“Oh, the Mississippi’s mighty, but it starts in Minnesota with a place that you can walk across…”
This line is from one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs, Ghost. I listened to that song a LOT in high school, especially when I was driving my 1988 Honda Accord. The music played through my disc-man connected through my tape player. Back in the days before digital music and bluetooth.
The song is about a relationship and there are many references to water throughout it. This one line is so powerful because it reminds us that one thing can be at once mighty and almost unnoticeable. A river can be so wide, deep, and powerful that it drowns you–and yet at its source it’s possible you would miss it altogether.
At work I am a little bit famous for not believing in false choices. We give these to each other and to ourselves all the time and I just don’t think they’re helpful. We can either do what’s right for our staff or our clients. We can either have fun or follow the rules. We can either save money or get the best product. And I always wonder (and often say out loud): “Why not both? How about we say AND instead of OR? I love the line in this song because it’s proof on planet earth that big and small can co-exist at the same time. Sure, sometimes we have to choose. And…there are times we don’t have to. It’s helpful to offer up ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ to see what’s possible. One of the worst ways we often see this is in our understanding of God.
When I was a camp counselor at Camp Little Crossroads (now named Crossroads Camp and Conference Center) in Amherst County, Virginia, we had vespers every night. This was a time when we worshipped God out in the woods. We walked our campers there from our cabins and sang fun songs all the way up the road. One of those songs went like this: “My god is so BIG, so STRONG, and so MIGHTY, there’s nothing that he cannot do!” We acted it out with motions by making big muscle arms and big wide out-stretched arms. I guess when you’re little, it feels comforting to know that God is bigger than anything you could ever be afraid of. It’s good to remember that God can do all the things.
Then, just a few years later, I found myself in the small hospital chapel at Lynchburg General Hospital, praying for my brother who was upstairs in the neurological ICU. He had been hit by a truck on route 122 coming home from a night out with friends. His 22-year old body was broken all to pieces. His brain was injured. He was not the same as he was when he left us earlier that day–my first day back from my sophomore year of college. I prayed for him. I prayed that he would live. And then I learned what life would be like for him if he lived and so I prayed that we’d have the courage to survive whatever outcome. I prayed that God would be present–with him and with all who were so heart-broken by his injuries. And I prayed that God would be small. Tiny. Microscopic. I wanted God not to be big and mighty and strong, but small enough to crawl through his veins and neurons and blood cells. To seep into his innermost thoughts and memories and remind him in his state of unconsciousness that he was loved and he was not alone. I wanted God to be invisible enough to live in unseen places and do work that wasn’t possible any other way. Healing work is tiny. It happens in itty, bitty moments.
It is Christmastime. December 20th. One of the times of year we remember that God came into the world as an infant. For those of us who believe the story that Jesus–not created, but begotten–came into the world as a tiny, scraggly, vulnerable infant: God really was small. He lived in a womb and entered the world the same way each of us has entered: the human way. He was god and he entered our world. He was mighty and he was a helpless infant. He is an AND god, not an OR god. From the very beginning and to the very end. Like the Mississippi River.
I’ll leave you with one other line from the Indigo Girls’ song: “Oh, there’s not enough room in this world for my pain.” My brother did not live through his injuries from the car wreck. After eight long (and, somehow short) days and nights in the hospital, he died. His body was so badly injured and it worked so hard to help heal itself that it gave out. Earlier on the day of his death, my mom and dad and I sat by his bed. My dad opened the bible and read from the book of John chapter 3: for God loved us so big that he sent his only son to us. It was a reminder that I can only now appreciate–God got small just to be with us. Now, that is big stuff.