A Rejuvenated Stream

Joel Bedford: Creative Commons 

The Great Smoky Mountains perched at the doorstep of my hometown are filled with corridors of green, beckoning my hurried suburban soul to rest in its timbered cathedral.  On fewer occasions than I prefer, I have answered that summons and have found solace on every trail I have explored. Yet I have explored enough trails in these same mountains to know I will always see something that saddens my soul:  dry streambeds.  
Empty channels of rock and soil are silent witnesses that more streams should be flowing through these hills.  The calm sound of a bubbling brook can only be imagined in these beds. In the absence of gentle waters, only the whisper of dry, rustling leaves can be heard.  Switchback trails reveal the height of the waterless emptiness lying under the Smokies’ verdant canopy.  Each turn of the trail is a new discovery of the most present absence on the mountainside; of what should be cascading down these ancient slopes, but isn’t. 
My sadness is more spiritual than environmental.  In these dry streambeds I find a mirror of my heart; of a stream that should be flowing through my soul, but isn’t.  Maturity in the spiritual life is measured by the degree of sadness over one’s sins, an ongoing confrontation with one’s lack of holiness that prompts the “gift of tears.”  Spiritual masters bear witness to this experience throughout the history of the church.  Such is their devotion to holiness and the love of Christ that the gift of tears becomes a mark of maturity and holiness.  I’m not very mature. I’m sad that there’s not more sadness in my soul over my lack of holiness.  I’m dry where a river of confession and repentance should be streaming through my soul.  Thank God for Lent. 
            As one advances in relationship with Christ, deeper sensitivity to holiness is borne through the regular practice of confession and repentance, the disciplines that are emphasized during Lent.  In the Old Testament, the prophets of Israel were paragons of the  repentant life.   Abraham Heschel writes of the prophet’s heroic commitment to holiness: “To us a single act of injustice—cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster.  To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.” 
Consider Isaiah, standing in the Lord’s temple: “Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  Prophets do not choose a willing blindness to their blindness of heart.  They face the unclean places in their own hearts and lives.  These are heroic acts that make saints beautiful and holy.  By no accident is Jeremiah known as “the weeping prophet.”  By no accident is he a saint for his tears. 
It’s an admittedly dark time, this Lenten season.  If we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday talking in terms of dust and ashes, we might as well speak about the place of tears in the spiritual life.  And there is a place for tears, not only in our spiritual lives, but in our churches.  In an Anglican church, the water of baptism is contained in a font, a shorthand version of fountain.  Until recently I haven’t noticed that the water of baptism is truly a fountain that should fork into different streams.  St. Gregory Nazianzen opened my eyes to see that baptism by water and the Spirit opens up channels within my heart that have run dry.  The beginning of our spiritual life in Christ is marked with baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, but another baptism awaits one who desires full cleansing of heart and mind,  the baptism of tears.
When the Spirit moves deeply within one’s heart and mind, a clearer vision of God’s holiness causes us to see our need for deeper cleansing.  In our conversion, baptism is an act of pure grace; in our continued repentance and devotion to Christ, the baptism of tears is a gift of pure grace.  It seems this “gift” is reserved as a harvest after one has sown seeds of repentance in mind, heart, and habits.  When tears flow, it is hardly depression, but a sign of one’s rejuvenated humanity in Christ. Jeremiah may have appeared depressed to his people, but his nearness to God cannot be disputed.  The world wasn’t worthy of a saint like Jeremiah, but he was one of the most fully alive men that ever lived.  What was true for Jeremiah is true for anyone who mourns their sins: “those who sow with tears will reap in joy.”  
I’ve often wondered when I’ve climbed the West Prong Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains if those dry streambeds would ever flow again.  A short time researching the life span of mountain streams reveals a hopeful picture.  As long as a channel is formed, dry beds will be rejuvenated with living water when heavy rains pour into the mountains.  Life returns when a deluge of water comes from the heavens.  But an even more fascinating phenomenon exists that rejuvenates these dry streambeds.  In some instances, water rises up from the ground and brings new life to these arid channels.  From above the earth and within the earth, streams are rejuvenated with living water.  From within and without, God the Spirit brings new life into our arid souls.  The Spirit descends on his saints; the Spirit indwells his saints with life from within.  Our eyes may be streaming with tears, but life is rejuvenated from within when we ache for the Lord’s holiness in our hearts and minds.  No matter the form of baptism the Spirit brings, he always baptizes us for the sake of life and joy in communion with our beautiful God.     
Prayer:  In the communion of saints, may your gift of tears flow like an unending stream from one generation of saints to the next, O Lord.  Rejuvenate your Church with a devotion to holiness that will make us fully alive, bearing your image, conformed to the likeness of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.  

2 thoughts on “A Rejuvenated Stream

  1. Thank you, Jack, for reminding me of our baptism into Christ which is the source of great suffering and even deeper joy!

Comments are closed.