The only effort we need to make is the effort required to stop making effort — and that can take many years.

Imagine a rushing river, and I am hot and exhausted, and I think it would be a great idea to take a swim there. You say, “That river is out of control. If you try to swim in it, you will be lost.” If I am wise, and wish to be refreshed in the river, I will enter it cautiously, not attempting to swim in it, but simply standing in one place and allowing the water to do the moving. If I start exerting my own efforts, I will be carried away, for here my efforts are a hindrance, not a help.

  • Stage 1 of religion is learning there is a river
  • Stage 2 is thinking (wrongly) that by believing there is a river, one is therefore standing in it.
  • Stage 3 is entering the river for refreshment, and frolicking around in it. This is where most Christians dwell; from this stage proceed most of the silly but well-intentioned attempts to possess the river, to “get” God, to make God draw close, while one is focused way more on one’s own exhausting efforts in the river than on experiencing the river itself.  This is a stage of religion everybody has to go through, and important things do happen here.
  • Stage 4 is where one is finally so exhausted, so sick of one’s self, that the religious person either leaves the river entirely, or slowly begins to learn how to stand still and let the river do the work — to locate one’s self in God, allow God to do whatever needs to be done, including making the determination about what needs to be done.

Those who argue that spirituality is simply one more way for human beings to exercise self-will simply don’t get it.  No doubt there are times we are doing and making things happen, but primarily there is a dance going on. We have entered the river and something is being done unto us that is changing us, bringing peace, slowly and surely growing certain “fruits” in our lives without us having to act or pretend or force anything.  This is the experience of those who learn to stand in that river.

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  • Mike

    Dave,

    As you know, I just finished reading “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young. Your post today reminds me a great deal of the message from that book. In the book, the lead character, Mack, is certainly dwelling in (your suggested) stage 4 and it is his effort to stand still that is the meat and potatoes of The Shack.

    I know that personally, that I spent most of my life in stage 2 (perhaps I’m back there now?. I have often teetered between stage 3 and stage 4, so much so that I have drifted away from organized religion and have come to what I believe is a spiritual relationship with God. Do I go to church? Not usually – I am a holiday Christian – Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, etc. However, do I talk to God privately? Yes, every day. I give thanks for the day’s blessings (Thanks, God, for giving me the opportunity it enjoy some time with my sons this week at deer camp), often ask for a little help (Okay God, get me through this…), and sometimes just acknowledge the wonder of it all (Wow, God, that was a very cool sunset you made tonight). I learned a long time ago not to bargain or make deals with God – it just seems foolish (God, if you let my son get straight A’s this marking period, I’ll go to church for a month.). Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? First off, God doesn’t “let” anyone do anything – He gave us free will and allows us as humans to decide our own path. As The Shack suggests, God could interfere (or calm the river perhaps?), but that was not His intent. But I digress…

    I enjoyed your river analogy, Dave, and thought it timely for me personally (ironic this post came out just a few days after I finished The Shack). I guess I’ll go stand in the river and see what happens – maybe I need to wade a little farther out.

    For anyone else reading my ramble… please read “The Shack.” Maybe you’ll find it worth reading, or at least enjoyable. If nothing else, it gives you something to do while wading in the river.