I sit in my chair as I begin to write this inspirational piece, which will be read tomorrow. It is pitch dark outside. As we near the shortest day of the year, it always seems much later than it really is. I have some nice windows to look out, but because it is so dark, I cannot see a thing.
But I can hear the roar in the background. If I were to invite you into my place tonight, you would swear we were at the ocean. With only a little imagination, we would be certain we could hear the waves crashing on shore. But I am twelve miles from one of the Great Lakes and at least 400 miles from the nearest ocean. So it is not the ocean we hear outside my little place. It is my little river.
Why would I call it my little river? I call it that because most of the time that is exactly what it is: my little river. Right now it is pretty tumultuous. If you could wait with me till dawn begins to fragment the eastern night sky (and my window does look out to the east), we would see that my little river is quite high in its banks. We have had a great deal of rain and a heavy rain yesterday. So my little river is swollen and it rages.
That’s precisely what we would be hearing outside my door in that pitch-black night. It is a swollen, raging river. If my little river were a person, we would be guessing that person would be angry. In fact a “raging” river is an angry river. Like anger, the rain has turned my little river into something else.
The flow of the river right now is aggressive. Instead of drifting along, that river is charging downstream. It submerges rocks and anything else that gets in its way. The water current is swift and quite strong. No sane person would step into the water to swim. To step into the water would be suicidal. My little river has become a potential death-dealer. It may be awesome. But it is also fearful. I respect it---from a distance!
So what does this have to do with anything? Certainly one can ask whether it has anything to do with religion or spirituality. At one level---the literal level---the answer is negative. Literally it is a story about a rain-swollen little river that flows nearly out of control. It is simply the effect of some heavy rain. But the literal level is not the only way to read and hear this story.
Let’s assume this is metaphorically a nature story about how the Spirit works in the world and, specifically, in human beings. At the Spirit level there are actually two levels, just as there are two levels to my little river. The obvious level is what I would call the “normal level.”
This normal level is my little river most of the time. Most days, if you were to visit, would show us a little river gently moving along. One could walk into the water and barely discern the movement. It would pose no danger. We could play in it and enjoy it. It would be fully ours to do as we wish.
That is very much how I see the normal level of the Spirit. It, too, is very gentle. The movement of the Spirit, like the river current, is barely discernable. In fact, the subtle flow of God’s Spirit in normal times is so difficult to discern, it would be easy to assume there is no Spirit. Perhaps this is why so many of us in our normal lives are not aware of the Spirit and, consequently, live with no attentiveness to God’s Spirit. It is the same with me and my little river. Normally speaking, I am seldom aware of the little river.
But then come the rains and then comes the gusts of the Divine Spirit. The little river swells, just as my spirit is swollen by the Holy Spirit. This is no longer the normal level! What do we call it? Is it the abnormal? Although that sounds a bit strange, it is an ok description. To be abnormal is to be away from the normal.
Strange as it sounds, there really are times in my life when the presence of the Spirit has been so abnormally present that I could do no other than be awed (and somewhat fearful) of it. That kind of presence threatens to take control of me. It feels like it is going to carry me along in a Spiritual current too strong to resist. This may sound like religious fanaticism, but that’s not the case.
Nothing in my life that I have done remotely comes close to religious fanaticism. The abnormal presence of God’s Spirit does not create religious freaks. But that abnormal presence of the Spirit does create martyrs and miracles. The English word, martyr, comes from a Greek word meaning, “witness.” So a martyr is one whose life is a witness (ultimate martyrdom being witness unto death).