Rev. Penny Rich Smith
Life, they say, is full of surprises! And so it is. Some are exciting discoveries and some are unpleasant shocks. Hopefully, the pleasant surprises remain vivid for years. As a rule, when the happy lightning strikes, you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary. You’re half asleep in the humdrum of daily living when suddenly something happens. Abruptly, circumstances get arranged so that the commonplace becomes significant and memorable -- so memorable that perhaps it changes you for the rest of your life. Such is the way of the amazing grace of God.
Minister and author, Max Lucado has written a delightful legend about God’s grace and I think you will enjoy reading it. It’s called, "The Fish and the Falls." I think most of us ponder some of the same things that this fish ponders, so try to stir up some spiritual imagination and enjoy. It may also stir your faith.
"Once upon a distant time, when time was not and rivers had no names, there was a fish. Born in the cascading bubbles of a rocky mountain stream, this freckled fish learned early the passion of play. He was at home in the water. He raced back and forth in the harbor made by a fallen log. He dared, on occasion, to cross the rapids by darting from rock to rock. Each morning he witnessed the sun lift the shadowy curtain of night. It was his daily invitation to dance in the clean waters. Then, as the sun climbed higher, its warmth would lull him to slowness, giving him time to stare through the waters at the tall trees that waved and the furred visitors whose tongues would drink and then disappear.
But if the day was his time to play, the night was his time to think. This young trout, not content to know so little, kept his eyes open while others closed theirs. What is the source of this stream? Where does it go? Why is it here? Why am I here? He pondered the questions that others never asked, and he listened at length for the answers. Then one night he heard the roar. The night was so bright that the moon saw herself in the stream. The fish, awake with his thoughts, recognized for the first time a noise he’d always heard -- a roar. It rumbled under the river. It vibrated the water. Suddenly the fish knew why the water was always moving. Who is the maker of this sound? Who is the giver of this noise? He had to know.
He swam all night without stopping, nourished by his need to know. The roar grew louder and its thunder both frightened and compelled him. He swam until the stars turned pale and the gray pebbles regained their colors. When he could swim no more, weariness overcame curiosity, and he stopped, and slept.
The sun was warm on the trout’s back. In his sleep, he dreamt he was playing again. Dashing between the rocks daring the water to catch him, he dreamt he was at home. Then he awoke, remembering his pilgrimage. He heard the roar. It sounded near. He opened his eyes and there it was. Suddenly, a wall of white foam was tumbling, falling, flying, then crashing. It was like nothing he’d ever seen. I will climb it and see it. He swam to where the water crashed into the river. He attempted to swim upwards. He would ascend the falls by brute force, but the onrush of the water was too strong. Undaunted, he swam until he could swim no more, then he slept. The next day he attempted to jump to the top. He plunged downward, deep below the churning foam. He swam deep and then he turned upward, straight for the surface -- higher and higher, faster and faster. He broke through the top of the water and soared high into the air. He was sure he would land on the top of the waterfall, but he didn’t. He barely rose above the foam and then he fell.
I’ll try again. Down he swam and up he pushed and out he flew and down he tumbled, again and again and again, ever trying to reach the top of the wall, ever failing at his quest. Finally, night fell and the moon stood vigil over the weary young trout. He awoke with renewed strength and a new plan. He found a safe pool off to the side of the waterfall, and through the still waters he looked up. He would swim against the gentle trickle of the water as it poured over the rocks, pushing his body to do what it wasn’t made to do. He struggled, pushing on -- climbing, falling, climbing, falling, climbing, falling. At one point, he reached a ledge, but he leaned out too far and tumbled into the calm pool from which he began. Wearied from his failure, he slept.
He dreamt of the roar and of the glory of leaving the mountain stream and dwelling in the waterfall, but when he awoke, he was still at the bottom. His dream was not reality and he wondered if it was worth it. He wondered if those who never sought to know were happier. He considered returning to where he came from with the current. I’ve lived with the roar all my life and never heard it. I could simply not hear it again. But how do you not hear the yearning of your heart? How can you be satisfied with existence once you’ve lived with purpose? The fish wanted nothing more than to ascend the water. But he didn’t know what to do. He screamed at the waterfall -- why are you so harsh; why won’t you help me; I can’t do it on my own -- I need you!
Just then the roar began to subside, the foaming slowed and the water was growing still. Then, he felt the current again, only this time the push was from behind. The water pushed faster and faster until the fish found himself being carried to the tall stone wall over which had flowed the water. He was afraid he would be slammed into it, but just as he reached the rocks, a wave formed beneath him and lifted him up the wall. By now the forest was silent. The wind ceased its stirring. The moon tilted ever so slightly in an effort not to miss the miracle.
All of nature watched as the fish rode the wave of grace. All of nature rejoiced when the trout reached the top. The stars raced through the blackness and the moon rocked in sweet satisfaction. Bears danced. Birds hugged. The wind whistled. And the leaves applauded. The fish was where he longed to be. He was in the presence of the roar. What he couldn’t do, this amazing grace had done. He knew immediately he would spend forever relishing this mystery and miracle."
What a celebration! Transforming moments come to us in the midst of the ordinary events of our lives and touch us with the powerful presence of God, sometimes tenderly and sometimes shockingly, but always in holiness, and we are gifted with a sense of wholeness and peace. Where would we be without God’s grace?
The Rev. Penny Rich Smith, is pastor of the North Bennington Congregational Church and the Second Congregational Church of Williamstown, Mass.