Signposts: Daily Devotions

Tuesday, March 29

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
—Psalm 46:4

I once heard a remarkable sermon by a young priest from Memphis, Tennessee. The Mississippi River is the westernmost boundary of Memphis, and in her sermon on this text, the preacher talked about rivers in a way I had not thought of before. She quoted a line from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, in which Eliot refers to a river as "a strong brown god."

"We live in a world of conquered things," she said, and described how, through industry and technology, we have mastered and tamed many things, including rivers. "We see a mighty river and think of it as something to be conquered. We build a bridge across it and say the problem is solved.

"We even claim to know God," she continued. But in our pursuit of knowledge, we have forgotten the wild and untamable God, the God whose very nature is beyond our grasp. When we "live safely on the banks of the river," she said, we forget we live in the presence of a God who is not only safe and knowable, but also dangerous. This does not mean we are to live in fear, but instead to have a healthy sense of awe and reverence for God.

"We need to see and be present to the vastness and awe-fullness of God," she said. How to do this? In several ways, like really looking at a river and marveling at its power; like reading things we do not understand; like spending time with people we are uncomfortable with; like going into holy places where awe-full things can happen.

Psalm 46 concludes with the words: "Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." Because of this powerful sermon, I will never hear this psalm in the same, tame way again.

Help us, O God, to leave the safety of riverbanks and the security of known things. Restore our sense of wonder and awe. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.