I came home from my walk along the Charles River last Saturday nearly euphoric. Maybe you can’t imagine a river doing that for you. Not long ago, I couldn’t have imagined it myself, but two things have changed since that time.
First, I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city that gives the phrase mind over matter a whole new meaning. Here, ideas, and the brains that came up with those ideas, are what matter. I lived with a guy in grad school who was getting his doctorate studying the piscatorial poetry of 19th century England. Piscatorial is a fancy word for fishing and, for the record, he had never been fishing.
In a place like this, the river has become ever more important to my well-being. It doesn’t care what I did or said the day before. It rolls right along with or without me. Every spring the goslings make a mess of the sidewalks just as the cherry blossoms bloom. Every winter, the ice seems to sprout upward along the bank.
On Saturday, the sky was blue, the kayaks silent, and the skyline stunning. I wanted to stop and applaud. “The God who created all of this, including the people who designed those buildings, is so very, very good!”
Second, I just returned from three months in Costa Rica. Since returning, people have told me that I look relaxed, healthy, even younger! They want to know what the secret was. Was it the break from work? Well, yes. The beaches and rain forests? Yes, that too. But what it really was was our rule of life.
The idea of a rule of life comes from monastic traditions, where monks and nuns had to figure out how to live their communal life in ways that glorify God and help the members grow in love and obedience. The idea has been gaining ground in Evangelical circles these days, and Jeff and I used our sabbatical time to work on our family’s rule of life. (You can read Jeff’s reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict, here.)
Our rule is still evolving, and involves direction in every aspect of our lives. I think that the aspects of the rule that were most significant when it comes to my rejuvenated look were about sleep, Sabbath, exercise, food, and sex. You see, no matter what I think about my abilities to work all day, eat garbage, and assume that my marriage is bulletproof, it’s simply not true. We were created to live according to certain rhythms.
Following those rhythms does two things. First, it allows us to operate the way we were intended to, like putting the right kind of gas in your car. More important, though, is that as we resist the rule (which we do all too often), we remember that we are not the center of the universe, that someone else is in charge, that someone else’s agenda is more important than our own, and that we worship a God who wants us to live in sync with the created order.
As I walked along the Charles, I realized that the river already knew this little secret. All it needs to do to glorify its maker is obey its rule. For instance, it keeps right on flowing toward the sea, regardless of what is happening around it. Given enough time, it has the mechanisms to rid itself of toxins. It’s true that we may eventually overcome it’s ability to clean itself up by dumping too much factory waste in it upstream. But the Charles River won’t participate in it’s own destruction.
Only we people do that. We chose TV over sleep, fighting over forgiveness, shopping over gratitude, an extra accolade from work over an extra game of Candyland at home, a clean house over a clean heart, and chocolate over sex (sorry, Kathy).
God knows this about us and loves us anyway. His grace is never overwhelmed by the toxic goo we pour in our streams. He loves us as we write useless dissertations and when we find cures for cancer. He loves us when we gain ten pounds and when we take food to the sick. He loves us when we are kind to our husbands and when we yell at the kids. He loves us.
Still, he has something better for us than we could design ourselves. And he invites us to stop participating in our own destruction. Just ask the Charles.
To read more about our travels in Costa Rica, start with these: