The local playground near the pool where I swim was recently redone. It was long overdue. The previous structures were already old when I first visited the grounds as a mom with two small kids. My children are now grown and flown. So it was long past time for that old playground to get some new life.
One morning last week, my friend and I ducked into the playground to check it out. There were nifty new, age appropriate climbing structures. There was an in the ground merry-go-round that could accommodate wheel chairs and there was a rock abacus-looking thing that I really did not understand at all. There were benches strategically placed under overhanging trees and there was this strange configuration of a rock lined channel, metal sheets that dropped in across the channel at various points and a large hand pump. It took us a minute to figure out what it was supposed to be but then it hit us. A river! The hand pump draws the water and it splashed down into the channel. The little metal sheets can be lowered and taken up to block and then release the water.
Immediately I was transported to my childhood when we neighborhood kids would build elaborate dams to back up the rush of water from the spring melt of snow that gushed down the gutters of the street in front of my house. We’d build a dam strong enough to withhold the waters and watch as the water built up more and more until it threatened to cascade over the top of the dam. At just the right time one of us would rip the dam open and delight as the water gushed through in a mighty surge.
I guess my little pack of friends were not the only ones to delight in such play. Flowing water, building dams to stop that water and then releasing it again, seems to be such a childhood favorite that it has made its way into current urban planning playground designs! Who knew?
Turns out, though that kids are not the only ones who can get quite caught up in the building of dams. We adults also build dams. But the kind of dams we build are not those that keep the water on the playground from flowing. They are the ones that keep the Spirit of God from doing so.
In the Bible, the presence of God is often compared to a mighty river, a river of gladness, a spring of living water. Water – for a people living in an arid land water meant life, hope, abundance, possibility. No wonder the poets of the biblical witness used it as a metaphor of God’s grace poured out upon God’s people. The Spirit of God flows where it will, and if we are willing it will flow through us as well. It will cool our parched places and bring to life what lies dormant. It will nourish and rejuvenate and it will well up in us until it spills out through us, through our words and actions as we too become part of that life giving river of grace.
But the problem is, we adults are master dam builders. Kids are pretty good at it but they do it out of fun. We we adults are even better because we more often than naught we build dams out of fear. We wall ourselves away, often unconsciously out of a deep need to protect ourselves and control our experiences. While the dams in my neighborhood playground and my childhood are/were pretty sturdy made of little sheets of metal, and mud, sticks and whatever debris we could find, the dams of our adulthood are even sturdier still and are made of the far more pernicious and tenacious materials of fear, shame, doubt, pain, and hurt.
I am sensitive that we are approaching the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that those waters brought to so many lives. I am sensitive to the need for dams to keep people safe. But I am speaking metaphorically here and am challenging us to think about how fear may be walling us off from the flow of God’s grace and love.
As we enter into a new program year at UCW, we will be exploring the values of our faith and taking about how to practice them in our own lives and in the life of the world. These practices help us to move from fear to love and help us begin to take down the walls and burst through the dams so that we can be beacons of hope, sources of comfort, fonts of inspiration, and ambassadors of your love, in this beautiful but wounded world. May God’s grace flow freely in and through you and in and through our life together. ~~ Stacy
P.S. I will miss you these next two weeks while I am away on vacation. I wish you all joy, peace and grace and look forward to being back with you at the end of August!