Down By The River

No, that’s not it. What isn’t it? That little river isn’t it, it’s not the one I wanted you to see. Allow me to explain.

Yesterday, it was my sister’s birthday, and we were planning to visit her in the afternoon, taking little Christopher with us. Her home is worth a visit at any time, not so much because of the house - it’s just a detached bungalow, on a quiet close, looking over fields and up to the hills beyond - but because of its garden.

There is the obligatory patio, and a neat lawn; there are beds and borders planted with an eye to the effects of light, shade, and colour; there are potted plants in abundance; and everything is kept up to a very high standard, to the point where you might be tempted to describe it as manicured.

But what sets it apart from most gardens of a similar size and type is this: there is a river running through it. It’s a little river - a rivulet, perhaps, a brook or a small stream, whichever term you prefer. It runs all the way down one side, in a deep channel, shielded from the vulgar gaze of those outside by a high hedge. On the other side, the lawn slopes down to it, and its banks are planted with a pleasing variety of dwarf shrubs and perennials.

I would have taken Christopher out to look at it, and described its sights and sounds to him. He would have gazed and gazed, as he often does when we’re out walking and we stop for a few minutes by a pond, a river, or a stream. He likes them. He looks, and he listens as though they’re talking to him.

In a way, I suppose they are. I would suggest that there is something in everyone that longs for that lost land of Eden, and all that was in it, before the fall of man. This is what we read in Genesis, in chapter 2.

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

However, my sister came down with a cold, so we couldn’t go, and I couldn’t take the photograph that I had in mind. The one you see above is similar - but it was taken at Hardcastle Crags, and its banks are not so steep.

At family gatherings, when guests are present, they will often mention the little river in the garden. After a while, not wanting to feel left out, I will interrupt and tell anyone who will listen that I have a river that runs right through my house; but, strangely enough, I am seldom invited to enlarge upon this, and the conversation moves on.

The other day, I thought that Christopher might like to see this unusual sight. We went slowly down the stone steps to the cellar, counting them off as usual. He can do it without my prompting, by now. We passed the little freezer, going cautiously round the corner by the rumbling tumble dryer, and made our way to the far part of the cellar, under the front of the house. I knelt down with him, and pointed to the trickle of water coming in from underground. This is what we saw, minus the oil lamp - I just added that to illuminate the dark corner.

"Look, Christopher! A little river!” For a moment, he seemed puzzled. Then his face lit up; and, as he has done so many times when watching the sink empty, or hearing the water running out of the bath, he called out: “Down the drain! Down the drain!” And then he wanted to go off and examine something more interesting.

"Tsk!” as they used to say in comics. Well, all right, it comes out of the wall and straight into a drain laid under the concrete floor and out into the backyard - but it’s always there, always running through, and it really is like a little river, since its source is above us on the hillside and gives its name to the area: Springhill. And how many other people can say they have a little stream running through their cellar? I dare say you feel quite envious, even as you’re reading this entry…

Well, perhaps not. But, back to the bible. Rivers run right through its pages, from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. This is how the final chapter of that latter book begins.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city...

Yes, I have to admit it, that sounds rather better than a drain down in a cellar, better by far than even the finest stream in the greatest garden; for then, we read this.

...also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him.

Will we ever live to see these wonders? I believe I will. My prayer for little Christopher is that he will be there, too, with many, many more. What about you? If you’re really not sure - may I commend to you John, chapter 4, and verses 7 to 14, and may I urge you to get to grips with verse 14 in particular?

...whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Don’t let it go until you know for certain that you will be there, down by that river: the river of the water of life.

And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.