For those who seek to find new depths in their spiritual lives, Pond River Ocean Rain helps readers wade into the beautiful water that is God through stories, questions, and accessible illustrations.
Feel the Living Water wash over you while contemplating chapters on stillness (such as a pond), the full trust in God’s will (much like the rush of a river), peace within mystery (as experienced in the depths of the ocean), and the movement of God’s relentless love for us (the refreshing rain we receive).
Pond River Ocean Rain,
like all bodies of water, is simple, occasionally wild, and consistently beautiful. And there are depths that, when explored, reveal abundant life for all who jump in.
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Charles L. Howard is the University Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. He is a contributor to multiple publications, including: The Huffington Post, Christianity Today, Sojourners Magazine, Black Arts Quarterly, Black Theology: An International Journal, DailyGood, Urban Cusp, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Slate. Charles lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Dr. Lia C. Howard and their three daughters.
Read an Excerpt
Pond River Ocean Rain
Find Peace in the Storms Of Life
By Charles Lattimore Howard
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
furuike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
The old silent pond a frog dares to jump into the sound of water.
The path is narrow and shaded by a whispering green canopy provided by strong oaks, willows, and pines. Its flora-lined walkway seems to invite those who walk slowly enough to breathe in the calm and wonder that emanates from these little fragile witnesses watching at their feet. The trust that these flowers have in reckless humans! The tender care of a graceful gardener or the slight step of a careless foot can mean the difference between a long beautiful season of bringing joy to others or an early winter of waiting for another chance.
Thank God we always get another chance.
The place to where this narrow path leads is a small pond — a Nazarene place, separate and set apart. But it is not far away; it is within. Separate within.
This pond is about a five-minute walk (two-minute run, but it's better to walk) from my office. The cacophonic cry of the city fills those minutes, and yet like so much of life today, I have been desensitized and hardly notice what is around me. I have been lulled to sleep by the loudest song.
The pond is in the midst of this. The trees around and, more important, the peace within it close out the noise of life and allow visitors to at last be quiet and truly hear. The pond gently invites those on the journey to stop running, to stop walking, and finally to be still.
The ancient philosopher Laozi is often quoted as saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Differently translated it might read, "The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet." I am drawn to the latter. That is closer to my experience, but I suppose it all depends on where one wants to go.
The journey into the world indeed begins with a simple step forward. The journey into the self may begin beneath our feet. Yet, the journey deeper into the Love of God, I believe, is best begun by being still. Like a pond.
It is that journey into and with the Love of God that this book is attempting to speak to. And the journey deeper into God's Love blesses and deepens our inward journeys into the self as well as our outward ones into the world. But the walk into the Great Ocean that is God must first pass by the Still Pond and the Great Flowing River.
* * *
Questions to Hold
Do you have a quiet place to which you can retreat? If so, when was the last time you went there? Why is that place special to you?
If not, what would your ideal quiet place be? What's holding you back from going?
What journeys are you feeling called to take? A journey into yourself and your own heart? A journey deeper into relationship with God?
How might these spiritual or literal journeys help you connect with others in a richer, more selfless way?
Inaction sometimes is the greatest action we can take. Stillness is sometimes the most important move we can make. The beauty of this pond, the grace of its small yet active and fruitful ecosystem is based on its gentle stillness. If it moved itself into a roaring river or rose up and produced bounding waves like the ocean, the quiet turtles could not bask in the warmth of the sun in their daily peaceful adoration. The affectionate fish — in this pond they are koi — could not receive their gifted sustenance. Nor would I find this reminder to slow down amidst the constant speed and sound of the world that swirls around it.
Being still has been a necessary part of my walk. Stillness, I should add, is not for me the same as emptiness. While the waters of the pond might be still on the surface, there is much life moving within. Life is within. Love is within!
When I am still I do not empty myself. I would rather be filled with love than have nothing within. And being still allows for this to happen, or rather being still allows for you and I to notice that this has happened already. The love is there within us, even now.
Yet sometimes the waves of life rage so incessantly that it is difficult to see or feel that love.
Pausing and being still enough to notice love within and around is a deeply powerful and countercultural act. Stillness is a prophetic act. Prophetic is a fluid term that can move and be shaped in different ways depending on what or who is containing it. But the prophetic — the truly prophetic — can never truly be contained. The prophetic is wild. It is different. It is set apart — by God, God's love, and God's will. Thus, often it stands across the water from what the world is doing. In the case of most of contemporary society, stillness is a prophetic act, defying that which demands that we move quickly and move upward. It challenges the notion that it is better to be busy and occupied. It refuses the call to be constantly distracted and perpetually plugged in.
* * *
Questions to Hold
Can you think of a time when you were truly still?
Not just sleeping or relaxing, but still?
How did it make you feel? Why?
How might stillness affect those around you in powerful or perhaps prophetic ways?
