A River Called Grace
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
Lisa and I have a habit of taking our kayaks out on a river many Friday mornings -- either the Yamhill or the Willamette. In the stillness of early morning water we find ourselves joining in the flow of blessing and grace that carries humanity through life's various seasons.
Some days it appears that grace, like water, is in short supply. But out on the river it seems otherwise as grace and fresh air and water show up in all their abundant goodness. Colors with a hint of fall reflect on still water, beckoning us to our own moments of reflection and gratitude.
Rivers and grace are on my mind these days as I prepare what may be my final book manuscript. Early in my career I wrote a book about grace that never got published. That's a good thing. Then in my mid-40s I wrote a trade book with a nice royalty advance and lots of hoopla from the publisher that didn't exactly translate into enthusiasm in bookstore sales. In my 50th year, I wrote an academic book about grace, which has endured a long time now, I hope helping some people along the way. Now, at age 64, I venture into a new project tentatively called Grace Upon Grace, a book informed by the largest scientific study ever conducted on the topic of divine grace. I had the great honor of being part of the core research team for this study, exploring how Christians of various denominations experience grace. At my age, I won't have many more chances to write about this deepest yearning of the human soul.
Christians have often assumed one pathway to grace--that we confess our sins and God forgives us (1 John 1:9). Yes, I believe this with my whole heart, but those interviewed in our study point toward other routes to grace also. Seeing our brokenness is just one of four pathways that show up in the interview data. Others are beauty, suffering, and kindness. And it's not like we get to choose one and disregard the others. All four paths to grace show up in every life eventually. Grace Upon Grace.
Here's my outline for the book, summarized in a picture. In this case, a picture may be worth 60,000 words.
Regarding beauty, I'm amazed how water keeps showing up as Christians describe their experiences of grace. A river really does run through it.
A 46-year-old United Methodist described how she finds grace in "rivers and creeks and stuff," noting that running water is a pathway for her experience of God. It's probably not surprising that she's also a river rafter. What could be better than floating down currents of grace, navigating the choppy times and the calm ones, too.
A 24-year-old man followed the folk song's advice and went down to the river to pray. He described it this way: "I remember feeling this overwhelming sensation, something I've never felt before. I could barely breathe, like I was overwhelmed by the beauty of that river. And I just had no doubt that God had created this. God was showing me, 'I am right here.'"
A 42-year-old noted how messy and complicated the world seems right now, but that grace is still right here and can be accessed by paddling out in a river.
Another person mentioned making a life-changing decision while floating down the Colorado River--a decision that turned out to be filled with God's grace.
Still another noted a profound moment of grace in church while singing Like a River Glorious.
One interviewee mentioned being baptized in the Jordan River.
Another described how prayer is a discipline of just letting worries float down the river.
Rivers keep showing up in these interviews about grace. And oceans, too, but maybe that's a topic for another blog post.
Rivers bring together the various meanings of grace, including beautiful movement, abundant gifts of provision, divine presence. Today on the river, Lisa and I noticed hot air balloons in the distance, grace aloft high above the earth.
We saw a heron perched on the shoreline. Fish may not see the heron as grace-filled, but they are beautiful creatures. We swayed gently while enjoying good conversation, grace shared as lifelong partners, flawed and forgiven as we are.
Grace flowed all around us, grace upon grace, and this Friday morning we paid attention.