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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: River (08/31/06)

TITLE: Flood Plains
By Michelle Vander Wal


Rivers are an intrinsic part of life in many parts of the world. The Jordan, the Ganges, the Amazon, the Rhine, the Volga, the Yangtze, the Nile, the Euphrates are woven into the fabric of their surrounding cultures. Most of the great societies of our world originated near rivers and water became a sacred symbol of life. In Christianity, the Jordan River became our symbol of passing from a life of bondage to a life of freedom, a crossing over from one world to the next. There is a popular worship song about the River of God that sets our feet to dancing. “The river is rushing and the river is here,” we sing with great gusto and joy.

Like many symbols of the Bible and faith the river is a two edged metaphor. While it provides water, a symbol of life, it can also imply a symbol of death-- drowning. It is no coincidence that baptism began as a dunking the Jordan River. We are to die to our old self and way of life and rise up, cleansed, to our new self. The metaphor of the river, I think, that is most striking in our world today, is that of a flood.

The rivers of the ancient Western world, the Nile and the Euphrates, have vast flood plains that nurtured the growth of the agriculture and eventually civilizations on their shores. People lived in a seasonal round of flood, recession, planting and harvest. In modern North America we have dammed, levied, paved over and corralled our great rivers to suit our needs and desires. We chose the route of dominance over acceptance of the lifecycle of a river. We now pay the price for our arrogance every year when tropical storms and hurricanes drop rain further inland and cause rivers to overflow. The destruction of one square foot of water with accompanying debris is staggering. Again and again rivers remind us that they cannot be controlled or tamed forever.

I learned this lesson myself while working outdoors one summer. We had camped beside an outwardly harmless babbling creek which was adjacent to our job site. We would put our bagged food in the water to stay fresh till lunch; we cooled our hot feet and doused our sweaty skulls. On the second last day of work we had to leave our tent city due to a severe thunderstorm. The next morning we went back to our site, assuming a great deal of water and some drenched bedding. We could hardly believe our eyes. The tents were gone; the 30 pound BBQ was gone. Looking up into the trees lining the creek we began to find blankets, rubber boots, pots and clothes. These items were at least six feet above the ground. The creek was a little higher by morning but not over its banks. Sometime during the night, however, it had covered the entire flood plain, swept away our camp and risen to six feet above its normal water line. I have learned my lesson—no more flood plains.

So when we sing about the river of God I imagine not a sparkling stream or gleaming vista studded with sailboats. I picture a raging torrent of water, straight out of Revelation, that does its part to wash away any vestige of the sinful earth. Like real floods, the river of God rises up bit by bit and then suddenly overflows the levies we built to contain it, to control God. The water drags away everything we wrongly cling to, leaving us stranded. In this most desperate moment, finally truly open to God’s saving arm, we gratefully seize Jesus’ hand. We may have to ride the rapids for a while but ultimately we do arrive on the opposite bank, the docks of the city of God.

Do not be fooled by the sluggish demeanor of a dry season stream. God’s cleansing and awesome power can come on us like a flooded river, carrying us away, stripping us of our illusions. Unlike the unpredictable nature of earthly rivers, the river of God always deposits us on the opposite shore, safe, sound but perhaps minus our rubber boots.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sharlyn Guthrie09/09/06
Nice imagery! I think your first line could be stronger, to "hook" the reader. I was glad that I kept reading, because your message was right on target.
Rhonda Clark09/11/06
This is a great article. I enjoyed your comparisons.