Are there people in your life who need stillness?
As much as I love it there, most of my life has not been lived by the side of the pond. Instead, the image that comes to mind is of a crashing rainstorm. There is beauty in the storm, in the bright lightning, the powerful thunder, the heavy rain that helps things grow. Storms, however, are not meant to be perpetual. God designed them to be temporary, brief moments in life, not a constant way of life.
Rain is a gift to a growing plant. And rain with strong wind can bring movement(s)! But too much rain can drown plants and flowers, rendering them unhealthy.
Far too many of us walk through life trying to weather storms with broken umbrellas. We live with a constant feeling of not-peace. For some, this is an aimless commotion or a tiring busyness from work. For others, it is a frightening chaos and lack of direction. By living in the storm, we miss the beauty, the peace, the joy, that peaceful Waters can bring. We miss seeing that we are not loved because of our survival in the storm, but we are loved just because we are ourselves. We miss that we are called and invited to do more than just hold on for a break in the clouds. There is more to life than this.
A slow read of the story of Jesus and His disciples being caught in the storm should invoke both awe and a hopeful gratitude. They ride not on a pond but on a sea, and while the disciples are busy working and fishing, the Nazarene is in a pond-like sleep.
The Gospel story relates that after a storm comes upon them, the disciples awaken Jesus, Who says to the storm (and perhaps indirectly to us and the storms that we create in all of our lives), "Quiet! Be still!" or "Peace! Be still!" depending on the translation. And the storm calms (Mark 4:39 NIV and ESV, respectively). No book explores this holy, chaos-and-fear-dispersing moment and what it might mean for us today better than Kirk Byron Jones's Rest in the Storm. I have to give my former professor a special shout-out, not only because of the integral role he has played in my vocational life but also because the timeless truth that I found in that book is true for you as well. We don't have to go through life weathering not-peace. There is a stillness within and a Peace-Bringing Presence in the boat right next to you. Have faith.
* * *
Questions to Hold
Think of a time in your life that you were "living in a storm." Who did you cry out for, and how did you resolve the turmoil in your life?
Is "storm" your normal state of being?
What is keeping you from asking the Peacegiver in the boat with you for help?
While I was in college, the clouds gathered in a way that I had difficulty seeing the Light. I nearly came undone from the swirling storm that I found myself walking through.
When I recount that painful moment in my life, I often tell others that I was "running too hard." With that phrase I am trying to convey that I was too busy and overstretched — that is, sprinting when I should have moved at a gently paced jog or, better yet, a patient walk. This running wasn't just my over involvement and my overcommitment. In hindsight, I was actually running from something. My deep grief. My constant insecurity.
There is a fine line between a healthy self-awareness and overly psychoanalyzing oneself. At the risk of crossing that line, the great formative event of my life was the loss of my parents. My being parentless in both great and painful ways made me who I am. Not having parents for my late teens and early twenties brought out two peculiar reactions from within me. On one hand, I sought love, affirmation, and attention, desperately wanting to fill the void left after burying my mother and father. On the other, I never wanted to let anyone get too close for fear that they would leave and break my heart too.
This was how my storm began. I had difficulty being alone, always needing to be surrounded by friends and always needing to be in a relationship. I got way too involved in too many clubs and causes while in school. And I certainly believed in the things that I found myself drawn to, but there were moments during which my motivation was my need to be loved. That fuel can drive you to make some unhealthy decisions. It caused me to take on responsibilities that I did not have the time for. It led me to invest my energy into my clubs and activities rather than into my academic work. Predictably, my grades began to suffer. After the fall semester of my junior year, I was placed on academic probation, and then after the following spring (a season in which I missed more classes than ever before), I was kicked out of school.
Things began to go south with the person whom I was dating at the time. And my rudderless ship spun further off course after a bad internship in the field that I really wanted to work in. The pain and embarrassment were amplified at the thought that I was letting my deceased parents down. Parents who I every single day wished were there for me to call and get some advice from. Or go home to. Or get a hug from. Instead of running to them, I ran to alcohol and drowned my grief in beer. Often without my friends even knowing. A raging storm on my personal Sea of Galilee. Not peace.
And while my boat was sinking in the destructive hurricane that was my life, I did not once ask for help. I didn't let anyone close enough to know what was going on. Unlike the disciples who at least had the wisdom and humility to ask the Savior who was in the boat with them for saving, I thought that I could sail myself out of it.
Only after I received the letter telling me that I needed to leave campus — the cracking of the mast — did I finally turn to God.
I went to the pond on my campus — the same one that I wrote of earlier. I prayed with a desperation that I have rarely felt. While in prayer there, through my shame and loneliness, somehow God's love got through. Amidst all of my shortcomings, my literal failures, my hidden addiction, I knew and felt that I was still loved. The storm in my heart was calmed, and my boat floated at peace. Cracked for sure, but not sunk.
