Wisdom teachers will often use the word “flow.” It is considered a key teaching of perennial wisdom (meaning it transcends culture, national or tribal identity, and even religion). I am fascinated by such an image. It is an image of movement … of progression … of sharing.
Ultimately, it is an image of love.
I think of a river that collects waters from various tributaries and then passes that water onward. It is water that is taken at various points to nourish the earth and quench the thirst of animal life. It is taken into reservoirs, treated, and then brought into our homes and provides nourishment for our families.
In places around the globe where water is either scarce, hoarded by people upstream, or polluted, we find drought, poverty, suffering, and death downstream. When the flow stops, death is soon to follow. Flow has everything to do with life … justice … hope … faith … and the fullest manifestation of love.
Then there is the concept of flow (also part of perennial wisdom) that is succinctly understood as the flow from order to disorder to reorder. This is language that is fleshed out in teachings from the Center for Action and Contemplation and Fr. Richard Rohr. In my theological education, I learned about construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction, which ultimately ties us into the Christian theme of life, death, and resurrection.
The divine flow is finally about the fullest incorporation of death and suffering as a part of the journey from life to resurrection. And this is more than just talk about our physical death that takes us from this earthly existence into the hoped-for afterlife. It is a blueprint for how we move through this life.
Life in the past two years has taught us much about death. In the church I currently pastor, we have experienced changes that have felt like death. From the 20-month drought for those desiring in-person worship and activities (brought on both by COVID and damages from the ice storm of February 2021) to changes in the way we worship to restrictions for being able to gather around table fellowship. We are now saying farewell to a beloved staff member, all the while wondering how we will ever survive all that has happened.
The same is true in our United Methodist Church. With the continued splintering of the denomination around theological positions, specifically around human sexuality and how to interpret the Bible and our Wesleyan tradition, it feels like death to those of us who have been part of Methodism much of our lives.
Death. It just feels like death.
And yet … and yet we are told that death somehow brings life. In John 12:24-25, we hear Jesus say, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Folding into the earth and dying … loving and hating our life. Little of this seems to make sense if we are talking about progress in the way we understand progress (flow) in our world today. Yet the teaching of Jesus is clear. The only way to hold onto something is by letting go. The pathway to hope often leads us through despair. The pathway to freedom often leads us through bondage. And the pathway to resurrection will always take us through death.
Years ago, we would go rafting in Colorado. With our own children, we usually only chose Class 2 or 3 rapids, but they were enough to bring the thrill of rafting to the entire family. Earlier in my life as young teen, however, I had the experience of a Class 4 rapid. I’m not sure my parents fully understood the definition of the various classes of rafting … my mom articulated lots of regret when we hit the most challenging part of the river. We ended up capsized (fortunately right by an eddy) and all climbing back into the raft unharmed. Then we came upon the most beautiful calm as we neared the end of the journey.
What I came to understand was that the last part of the ride was made more meaningful by having survived the rapids. The experience itself became an image of this divine flow from life to death to resurrection, and it is a reminder that, no matter the rapids we face, the flow will carry us finally to the place where life takes on new meaning.
So I invite you into the flow. There are some rapids ahead, but they will take us to an abundant life greater than we could ever imagine.