Hangin' off the Edge
What better way to get out of your comfort-zone than by experiencing God’s creation up close and personal! The raw and the real of our planet has a way of putting our pettiness into perspective. While I was more than willing to get out of my comfort-zone by saying “Yes!” to friends for a weekend of whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, I certainly had no way of knowing this journey would soon be shared as a Sunday morning Communion Meditation - one I began with these words, “When God teaches us through His creation, He is teaching us through Himself because He is the author of nature.”
I went on to elaborate… Six of us, all novices, were about to embark on a grueling, fifteen mile stretch of whitewater rapids through Cataract Canyon. What a motley crew we were; wide-eyed and anxious, pressing in around Josh, our river guide, hanging on to every bit of life-saving instruction he had to offer. This brief session would be our only training on how to manage our oar, keep the boat afloat and to rescue ourselves in the event we hadn’t actually been paying attention.
The first lesson Josh pointed out was something of human nature: our natural inclination to turn away from scary situations. Scary in this instance was facing a crushing wave, hauling 30,000 cubic feet of water per second. Leaning away from such a thing makes perfect sense, but in this case it would only capsize the boat. To succeed on this trip, we were expected to fight the natural urge of recoil and instead to lean in, to actually hang right off the edge of the raft and lean into each wave as it hit us.
The second point Josh made also defied instinct. We were told not just to lean in, but to then pull through each wave. Instead of riding the crest, which I was expecting and seemed rather fun and altogether easy, the oar was to be jammed right into the gut of the surge and we were expected to pull through it. We were told this is what would steady our raft against incoming forces.
After a few rehearsals in shallow water, Josh commented on our skills, “That was horrible!” he said. It was, too. Even though we had been told what to do, actual hand-to-hand-combat with a wave was frightening. We were all doing what felt natural – duck and cover! If we were going to keep from flipping, we had to trust our guide. We had to trust his experience and do things his way.
Instructions were over and it was now time to allow the fast-moving current to sweep us into the flows of the opening set of rapids. That first blast of frigid water rose up and slapped our faces before breaking overhead into a million drenching pieces. In less than one mile, we had dropped 30 feet, plunging through big water and treacherous hydraulics while dodging rocks buried beneath churning swirls. By the second set of rapids, our group had gained enough confidence to replace frantic, white-knuckled rowing with a stronger posture, even risking longer oar-strokes which made us that much more effective against the power of the thundering river. Contrary to intuitive reasoning, our synchronized leaning-in and pulling-through was keeping us in control of every ambush, onslaught and attack that river used against us. Once suspicious about our guide’s nonsensical expectations, we now understood his reasoning and actually respected his knowhow. When we finished our run through that whitewater gauntlet, we had successfully navigated all 24, Class IV Rapids.
To me, though, the real marvel of that daring sprint was something entirely different. Right there in the middle of all that apprehension and adrenaline, God used His ancient watercourse to rise up and convict me of my weak faith and run-away mindset. With each successful jab and pull of the oar, I began to realize I was seeing more than just a river float. I was witness to a vibrant allegory of everyday life – my life, to be specific. I realized how my prayers and desires to dodge and escape difficulties and real-life fears was keeping me trapped in a churning whirlpool of reaction, allowing any harsh opponent to keep me on the run. Wishing God to manipulate circumstances for my benefit so I could have an easier life with fewer obstacles, a life relatively free from grief and discomfort, was the equivalent of an oar-less, bobbling rafter, screaming as each surging wave rose up in a threatening swell of ice cold water. This flinching or shrinking back from the reality of life was turning me into a coward and was the very thing rocking my vessel, thrashing my emotions to bits.
How odd it is to hang off the edge of an inflatable-raft in order to dominate crushing rapids. Imagine that: placing your life in the hands of a sheet of bright-yellow plastic, stretched tight, and filled to capacity with plain old air! What a vulnerable craft that is and a risky option indeed, but people do it all the time because it is still the best choice there is to float the mighty rapids. Are we flimsy creatures of flesh any better suited to encounter our own menacing world as we are launched down the river-of-life? Will trusting in the experience of our God really equip us with an oar of conviction that will truly navigate us around the dangers?
Reflecting back at me from that bold and beautiful river I believe was the very definition of faith: trusting the Divine Instructor enough to hang off the edge. To let go of human nature with all of its crippling fears, escape routes and unproductive instincts, and just lean-in to the waves that come. Faith is the bright yellow buoyancy that will sustain us when we trust enough to lean off the edge and face the surge. Instead of managing the churning waters and the harsh cold waves, faith manages us. It strengthens us to intentionally place our oar as we navigate the rocky ride.
Our high-fives and silly hoorahs at the landing-beach that afternoon were well-earned, but they did not diminish that still, small voice; “Instead of flailing in frustration, lean-in to your life with its circumstances. Trust My experience with the anxieties that will splash up before you. Allow Me to prove My existence through you and take you to a deeper place that is beyond difficulties and simple coping with everyday inconveniences. Use your oar of conviction; jab it right into the gut of your foe and pull through. This will keep you centered and give your life the stability you seek.”