There are few things on earth more powerful than the implacable flow of the Mississippi river. Fed by tributaries from Montana to Pennsylvania, the Mississippi is a force of nature in every sense of the term.
That hasn’t kept us from trying to tame it, of course. For thousands of years, longer than human memory, the Mississippi had roamed across a broad stretch of land in what is today the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. The water flowed wherever the ground was lowest, making its way to the sea and crushing anything in its path.
In 1950, the US Army Corps of engineers was instructed to prevent the Mississippi from ever moving again. Since that time, we have been in an ongoing arm-wrestling match with the mighty river. So far, we’ve been able to maintain a steady, manageable flow. No human effort can blunt the force of the Mississippi, but for the moment we are succeeding in redirecting it.
This gets harder every year. Along the entire length of the river, we have sought to protect ourselves from flooding by building high walls to keep the river in its place. The effect of this has been only to strengthen the river, adding water pressure like a garden hose with its opening half-covered. The more tightly we grip the Mississippi, the more powerful it becomes, and the more likely that, someday, it will come crashing out of its bounds once and for all.
There is another river that is even more powerful than the relentless geological force of the Mississippi. Just like the Mississippi, humanity has sought to control it, limiting it to certain bounds. We’ve wanted to use its power without surrendering to its unpredictable movements. We’ve wanted to ride it without getting wet. We’ve put up walls to keep it in place, but in the process we’ve just raised the water pressure and guaranteed that even greater floods will eventually occur.
This river is the one that is described in the apocalyptic vision of John. It is a stream of healing love that flows from the heart of God. It is an unstoppable force that has the ability to totally transform our society. Throughout history, this river has repeatedly overflowed the banks despite all human attempts to limit it. And one day, the prophets promise us that the river will break through the levies once and for all. The love and power of the Holy Spirit will completely re-make our world.
We’ve all spent so much time trying to contain God, to conform his presence to our human logic. What if instead we had the courage to surrender ourselves to the mighty, unpredictable, healing stream of love and justice that even now is pressing at our hearts? What would it look like to unlock the flood gates of our lives and let the joy of the Spirit transform our world?