I felt led to reach out for help from certain faculty and staff members, and over the next several weeks God used them to help me get back in. A few retaken exams and rewritten papers later, I was once again enrolled without missing any time. And it would be that September of my senior year that I would also stop drinking and smoking and finally hear and respond to the calling God had on my life. And just to show how good God is, just a few months later, I met my beloved future wife.
I can't say that I was fully healed from the wounds and insecurities of my life, but I began the healing process. My ship had — and indeed still has — cracks in it, but it was no longer sinking.
The clouds parted and I finally saw Light.
* * *
Questions to Hold
How do you deal with the stress of "running"? In healthy ways or unhealthy ones?
Are you running to or running from?
To what? From what?
Have you ever asked the One in the boat of life with you to bring peace to your journey? Why not?
Stillness allows for that which is hidden within to come to the surface and teach. I walk to the pond near my office not to escape but to find. And it is life that I find there. Beautiful living friends. Among them my favorite animal, the turtle.
Seeing the turtles gather on the log in the middle of the water reminds me of the need to slow down, the need to take my time while walking, the need to sometimes be still. I watch as my shelled friends stretch their necks upward toward the sun, listening to Something or Someone with ears that only an upwardly aimed stillness can bring. All the while soaking in the warmth from above. Stillness allows us to be warmed by the light of the sun.
It is difficult for me to articulate why I love these creatures so. Perhaps it is the way they seem to take their time, never rushing, taking in everything that comes across their path. The elders use to tell me to remember that "Jesus did a lot of things, but He never ran."
There's so much to love about these little slow-movers. Maybe I love them because their homes (their shells) are always with them, whether they are climbing warm moss-covered rocks, wading through cool muddy banks, or diving into dark unknown depths. A whispered reminder about always keeping our loved ones close even when on the move.
Turtles are walking ponds, and we can be too. Moving slower than everyone around us. Slow enough to bring home with us. Slow enough to be a pond in the midst of a busy city.
There is a reason why giant tortoises are among the longest living creatures: "The race is not to the swift / or the battle to the strong" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). I can hear scripture whispering to us. This is the opposite of the message that so much of the world screams: "The race" is won by those who work the hardest and run the fastest. But so many of us are running on the wrong track. Let's take a break and come sit by the water. There, perhaps, we can see clearly which race we are really called to be in.
Along with the turtles this still pond is home to the large koi who swim beneath the water. These silently majestic fish, often called "giant gold fish," never want for food, with daily visitors dropping crumbs into the water. Koi is a Japanese word that means "love" or "affection." I smile at this and remember how loved I am. That I, too, have moments of waiting in Love like these submerged blessed ones, praying for some crumbs of wisdom, or peace, or grace to fall down. In the stillness we remember this. Love amid chaos. Grace amidst suffering. There is a trap that we fall into when running the wrong race. We think that our being loved (or liked or respected) depends on our performance. That if we don't run well, we won't be fed love. Koi know differently. Provision, attention, and light come no matter how hard they swim. And the same is true for us. If the love around us depends on our performance, then, it is not love at all. In the musical Wicked, the "wicked witch of the west" Elphaba sings: "Too long I've been afraid of losing love I guess I've lost. Well, if that's love it comes at much too high a cost."
The truest love in our lives — from family and friends as well as Divine Love — comes without requirement. Meister Eckhart was known to speak of love "Sunder Warumbe" — that is, without a why. That is how God and the best of our loved ones love us — that is, without a why. Just because.
During my most difficult vocational days, I retreat to the stillness there and sit with life. I am reminded of love. I remember that tomorrow is coming. I remember all that I forget while running. I learn how to smile again.
Consider my little teacher the turtle. There is a beautiful difference in the way that she moves on the land from the way that she moves in the pond. A gentle, restful slowness on the land. A free, playful gliding in the water.
The stillness allows for me to glide through the day with grace, unhurried, yet with a far greater ease than normal. For some time now, I have begun my days with a visit to the Pond. Only occasionally the pond near my office that my feet take me to. I mean the Real Pond that only my spirit can access. I want to stay there and remain still throughout my day, gliding along the way with a turtle-like freedom.
Beginning the journey of each day with the intentional act of stillness blesses each step that will follow in the upcoming hours. There are other animals outside of the water that seem to begin their day immediately working to gather food or to look for prey. Their earliest hours are spent in a self-serving toil. They work to survive. They busy themselves, while those within the stillness of the pond simply look upward, trusting and knowing that the Sender of the Light that is breaking through the canopy of trees above is the same One who will provide daily bread. So they don't scurry. They wait, or they playfully glide in peace.
Excerpted from Pond River Ocean Rain by Charles Lattimore Howard. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
David Greer: An Epilogue 117