Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The Parable of the River
One of my favorite summer activities is what I call “biyaking.” This is simply what I have named kayaking down a river and shuttling back with a bicycle. It is a full body workout and a great way to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Northwest. A couple of weeks ago I took my good friend, Tom, along for the adventure. As we drove together to the river I felt the need to process with him some of the things I was going through at the time. He is a great friend who simply listened and didn’t try to fix me.
But one thing that he was impressed to tell me about was an article by the late Henri Nouwen. As I reflect on that article, ironically the very activity we were doing, paddling down a river, without realizing it, connected us to a powerful illustration of the message that Nouwen had given through his article. (Read the Nouwen article)
Nouwen talks about three things that are essential for our spiritual health and growth…solitude, community and ministry.
He uses Jesus as the Supreme Model of what we each need to do. Jesus went into the mountainside to be alone with His Father. Solitude was essential to Him. Just as a river’s very life begins in the solitude, in the quiet of the snow-packed mountain ground, so does our spiritual life. This element of solitude is so vital to us as men today. If Jesus, the God-man, found it necessary to live in solitude, early in the morning time with His Father and regularly getting away from the crowd, even more so do we! He did that, I believe, to be regularly reminded of his “belovedness” by the Father.
As I talked with Tom I became newly aware of how much I needed to retreat in solitude with the issues I had been carrying, that were causing so much turmoil and confusion in me. As we paddled I gazed back at the beauty of the snow-capped mountain realizing that I was experiencing on the river direct outflow of that melting mountain snow pack.
Right after solitude comes community. Jesus came down from the mountain and engaged with his disciples (his spiritual family). He rejoined the community. Community is messy. It can be turbulent at times. This is like the upper areas on the river where the water cascades through the boulders, creating dangerous rapids. This portion of the river is both treacherous and gushing with life.
There are dangers, conflicts and thrills in this community. This is where we have disagreements, misunderstandings and brokenness. This is also where we are forced to practice forgiveness, forbearance, kindness and patience for community to survive and to thrive. For most of us this community is experienced in the context of our families.
Out of vibrant family community flows ministry. Jesus and his disciples walked out and touched those of the crowd who came to them. It just flowed (super) naturally from Him. As a river moves through the more turbulent portion of the narrow valley it broadens out to the distant plain to give its life to the land below. It must flow downward to the thirsty and needy land that awaits its life giving presence. That is just like our lives. We must flow outward and farther from our families to reach those who are thirsty for God’s presence.
Vibrant spiritual life originates in solitude, is channeled through family community and broadens out flowing into ministry.
As Tom and I rode our bikes back up the road paralleling the river that we had just paddled down I could look up at the mountain and the river that flowed from it. Solitude. Community. Ministry. It was all there as a visual aid of what I needed for my spiritual life to keep it growing, flowing and outreaching to those in need.
To HIm From Whom All Blessings Flow,
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