A river runs through us

My growing-up family used to vacation with the Edwards family, whose children, Devron and Denise, were the same age as my brother and me. One summer in the Smoky Mountains we rented inner tubes and enjoyed a lazy river ride, with the exception of a brief rapid or two. Even in July, the frigid water could take your breath away. Devron, my brother, and I had moved through a rapid and stood in the shallows to one side of the river, when Denise floated past us. She asked if it was very deep where she was, and we said no, knowing better. She hopped out and was immediately submerged. After a second she popped up, sputtering, shaking, and screaming at us to stop laughing.

Controversial pastor Rob Bell maintains that “the historic, orthodox Christian faith [is] a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences.” Faith in the shallows walks gingerly in religious clichés, superficial relationships and stale ritual. Deep stream faith asks hard questions, not shying away from doubt, pain and failure. It’s expansive and celebratory and authentic. Deep stream faith seeks full immersion, which can astonish or jolt on occasion.

I long for a deep stream faith and a deep stream church. For those like me with some experience of immersion (I’m speaking of more than baptism here), but desire to wade into deeper waters, there are two benefits we will especially discover.

First, profound stillness.

“He leads me beside still waters…He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2)

Christian activist, poet and farmer Wendell Berry lives enthusiastically with intense reverence for nature, calling people to simple living and good stewardship. He writes about a greater stillness in “The Peace of Wild Things”:

“I come into the peace of wild things/ who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief … And I feel above me the day-blind stars/ waiting with their light. For a time/ I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Second, a bubbling over. Jesus said, “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again… [it] will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) Jesus also said, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” (John 7:38) Tributaries drawing from the well of stillness flow out, connecting with others and with the life of God.

Last August the Advocate shared a story about the possibility of an underground stream beneath the Oak Cliff Bank of America building. Our church campus rests two blocks north of the tower, and during my first week as pastor, another staff member took me into the basement.

He said, “there’s a river underneath us. Listen closely.”

I could hear the gurgling. I could imagine the water flowing, as it had for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years.

We’re closer to the deep stream than we think.