Walking along the river awhile ago I watched ducks float a tiny pool below the foaming white rapids. They bobbed there, steady in their spot of stillness, while the river raged around them. Watching, I felt my mind calm down and my heart expand. Other miniscule quiet places in the torrent – yellow dappled black water holding trout bubbles and larva dreams – caught my eye and my imagination.
James talks in today’s reading about the cravings that are at war within us. They come from wanting something we do not have, from bitter envy and selfish ambition. Draw near to God, he advises, and God will draw near to you.
Drawing near to God requires being able to get above the raging river of desire and need to settle in the still pockets of deep water where we can communicate with something beyond ourselves. It’s comforting to me to realize that these pools are often tiny, nestled right in the middle of the foaming discontent. Finding them, one’s heart expands. The fetters that longing imposes on us fall away. Imagination begins to work. Playfulness and wonder enter in. God loves this open expansiveness, because here God can plant God’s seeds of love and hope.
Here’s a good reason to have spiritual practices. A practice can feel like a burden, one more thing to do in a day already full with obligations and strife. And often not much happens during our prayer or meditation, our Lectio or our mindful knitting. But even when we don’t recognize that it’s happening, a practice will be like wings, lifting us a little closer to the bird’s eye view of the river. We can spiral up and out of the need and desire place a bit. Then the small pools of quiet water are more visible.
Spiritual practices are like wings in another way as well. They need to grow as we grow. How is yours these days? Have you neglected it? This often happens when it’s time to examine how you try to draw near to God to see if this path is still working for you. You may be craving more words, a Lectio Divina in which God can speak to you. Or mindful walking might be more what your body and heart desire. Perhaps painting in a contemplative spirit or playing music or singing are prayerful practices that are drawing you. An examination of your daily life, in which you pay attention to where you felt moved, inspired, or challenged might be what is necessary for you these days.
Each of us must find the practice that works best for us today. The practice is our wings, drawing us out of the river of conflict and strife and into the place where we are most clearly and profoundly who we are – a creature in relationship with their Creator. May you find your way into the quiet pools in the midst of the river, drawing near to God, who always draws near to us.