Go with the Flow

How does God work in the world? It seems to me that his goodness, truth, beauty and grace flows out to the whole world all the time as an active, outgoing force.

It’s like this: when I was a boy I used to like making dams in the stream that ran through our country property. The clear, cold water flowed down the mountain to the river and then from the river eventually into the sea. We’d get big rocks and put them in the stream. We’d pile up smaller rocks to fill the gaps. We’d shovel in gravel to plug the holes to make a dam. We’d dig up plant with mud in the roots to push into the gaps in the rocks.

What did the water do? The water kept coming. The water flowed around and under and over the boulders. The water flowed around the little rocks. It filtered through the gravel, it seeped through the muddy plants and eventually eroded the mud and made it’s way through.

That’s what God’s love in the world is like. It just keeps on coming. It does not force its way, but it neither does it give in. We put boulders of rebellion and sin in its path. It goes over and under and around the boulders. We put the rocks of ego and pride and stubbornness in the path. The grace and goodness just goes around them, and given enough time the water will erode even the largest and hardest of boulders.

Our job is to remove the boulders and stones and allow the grace and goodness and beauty to flow.

There’s more: what is religion like? So often I hear the trite catchphrase, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” To extend the metaphor, being spiritual but not religious is like paddling about in the shallow stream delighting in the feel of the water and the coolness and refreshing qualities of the water. That’s all well and good. However religion is like building a boat to sail on the stream. You build the very best boat you can. You study, you work, you save, you sweat in order to build this fine boat, then you launch the boat on the stream and float down the stream to the river and from the river to the sea.

Religion is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It is the boat in which we sail, the ladder by which we climb and the map which guides us on the journey. The religion is therefore important, but more important is the sailing, the climbing and the traveling.

The last thing is this: in this question of spiritual vs. religious–is it not clear that the truly religious person has both? He has the structure and comfort and breadth and knowledge of religion, but he has the breath of life, the prayer, the heart and the passion of being spiritual. The person who is religious is both religious and spiritual, but the person who is only spiritual suffers from the denial of something good.

We who seek to be truly religious seek also to be truly spiritual. We have both. The person who is spiritual, but not religious has only one, and surely it is better to be both-and than either-or is it not? After all, “A person is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.”

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Julie

    Loved your post, Father!

  • Theophile

    Go with the flow?
    If the going is easy, you just might be going downhill.
    Spirituality…are demon possessed people spiritual?…by default, with an evil spirit.
    Religion…Were the nations around ancient Israel religious? ….Enough so to sacrifice their own children on their alters.
    There is a means to an end,.. and a means to life, that would be the words of God digested.

  • Matt

    What a metaphore. Beautiful in it’s simplicity and powerful in it’s imagery. Thank you.

  • Paul Rodden

    Wilfrid Stinissen’s, ‘Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us’, is a great little book on this topic.
    http://www.ignatius.com/Products/IYH-P/into-your-hands-father.aspx

  • Pingback: The Source | St. John

  • brian

    But one an be religious without being spiritual. Weren’t the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned?

    (Yes I agree btw that it is best to be both religious and spiritual. It’s just that, if being spiritual without being religious leaves one untethered, being religious without being spiritual can leave one bound).


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