“The heavens declare the glory of God.” – Psalm 19:1
A child will handle incredible amounts of pain if only he has hope.
It may come through a single soft word, a fleeting kindness, or the frailest wisp of a verse unthreaded from scripture’s thick mat.
Even for those who, like me, were caught for years in the sticky threads of spiritual abuse, God grants us glimpses of heaven. There is no cult so terrible—no church or family so abusive—that at some moment in time God did not reach down to pluck dark scales from our eyes and show us a better world.
Nature is God’s ambassador. There are places on this mottled stage of life where time and eternity seem to meet and the dust of life transfigures suddenly in the pure clean beam of forever.
The Penobscot River in northern Maine afforded me such a view. My grandparents owned a house on the riverbank, on a curved part of the river a quarter mile beneath the old Veazie Dam. We’d drive two hours to visit them—sometime in July or August when mosquitoes whined and snapped in the blue bug light by the porch and cabbages grew fragrant in the garden.
Atlantic salmon used to swim upriver in summer and gather in deep pools dug by the wide swing of the river.
At sunset the Penobscot flowed black against the far bank which rose tangled and steep to a feathered fringe of pines beneath a yellow sky. In the middle, deep water shone and the setting sun spun a sheet of wet gold all spattered with jewels.
Across the current, circles bloomed as salmon rose to suck down midges and damsel flies which bobbed and sunk like drunken crop dusters over endless acres of mercury. Following the feed, fly-fishermen worked the shallows and walked dismembered in their waders, torsos floating first in Midas pools, then in ink.
As children, my brother and I spent hours roaming the hard-scrabble banks looking for arrowheads and skipping stones across the river’s streaming face. To us, the water seemed almost sentient—sententious and old. At night, its deep sighs lullabied us as it clattered over the falls and then shouldered past the few boulders bold enough to stand against it.
The British writer C.S. Lewis once considered God a grand delusion until joy surprised him and he recognized the reality of heaven breaking into time. Likewise, peace surprised me as a child. It left me forever aching for a home beyond the glittering current sweeping down toward the sea. It made me forget for a moment my hard hell of legalism; the cloaking, choking worldview of my cult; and the rows of twisted scriptures set to stab me if I fell.
It gave me hope.
The wide arc of the river, the salmon rising in the evening, and the water tumbling over the shoals transported me to heaven. Time removed his pincered grip, scales fell from my eyes and my soul enlarged to embrace forever. All of history past and all the pages of history not yet written seemed to congeal and distill into one great coalescent I AM: the transcendent gift of shalom—the wholeness, wellness and blessing of heaven on earth.
Still in my memory I can see the far bank rising tangled to the sky and dark pine trees crenellating the sun. The golden river rolls on and on and the salmon rise in obsidian pools clouded thick with evening ink.
I remember that the river flowed black against the far bank, but farther out—in the deep water—the sun spun gold and the rich evening musk carried a fragrance of home.