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River of God

In spite of growing up in land-locked Indiana, I have always been drawn to the water. I love to hear the rain fall on the roof or listen to the gentle splash of a water fountain. I have beautiful memories of waterfalls in Portland and Puerto Rico as well as the awe-inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean and the Aegean Sea. Whether small or large, if it's a body of water, I love to be near it. But there's a flipside to this deep love of the water-- I also have a deep fear of it. I have a saying: "If I can't see or touch the bottom of it, I ain't getting in it."

One of the images that Scripture uses to describe the person and work of the Holy Spirit is water. More than the image of wind or fire or a dove, the Holy Spirit as water - as deep calling to deep - resonates in my soul. And much like my love-fear relationship with physical water, my experience with the Holy Spirit has been marked by a drawing near and a running from. While some bodies of water are peaceful, inviting, and serene, others can be daunting and frightening by their sheer vastness, depth and power. There's no taming that kind of water. In my experience, the Holy Spirit is much more like this water - moving, surging forward, leaving indelible marks on everything in the path. This water is not for the faint of heart.

Many years ago, I was introduced to singer-songwriter Nichole Nordeman's song, "River God.” I still remember where I was, sitting in my seminary's Chapel, listening to a fellow student play this remarkable piece on the piano. The music composition is reminiscent of the sound of flowing water. Layered on top of the music are lyrics that beautifully and powerfully depict the movement of the Spirit in my life, as well as my heart's truest desire:

Sometimes raging wild 
Sometimes swollen high 
Never have I known this river dry 
The deepest part of you 
Is where I want to stay 
And feel the sharpest edges wash away

When I heard those lyrics that day, I was both encouraged and haunted. I was going through an incredibly difficult and painful time in my life- in many ways a dark night of the soul. There I was, following God's call on my life into ministry, and I felt like a fraud-- unable to pray or to hear God speak.

A few years later, while preaching in Chapel during my last semester, I would characterize my time at seminary as my exile. I couldn't make sense of (what seemed to be) the contradiction of feeling both so close to and far away from God at the same time. But it was during that time when my theology of the Holy Spirit was most profoundly formed.

For me the "already/not yet" of the kingdom of God is most acutely felt in my life with the Spirit. From the very beginning of Genesis we see the Spirit of God active in creation. The prophets tell of a time when God will pour out the Spirit on all people, the fulfillment of which we get in the book of Acts. Scripture makes clear that we have already been given God's Spirit, the one whom Jesus foretold. The Spirit gives us our very life, and yet we are still being fashioned into vessels better able to receive the fullness of the Spirit. And that fashioning takes time.

As seasons of life have come and gone, the truth of this understanding of the Spirit's work in my life has been underscored time and again. I often become restless and impatient, anxious for the Spirit to do a mighty work in my life. At times I am overwhelmed by the nearness and beauty of God's presence and am left in a pool of tears. But mostly, it's the space in-between. The listening and responding, the closing of my eyes and jumping in, trusting the faithfulness of the Spirit to finish the good work already begun.

Just a few days ago, I attended a conference titled The Mission of the Spirit as the Life of The Church. It was, by far, the best conference I have ever attended. The presence of God was at times nearly palpable. The way in which the speakers and attendees from various Christian traditions listened and responded to the Word of God being preached and sung and prayed was remarkable. There were people who received healing and answers to prayer--myself included. I felt nourished and nurtured in a way I haven't felt in years. And yet... And yet, at times, I still found myself resisting and fearful, questioning whether the bounty that I saw others open to and receiving truly was meant for me as well. This is my constant inner struggle.

As maddening as this inner struggle is for me, the longer I walk with God, the more convinced I am that the Holy Spirit desires to give us all of God's Self, filling us full to overflowing with life. And the Spirit continually beckons us to wade ever-deeper into the cleansing, edge-smoothing waters, where we are changed (sometimes painfully) moment by moment, day after day, into the sons and daughters we are meant to be.

Here's the thing: most days I find myself somewhere safely on shore- not jumping in-with barely my ankles submerged. But still, through the nudging and wooing of the Spirit, my soul thirsts for more. I want more of God's love and power and truth. I long to be brave, to dive head-first into the River of Life. In those times when I doubt God's sufficiency, when I am sure God has finally left me alone, and my faith is dry as dust in my mouth, somehow--even faintly--I hear a gentle bubbling and I'm reminded that God's Spirit still moves, still stirs, and still buoys me effortlessly on.


Post by DeeAndria Hampton (CG Midtown).