Monday, January 12, 2009

"Peace Like a River"

The book, "Peace Like a River" has graced my bedside table for a couple of weeks now, and I just finished it tonight. I enjoyed reading this book, not only for its story, but also because I've been to several of the places in which the book is set. It's set in Minnesota and North Dakota, and those states being what they are to me, I am excited to read about them and about places in the states I've at least driven by.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book for the most part, but it really got me thinking about the hymn, "When Peace Like a River." It goes,

"When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot
thou hast taught me to say
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet
though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded
my helpless estate
and hath shed his own blood
for my soul.

He lives, oh the bliss
of this glorious thought
my sin not in part but the whole
is nailed to the cross
and I bear it no more
praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Oh my soul!

And, Lord, haste the day
when our faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
the trumpet shall sound
and the Lord shall descend;
Even so it is well
with my soul."*

The book is set in the 1960s and deals with a father, his two sons, and his daughter. The oldest son, Davy, who is 16 at the beginning, ends up shooting two local bullies (who were bullies to the extreme). The other son, Reuben, is 11, and the sister,Swede, is 9. Anyway, along goes the book, and Davy escapes jail before sentencing after his trial. So, the family goes in search for him, all the while contending with police, FBI people, and others who come across their paths, including a shady character or two.

Life is not easy for them, but they have love and faith. The father, especially, is a faithful man who seems to even have performed some miracles; though he himself would never say such a thing.

The book has ups and downs, but it got me to thinking about grief. I placed myself in the book, and found out that I did not like a part of it. I identified with one of the characters a bit more deeply because we share an experience that was not the EXACT same, but aspects of it were very similar.

My thoughts over one occurrence in the book brought up grief from long ago. It's not insurmountable or even all that troubling; it just is. I got to thinking about how I am of the school of thought that people never "get over" their grief. It ebbs and flows with new grief tapping in to old grief, all the while bringing it back to the surface. Professionals say that it takes over a year for life to be "normal" again after the loss of one who is close. I agree, and on that note, find it odd that society seems to think that people who have suffered the death of a loved one need to "get over it" in a matter of weeks. I would like to think that deep down, they know this is not the case, but I would like to see grace being extended in more tangible ways regarding grief.

Anyway, so back to the hymn... The first two verses speak of trials and Satan's coming against people, but that Jesus is present with us. I like these words. They don't say, "Get over it." To me, they say, "Sometimes, life is going to suck, but Christ 'regards!!!' us even in the murkiness of it all." To me, these words also say that we can be in the thickest grief, or even depression, and have faith in Christ's never-failing presence. That doesn't make things all better, but it can be a comforting truth. After all, the verses don't speak of what WE have done, but instead of what Christ has done for us. WE don't have to be Sunshine Susanna's in order to be loved, forgiven, or worthwhile. It is GOD IN CHRIST who has come to and for us; stipulating nothing, but rather coming and giving freely.

And what of this "peace like a river?" Rivers can be peaceful, but they can also be violent and dangerous. But they are still rivers. Life is like a river, in many regards. Sometimes it is wide and calm, while other times it seems too narrow with rocks just below the surface. But in hope, may we trust that Christ is in the boat with us, suffers the same tosses that we do, and remains present regardless.

*Text: Horatio G. Spafford
*Tune: Philip P. Bliss

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