For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (Romans 8:14)
Years ago, deep in the Shuswap, BC, my old friend Adam and I headed to the Adams River—he had a surprise for me. We arrived at the river, and he took the tarp off the back of his truck. There was his white-water angling boat: a “cat boat” he had designed. ”Wow, cool surprise!” I said.
“Nope, that’s not it, just wait.”
It was a stunning day. The river was a gorge that cut its way through towering crevices, spiralling as we floated silently through the heaven-like passage. After a little while, two soaring eagles began circling and diving just ahead of us. The majestic birds commanded a deep respect to all—it seemed that the forest, and even the river, grew still. Like a king and queen, they nobly demanded our respect and awe. “Wow, that was some surprise!”
“No, no, that was not the surprise. Be patient,” he said.
Suddenly, he jumped to his feet, assembled his fly rod, and with expert precision, he pulled back the fly, bending the rod like a bow and fired it with arrow accuracy into the water. Pow! He landed a glistening rainbow trout. When he let it go, I suddenly became aware that the river was teaming with trout, but they were hidden until my eyes were opened. “What a surprise!” I congratulated him. But no, that was not the surprise either.
“Just wait,” he told me.
Then, I began noticing red flashes in the water. Then another, and another… as I peered intently into the clear glistening water, I saw them: salmon. Giant sockeye salmon. They were moving slowly, with bright red skin. Soon, there were so many that I could no longer count them. Then, somehow through my feet, I could detect a faint rumble. The air began to change, and up ahead, the river had turned crimson red—like a royal carpet. The river was swelling with thousands upon thousands of salmon on their final voyage.
Adam’s boat was soon bobbing and rumbling atop a river thick from top to bottom with these noble creatures. These very salmon had hatched years ago within these riverbeds and migrated to the ocean. Now, as a community, they had returned. They had returned on a voyage of hundreds of miles, through all sorts of obstacles, to within metres of where their lives began. In a glorious moment of life, they would spawn again, and then, they would die. Life and death. Procreation. Regeneration.
I was stunned, in awe, overwhelmed by joy, unable to speak, with my heart in my throat. I felt lost in the beauty of life. Of God.
That was a surprise.
I wondered, what was that experience of the salmon? What drove them, and pushed them from the comfort of the ocean to take the dangerous journey into glory? What incredible feeling, desire, or yearning robbed them of any option but to move onwards through unknown challenges from the ocean into freshwater tributaries, and this holy moment? How did they know the way? Is it a similar call that Canada Geese or Caribou respond to in their great migrations?
This is the great calling: the great migration of nature, and the cycle of creation. We, too, have a great migration. I think we, too, know a great yearning within us: yearning for life, for love, for God. I think you know what I am talking about. It is the fire within us that often becomes buried in a world of comfort, video games, porn, over-working, over-scheduling, over-achieving, food, alcohol, sex, and depression—a world of death.
As human beings, we also have an irresistible call to the fulfilment of life which is in Christ: our divine inheritance with all the saints. Our natural will calls us to our telos: our end, our destination, and the realization of each of us as the person we were intended to be. Sadly, it seems, as our natural desire is cut up and misdirected, we get lost in a sea of opportunities or take the wrong the tributary.
It seems to me that what makes us different from the salmon who respond by instinct is that we humans participate in the fulfilment of who we are, our end, consciously. We can participate in our own self-realization in Christ. We can choose to yield, or we can choose to go our own way. This is the instinct of our ascetic life: our life of prayer and discipleship. How do we attend to, harness, and yield to the Spirit within as children of God, and not bury or misdirect this holy source of life, claimed at baptism?
Can we follow when we don’t know the way? Can we follow even “unto death?”
The Holy Spirit is upon us—are you ready for a surprise?