Monday, March 9, 2009

A River runs through the Story

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street.” Rev. 22:1-2b)

By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12)

I have noticed that rivers and religion have an affinity. Herman Hesse in Siddhartha uses a river as the metaphor for the eastern idea of the oneness of all things, that is, the idea of pantheism. But both the Bible and Christian writers use images of rivers as a picture of the new life that Jesus Christ gives. Often this is connected to baptism.

I am thinking of a writer who is blatantly Christian although some who read her do not realize that she is always writing about the Incarnation. In one of Flannery O’Connor’s stories, “The River,” a small boy is fixated with his experience of being baptized in the river.

His parents, a very worldly couple, who hold the kind of parties one remembers from the fifties, are more or less indifferent to their son’s presence. But his babysitter takes him home, reads a story to him about Jesus and takes him to a healing and baptismal service by the river.

If you know anything about O’Connor’s characters you know they are eccentric, particularly the religious ones. The preacher, in his sermon, shouts, “Listen to what I got to say, you people! There ain’t but one river and that’s the River of Life, made out of Jesus’ blood. That’s the river you have to lay your pain in, in the River of Faith, in the River of Life, in the River of Love, in the rich red river of Jesus’ Blood, you people!”

The boy believes that if the preacher baptizes him he “won’t go back to the apartment then, [he’ll] go under the river.” After he comes up from the river the preacher tells him “You count now.”

In the end the little boy returns home, disappointed. He awakens in the morning to an empty apartment filled with stale cigarette smoke and empty glasses. He wonders away heading toward the river.

He makes several attempts to stay under the water but he must wait for the current to catch and hold him.

“He plunged under once and this time, the waiting current caught him like a long gentle hand and pulled him swiftly forward and down. For an instant he was overcome with surprise: then since he was moving quickly and knew that he was getting somewhere, all his fury and fear left him.”

And so O’Connor uses a tragedy as metaphor. Baptism, death, new life, we die to ourselves, we rise to new life in Christ. We leave behind our fury and our fear.


will spotts said...

Viola -

I'm very aware that this is not the type of post on your blog that usually provokes a lot of comments. [I personally think that is quite unfair and frustrating, but it is a reality of blogging that has emerged.]

So ... I just want to say I enjoyed this very much. And - in spite of the lack of feedback, I hope you continue to post on literature.

Viola Larson said...

Thanks Will,
I will I enjoy doing it too much not to.