Yesterday I picked up a path behind a little country store up in the Smoky Mountains. As I rounded the corner I found a happy creek just beyond. The clear water slipped over the pebbles and stones at its bottom, and sparkled as the sun caught its rippling movements. The deeply dug banks had clearly withstood much deeper water than the present spring rains. Accompanied by green grass and purple wildflowers along the bank, this singing creek was a picture of contentment and readiness.
One the ways the Church has imaged true freedom over the centuries is as a river flowing within well-dug banks. In this vision of freedom, each new moment is an opportunity to love what is good, rejoice in what is beautiful, ponder what is true. When we live “up and out, “ oriented toward God and the world around us, each choice to set our mind on the good, beautiful and true digs the riverbanks of our soul a little bit deeper. Over time we begin to taste moments in which our heart’s energy freely flows through ever-deepening banks.
The soul left to its own devises bears little resemblance to this refreshing creek. Rather, we can so easily get caught in our immediate circumstances and our present feelings about them. When we live “down and in” the day’s energy is more like a whirlpool, going nowhere, blessing nothing.
While a form of this freedom was known and pursued by ancient wisdom traditions, a fundamental shift occured with Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus looked up to the Father and received what he needed. He obeyed as the well-formed riverbanks of his Father’s will pressed ever deeper into his soul. We might imagine that this posture was always a delight for Jesus, but the book of Hebrews tells us that he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)—his soul must surely have been scored with the deepest of riverbeds. “I love the Father, and I do precisely what He tells me to do” cascaded out of the depths of his soul as He taught and healed, and as water and blood pouring from his side.
Here’s one implication of the Incarnation: whenever I look up to God to receive wisdom for a real-life situation, and then act from within that wisdom, the banks of my soul’s creek bed are better established. Because the same Spirit that empowered o Jesus and raised him from the dead was poured out upon us at Pentecost, the same energy that flowed through Jesus can now flow through me (Colossians 1:29). The Spirit must surely delight to dig riverbanks that both contain and channel Christ’s life to a waterless world.
And every so often I hear a song through the relentlessly pressing current, “I will run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32). It is so. May it be so.