Flowing, or stuck? In the stream of Providence
When my brother Danny died the summer after his senior year, the next senior class dedicated the Academy yearbook to him, inserting this quote on the dedication page: “When the Lord is with anyone He leads him, and provides that all things that happen, whether sad or joyful, befall him for good. This is Divine Providence.” (Arcana Coelestia 6303)
At different times in life I have found this to be an astonishing statement. Still more jaw-dropping to me are the references to the “stream” of Providence, such as this one: “Insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace.” (Arcana Coelestia 8478)
Can this really be true? Could it be that all our states of life other than peace come from our resistance to this stream? The smallest moments come to mind: Irritation when my husband smokes up the kitchen from heating the pan too hot. Annoyance when an event is postponed, forcing us to adjust, or a phone call interrupts my work. To the biggest ones: Fear when a wildfire threatens nearby or a child gets seriously ill. Sadness when a loved one seems bent on a path of destruction. Anger when a mishandled medical situation leads to death. Could it be that these feelings and thoughts, especially when acted out, are simply ways that we have of turning upstream, or even just leaning sideways a bit so that we feel the pressure of the current? How many days or years have we spent clinging to a rock, insisting that we stay in the same place, exhausting and painful as it is to be resisting the current?
Occasionally it seems as though we are given insight into just how strong the current of this stream is. I noted recently that if I hadn’t followed my husband onto a sailboat, to live aboard with our daughters for two different years despite my own doubts and sense of aimlessness (not to mention seasickness), I might never have learned how much I love to cook and host meals large and small. And I might never have cultivated the skills I have today of making the most of healthy, inexpensive ingredients that accommodate people with food sensitivities. Today this is one of my most acute joys and one of the defining strengths of our sailing trips, our land life, and our church life. Providing delicious meals has brought more people into our sphere, and enriched our daughters’ childhoods, more than anything I could have imagined when we left on a small sailboat to test the waters by our lonely selves twenty years ago.
On some level, this seems a well known fact. “Let Go; Let God,” or simply “Let Go” in secular worlds. But letting go can feel anything but peaceful. Twenty-eight years ago on a canoe trip in northern Canada, I recall the most painful upstream paddle of my life. A roaring wind and its attendant waves were against us. All day we lowered our heads and paddled with all our might, gaining only inches with each stroke. In the late afternoon, sun sinking down in front of us, we finally turned the corner. Suddenly life got a heck of a lot easier. The late afternoon drift downstream to a campsite was indeed blissful, but it had sure taken a lot more than “letting go” to get there.
Sometimes, it seems to me, we must wander in the wilderness to find even a glimpse of peace. All suffering may come from resisting the stream, but in the short run, doing the right thing can lead to a state that does not feel peaceful. Change is inherently uncomfortable. Perhaps our upstream battle was like a tributary to the main, Providential stream. Once that current flowed into the other, we could rest. But we had to get into the main stream to feel it.
How then do we get from here (mostly not in a state of peace) to there (more states of peace?) Somehow this quote from Swedenborg, which hangs on our fridge, serves as marching instructions for my own life:
“If only people believed the way things really are–that everything of life flows in, the good from heaven and the evil from hell–they would not make anything good in themselves a matter of merit, nor would anything evil be charged to them.” (New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 277)