Lifejackets, the River and the Sea!

Pilar del Barrio OP


A few years ago, I went rafting white water on the Miño River in Galicia, in North-Western Spain. It was new for me. I must confess that I was not very happy with the idea. I don't really like adventures or dangerous sports. But anyway I went there because I didn't want to see my nieces and nephews laughing at me. I was on holidays with my family.

At the starting point everyone got a lifejacket and an oar. We walked down to the riverside ready to enjoy the adventure on a very nice summer evening. At the riverside we got into the boat and sat down. We were advised not to take off our life jacket until the end of our trip and they explained what we should do if someone fell into the river .

We started going down river. At the beginning it was quite calm. We were rowing quietly but the man who was behind us in the boat, the one who was working the tiller, said: "we are approaching the first rapid, row as hard as you can while we are passing through it", "If someone falls into the river, let the stream bring him or her along". "Don't try swimming, just let yourself go".

I realised what a beautiful place it was.

We passed through the first rapid successfully and afterwards the river became calm again. I realised what a beautiful place it was. The river flowed down between the mountains. In the silence we were able to hear the birds singing. There were lots of fish of different colours and big trees on both sides of the river. I gave thanks to the Lord for so many beautiful things He has created for us.

Just like our lives, I thought, the river goes sometimes calmly , sometimes roughly. Sometimes we can contemplate God's work, sometimes we just move forward trying to keep ourselves afloat in the troubled waters.

One hour later we beached the boat and enjoyed swimming for a while before we continued rowing along the river. When later on we were going to approach the last rapid the tiller man invited us to jump into the river and go swimming through the rapid. "This is the last opportunity, he said, those who want to take the risk must jump right now and follow the stream. Don't try swimming, just let yourself go. The river will bring you along. When you have passed through the rapid swim to the riverside".

just let yourself go, the river will bring you up

I doubted for a moment but then I decided to jump. Troubled waters surrounded me. I reminded myself: " just let yourself go, the river will bring you up". When I had got through I realised that Paula, my niece, had been carried away against the rocks on the riverside. I tried to swim against the stream towards her, but it was impossible for me to go back. The stream was stronger than me. I saw the tiller man approaching her and putting the boat between her and the rocks. She was safe.

I started swimming toward the riverside and it was then that I realised I had a lifejacket. It was impossible for me to swim as I usually do. The lifejacket was there keeping me afloat and I had to discover how to swim wearing my jacket. I got to the riverside eventually and carrying the boat up to the mountain we arrived at the starting point. It had been coming, I thought.

I used to pray for a while in front of the sea

The next day I went early in the morning for a walk along the beach as I usually did every day. At this time I used to pray for a while in front of the sea. Many times during these holidays I had been looking forward to perceiving God's presence there or listening to his words. I needed strongly to receive his word for me at that stage of my life. And there I was, hearing nothing day after day. But it was different that day. As I was walking on the shore the image of the day before came up suddenly. It was like someone explaining to me the meaning of the rafting story.

I knew that what I had lived in the river had been more than a simple pleasant rafting adventure although I didn't know why.

As if rewinding a film and playing it again I relived the descent of the rapids but now picking up the full meaning.

There are many ways to the sea

I understood that I was going to the sea, which is the Father, who as the sea does, was there opening his arms waiting for me at the end of my life. As the Father is waiting for the prodigal son he is also looking forward to embracing me. There are many ways to the sea. There is the possibility of getting to the sea by walking through the mountains, but I had received the gift of going down to the sea, flowing down as the river does.

I realised how afraid I was of jumping into the river, but I was invited to jump. And only by jumping, was I able to recognise that I was wearing my lifejacket. That is Jesus, the lifejacket we wear because of our baptism almost without realising it. But now, "living" in the river, I am safe. But I was used to swimming by myself and now, living in the river, I must learn a new way of swimming, joining my efforts to the Lord's presence, The Lord has already saved me and keeps me afloat. It is neither my ability nor my effort that keep me afloat.

And what about the water? I remembered Ezekiel's prophecy: "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes".

This is referring to the action of the Holy Spirit. As you know water and rivers are common images in the Bible in relation with the Holy Spirit. I was invited to jump into the Holy Spirit's stream. The stream is bringing us to our Father, safely because of our " life jacket". It doesn't mean that the way down to the sea is going to be always quiet. There are rapids on the way down, because of the uneven lands, but the Spirit stream, if we allow ourselves to let go, will always bring us up.

We were warned before. There are whirlpools where we can be sucked in, but in this case we must trust in our lifejacket which will refloat us. We are not alone, we are dressed by God with our "lifejacket", our Saviour. We can't swim against the stream. I tried to do it in order to rescue Paula, but it was impossible for me, I had to follow my own path. I just alerted the tiller worker and he went to help her. We have to accept this many times in our lives. Others are also being looked after by the Lord who rescues them through those who are more expert. But, don't forget to alert Him. Well, He knows what happen to us, but He has invited us to pray for each other.

we can be invited to jump and try out full immersion in the stream by ourselves

And what about the boat? I have been thinking about the boat I had to jump overboard from, in my life. The boat was a good help for me until I was invited to jump into the river. It was useful while I was getting used to the river and I was getting through the first few rapids. This is the same in our lives. We have received a lot of help for the first stages of our Christian life, as we learn how to live as Christians. ( community, group, friends, a way of prayer, etc. ) But we can be invited to jump and try out full immersion in the stream by ourselves.

As St. Paul says: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

We are invited to grow up, to discover how to live the river life, how to swim trusting in God's action, which is saving our lives and conducting them to the Father's love. This is when we are fully surrounded by the river waters, and we can be totally purified by the water, having given our lives up to the Spirit action.

to be led by the Spirit

To live a Dominican spirituality is, first of all, to be led by the Spirit as St. Dominic was. St Dominic's way of life is like the Miño River, the path has been offered to us to go along to our Father. There are many ways to the sea, many rivers, but st. Dominic's way is for me like the Miño River. And I give thanks to the Lord who has chosen this way for us, offering himself to us as our saviour. We all can really live in Him, Through Him and by Him.

When we jump into the river we understand how true is this Irish prayer:

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,