After inviting us to hearken, and come near, and keep the commandments, the Lord promises “thy peace [will be] as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” (1Nephi 20:18) Many other wonderful promises follow as vivid metaphors.
I love that phrase—peace like a river.
Maybe because it reminds me of the book Peace Like a River, by author Leif Enger. We read it a few years ago in book club. (I actually listened to it on CD and so I was quite wrapped up in the plot.)
My favorite part is near the end where the main character, an 11-year-old asthmatic boy, is describing a heavenly scene of great fields and grand orchards and being able to run freely and breathe easily. He runs with joy towards the sound of beautiful music and a river leading to a glorious city. The river turns out to be a flow of people who have joined in the journey toward the light of all lights.
The meadow hummed as though thick with the nests of waking creatures, and the grasses were canyon colored, lifting their heads as I passed. Moving up the river the humming began to swell—it was magnetic, a sound uncurling into song and light and even a scent, which was like earth. ...And the pulse of the country came around me, as of voices lifted at great distance, and moved through me as I ran until the words came clear, and I sang with them a beautiful and curious chant. ...[when I reached a pass I looked] to the plains below, at movement I took at first to be rivers—winding, flowing, light coming off them. They came from all directions, streaming toward the city...singing a hymn that rose up to us on the mountain...joyous and sanctified.When I heard the phrase “peace as a river” in first Nephi, I stopped the CD so I could ponder what it meant for a few minutes. Usually my commute "pondering" ends up being worrying over work and family, making mental lists of things I need to do and conversations I need to have.
But not today...
Peace like a river, peace like a river...hmm. Most rivers I think of are ever moving, rough and tumble over boulders and stones, eroding their banks, carrying tons of rock and silt to the sea. Feels like my life. That's not peaceful.
But wait now, I do know bigger more peaceful rivers. What about the Mississippi?
Still, when you're on a river, even a big river, you have to be ever vigilant, worrying about what's downstream or constantly working to move upstream or to stay afloat even. That's not peaceful.
Although, there were times when I was younger, when we floated down rivers on inner tubes or rafts—quiet, enjoying nature, soaking in the sun, or laughing and singing. Those are good memories and they give me peace when I think back on them.
But maybe it's not about the river itself or anyone on the river. What if there were other qualities of rivers that can be compared to peace? How does one feel peace like a river? How does hearkening to the commandments give thee peace like a river?
Then it dawned on me.
Large rivers are fed by many smaller tributaries.
Especially the Mississippi. It begins at Lake Itasca in the Minnesota North Woods and is fed by pure waters bubbling from springs in the tops of mountains, then gathers waters from many streams as it moves toward the Gulf. It’s name is a Chippewa Indian word meaning 'gathering of waters'.
Maybe personal peace comes from many small sources in our lives, that combine to make up an encompassing peace or a lifetime of peace.
There was the truth, my truth, and the Spirit bore witness.
Small things, even widely spaced, can add up to a full sense of peace.
Here are some that do it for me...the smile of a sleeping baby, the smell of baking cookies or bread, the song of bird on a spring day, a few quiet minutes in the sun with my cat, a soft 'I love you' whispered just before dropping off to sleep, the distant sound of a lawn mower on a summer afternoon, the sudden whiff of honeysuckle, the whoosh of air when swinging on a swing, the crisp morning air on a clear autumn day, the snapping of pine logs as they burn in the campfire.
Yes, those are pleasant and peaceful, but these are even greater: the weight of my scriptures on my lap, emptying all my thoughts onto the pages of my journal, a completed prayer before climbing into bed, my favorite hymn being sung in church on a Sunday when I really needed it, the taste of simple food after a day of fasting, the rested mind once the tithing is paid, the distinct feeling of being clean when taking the sacrament, the soft tinkle of the chandelier in the Celestial room in the temple, His love as though arms were placed around me, the quiet thrill as the Spirit testifies.
Now that I’m focused on noticing and remembering, there are so many. How can I not see them more often...and remember the peace?! Maybe that’s why we covenant to always remember the Lord. The remembering is so important.
Until we have eyes to see, we don't recognize the small streams of peace that mix in with our everyday lives. And those streams come from the source of living water: He causes the water to flow out of the rock for us; he clave the rock also and the waters gush out...and we thirst not; He leads us through the deserts (see 1 Nephi 20:21) —and we thirst not, and we thirst not.
Let us always remember the source of our peace. Let us hearken to His commandments as Isaiah counsels, that our peace shall be as a river.