Saturday, June 12, 2010

Under the river: without fury or fear

Flannery O’Connor wrote a hard gritty story, her usual kind, "The River." It is about a little boy raised by an indifferent mother who held adult parties, simply meaning that they were not for small boys. As the planning begins the boy is sent off to his baby sitter who takes him to an old fashioned river baptism.

In the story the preacher says to the little boy, “’If I baptize you,” … “You’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering son and you’ll go by the deep river of life. Do you want that?’”

The little boy thinks this is great. He won’t go back to his apartment. He will, “go under the river.” And so he lets the preacher baptize him, only to be disappointed that he is raised up out of the water.

The next morning at home while his mother sleeps with a hangover he wanders around the apartment looking at rotten food in the refrigerator and eating peanut butter between stale pieces of raisin bread. He plays with the ashes in the ashtrays, rubbing them into the rug, but suddenly knows what he wants.

Stealing money from his mother’s purse, the boy goes to the river. He wades in and then struggles to stay under the river. Just as someone comes to grab him, the river grabs him instead and pulls him under.

O’Connor writes, “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.”

We, whom Christ overcomes by his love and life, are moving under the river, away from the dead ashes of our own sins. We are in his Kingdom, moving beyond fury and fear.

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