By Alex Florez
Rivers are ubiquitous in literature across cultures and throughout time. For Huck Finn and his unlikely friend Jim, the mighty Mississippi represents freedom and adventure as well as confinement and danger. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the Congo River provides a journey into the depths of human depravity and greed. In Greek mythology, the souls of the deceased would be ferried across the Styx to the entrance of the underworld. In all these examples, a river is used to characterize a journey.
This common literary device brings to mind the various journeys we embark on as human beings. Whether we cast off with a particular destination in mind or we are unwittingly transported from one set of circumstances to another, we might say that we find ourselves making landfall in situations that correspond to the rivers upon which we travel.
One personal example involves the fact that I started drinking at a very young age. This “river” led me to a place where I would eventually need to choose between its numbing effect and the well-being of my family. Now over seven years sober, I have the perspective to say with unequivocal confidence that this journey brought me dangerously close to losing everything and everyone I loved. Praise God that I changed courses before it was too late.
It is clear to me that the routes we choose—as well as the nature of the “rivers” themselves—help determine where we end up from one season of life to the next. What the Bible seems to describe in passages like the one from today’s reading is that God stands at the shoreline beckoning us to embark upon a new kind of journey: one that leads to rejuvenation, health, and freedom. “There will be life everywhere the river goes,” says the Lord in Ezekiel 47:9.
God offers superior water and a better journey. As the prophet describes, it is life-giving water that flows from within the dwelling place of God. That is, the Lord Himself is the source of the river upon which He calls us to travel. In Ezekiel’s vision, the river soon intersects with the Dead Sea. Even this water—famous for its extraordinary salinity—becomes fresh due to God’s water flowing into it. This reminds us that God can bring newness of life into the most unlikely places.
During this Lenten season, as we contemplate the choices we’ve made and the journeys we’ve taken under our misguided terms and conditions, let us thank God that He has offered us a better way. Not only in this life but in the next. We must hold fast to the notion that God is our captain. As we travel upon the “rivers” of His sovereign will and unfailing love, we set out with peace in our hearts, confident that wherever we go, we bring the life-giving presence of God’s Holy Spirit.