“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…”
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
“Flow, river flow.” There’s a song about the Spirit of God that goes like that. I thought about those lyrics driving to Shreveport and back this week, over the Bonnet Carré and Morganza Spillways where the Mississippi River has been allowed to bust through the bays and flow fast and free, tumbling into the wetlands and to the ocean. Flow, river flow! This is one of the words that Julia Cameron uses in her book The Artist’s Way, to talk about the Spirit of God—FLOW. In the words of the theologian, Mary Daly, she asks, “What if God is not a noun, but a verb?” What if God is not an old man with a long white beard and a long white robe sitting on a golden throne high up in some remote heaven, unreachable, untouchable? What if God is instead spirit, energy, power, the flow of spiritual electricity which not only brought all creation to life, but which still energizes the universe, and energizes you and me, as Dylan Thomas says, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”
You can become a channel of this spiritual electricity, says Julia Cameron. Step into that stream of energy, she says, and align your life with the direction it seeks in and through you. Synchronize your life with that great creative flow.
In one of his books, Richard Rohr uses the same image, calling the Spirit of God a river that flows all around us and through us. He says something very important: “Don’t try to push the river.” Don’t try to control it, dam it, channel it. Let the river flow. Trust it, step into it, immerse yourself in it, for this great flow of life is nothing less than the love of God, the Source of all Creation.
And so if you and I are made in the image of the great original Creator, then we too are made to be creative.
Or, as Paul put it, gifted. I believe that this is not at all unlike what Paul is talking about in this amazing chapter in Corinthians. T here is one Spirit he says, but an endlessly wide variety of gifts from this Spirit that are given to each of us and to all of us. Then he lists several of these gifts here, and more in other passages, but undoubtedly the list of gifts is infinite and inexhaustible. And yet, all these endlessly diverse gifts flow from the same stream of creative energy. You were created to be creative. You are gifted. Do you know what your gift is? Your passion? Your God-given nature? Is your life aligned with Flow?
You may be thinking, Oh no, not I. I’m not creative, surely not gifted. But, oh, yes, you are! But maybe you have been using all your energy to push the river, trying to force its fast, free flow into a direction it does not want to go. We are people who have found 1001 ways of blocking Flow. I know of a young man whose father is a prominent physician, who wanted for his son to become a neurosurgeon, who groomed him all through high school for a future in medicine. And so the boy went to Tulane, registered for all the pre-med classes, but was supremely unhappy in every one of them. In his second semester, he had the courage to say, “Dad, I hate this curriculum. I don’t want to be a doctor. I am not cut out for it.” He changed his major, and it is as though he is a new person, for “the lights in his attic” are brightly burning, his whole life energized, opened up to Flow.
Many students are not so lucky to discover where the river flows in their first semester of college. It is one of the saddest things I ever see a person in their 40’s working 60 hours a week at a job they despise, who has devoted his or her entire life to trying to be something they are not, making money, but not making meaning, who wakes up every morning, pulls on their pants, and goes back to work, pushing the river. No wonder, by the time they are 40, they are exhausted, burned out, more dead than alive, only marginally creative, maybe even a little self-destructive.
And yet nothing is more exciting that to see a person who has found his or her passion, at peace with his or her nature, aligned with a true calling, maybe also working 60 hours a week, but with spiritual electricity–Flow.
This is why one of my favorite classes to lead the churches I have served over the years is the class on Gifts of the Spirit. It is so much fun to help people identify what their passion is, what their gifts may be, what their God given nature is like. Your God-given nature is like the grain of wood: a good carpenter would never sand against the grain, but with the grain, bringing out its natural luster, beauty, and sheen. I am amazed at how many people have no idea what their God-given grain is like, who have never once asked themselves the kind of questions which we should really begin to ask our youth while they are still in high school.
I think of the movie The Blind Side, the one for which Sandra Bullock won her Oscar, the true story of Michael Oher, an impoverished street kid, who was practically homeless, his mother a promiscuous crack addict, but who was adopted by the very affluent Tuohy family. He was lucky enough to be loved by Leigh Anne Tuohy, a remarkably tough but tender woman who was able to see what Michael’s great gift was. A gift? This boy? Who had no clothes, no bed, no home, no birth certificate, no social Security number, no driver’s license, no school record, who was a terrible student, a fumbling athlete, in spite his huge size? A gift?
On a career aptitude test, he scored 0 in every single category–but one. In this one category, he scored in the 98 percentile: “protective instincts.” When Leigh Anne Tuohy learned that, she knew she had struck gold. This was boy’s gift, the point through which the river could flow! Persistently, she would tap into his wealth of “protective instinct.” She mined it, refined it, until it fired the engines of his relationship to the Tuohy family. And it fired the engines of his place on the high school foot ball team where he so effectively defended the quarterback’s “blind side,” that, to make a long story short, he became the one they knew they could count on, whose protective instinct would carry them to greatness, who would himself would go on to be everything he had it in him to be, a good student and a great athlete—Flow! How I wish there was a process in place in every high school to help our kids identify where the river flows.
But there is something else here which very easy to overlook, and yet crucial to the flow of life. In his modern translation of these verses, Eugene Peterson says, “Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.” In the Revised Standard Version it simply says that all of this is for “the common good.” In other words, my gift is not just for my own private personal-enhancement, self-improvement project. Remember: “There is no smaller package than the person who is all wrapped up in him/herself.” The river flows into that larger life of One who not just all about me, but the One who all about love.
In the very next chapter of Corinthians, in the very first verse, Paul will tell us that of all the gifts the Spirit gives, it is the greatest gift of all: Love. It is the one gift we are all given. It is the gift of God’s own Self to the world. For this is who God truly is: Love. What is God’s passion? Love. What is God’s gift? Love. What is God’s nature? Love. We are made in God’s own image: Love.
So, little children, don’t push the river! Just let it flow.