I’m sitting next to the Grand River with this lovely view as I wait for my class to start. The phrase “Peace like a river” keeps popping in my mind. I wonder where that phrase originated and why it is so often used as a metaphor for peace. As I sit here and listen to the water gently rush by I do feel at peace. So yeah, I guess a river is peaceful in the sense. In others, however, I am beginning to question it.
A river by nature is rushing. Now, I don’t know about you, but I never feel at peace when I’m rushing. If I’m rushing that usually means I’m late. Being late usually means I’m stressed… and well, you can see where I’m going with this. So how then can we say we have peace like a rushing river.
As I look at the river, I also remember the origins of the name of the great city in which I live. Grand Rapids. The “Rapids” comes from what once was a river filled with them. Though the Grand River now has very few rapids due to dams and whatnot, a lot of rivers do still have them. Now I don’t know a lot about how Rapids actually come to be, but I assume it’s probably similar to how waves form and break. An uneven or rocky surface causes great waves. Now, this does not sound peaceful at all. The idea of white water rafting give me the opposite feelings of peace, fear and adrenalin! Also, when we describe a bad life we commonly use the phrases like, “it’s a rocky situation” or “my life is of kilter”, much like a river floor. How is a river of Rapids peaceful?
Another thing I know about the river, though it can’t be seen while looking at it, is pollution. Pollution kills living things. You call that peace? Now I know pollution was never supposed to naturally be in the river, but neither is the pollution in our own lives. And like the river, it has to be delt with before the river, well, dies. Is a polluted river really peaceful?
There are other things about rivers I could call unpeacful such as floods or the opposite, drought. But I’ll just stick with these three.
So as I think about it, to me, a rushing, rapid, and polluted River doesn’t seem peaceful. Why would I want peace like a river? It sounds awful.
Then again, I’m brought back to the moment I’m in right now, listening to the waters flow by, and I feel at peace. So maybe people don’t use the phrase “peace like a river” to describe peace because everything about a river is peaceful. Maybe, instead, the true peace of the river is that despite the rushing, polluted, and rapid filled waters, the river never stops. It still gracefully flows and carries on. Maybe, the rivers true peace lies in the fact that though inherently it is unpeacful, it still has a way of making others smile and positively impacting those who see and listen to it.
So it seems to me that if I want to have “peace like a river”, that doesn’t mean the bad things in my life have gone away. It means that despite struggles and hardships, I will carry on and positively impact those around me. Maybe their love for me in return will also take away some of my hardships. Just like those who love nature will help get rid of the waters pollution. So as I carry on and try to live with peace like a river today, I will encourage all of my friends to do the same. I’ll end with the first verse to this hymn…
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.