Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Ezekiel 47:1-12) transports me to one of the unlikeliest feel good movie experiences of my life, when during the Christmas holidays of 1988, Kim and I went to the theater and came away with our hearts warmed, singing the praises of a successful Wall Street acquisition deal, of all things. Given my general egalitarian economic leanings and a suspicion of high finance that began long before the culture’s current foul mood, and given that only a year earlier I had reveled in the downfall of the greedy Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, it’s hard to believe that a movie could make me feel such affection for a stockbroker and make her seem so heroic to me. But Mike Nichols’ Working Girl did just that, and I still find the Oscar-winning theme song, Let the River Run (New Jerusalem) running through my head on occasion. The music, as well as the lyrics, make it sound like a contemporary choir anthem, and I’m sure the soundtrack was a big part of what made the movie so compelling. We’re coming to the edge, running on the water, coming through the fog, your sons and daughters. Let the river run, let all the dreamers wake the nation. Come, the New Jerusalem. The lyrical juxtaposition of river and city is matched to Working Girl’s opening scene, as we see the Manhattan skyline rising over the New York harbor from the point of view of commuters on the Staten Island Ferry.
The prophet Ezekiel presented the viewers of his visions with a similar juxtaposition of capital city and river; Carly Simon’s song could just as easily been the soundtrack for his prophecy of a New Jerusalem. He is waking a nation in exile to the hope of a renewed faith. He understands the need to gradually ease people into that hope, as the river starts out from the sanctuary and is first ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep, on up until it is over our heads with a strong current that no one can cross without being swept away by the waters of grace. It is a healing river, making salt water fresh, and teeming with life. Where the river flows everything will live, the prophet proclaims, and the banks of that river will be filled with fruit trees of all kinds, with healing in their leaves. It is a beautiful vision of the earth being filled with the grace of God, as the waters cover the sea, to quote another prophet. And it’s a vision I can find myself in, sometimes only having ankle deep faith, other times trusting to wade out up my knees, and other times being completely carried away by gospel hope.
Carly Simon was carried away by gospel hopes when she read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; she says these poems provided her with the inspiration to write Let the River Run when Mike Nichols asked her to compose a soundtrack song. I re-read the long epic poem from this collection, Song of Myself, and can see how she could find material for her anthem. This 19th century denizen of New York City had the capacity to see God and miracle and wonder everywhere he looked, from the angles of city life to curves of nature and ultimately to his own embodied soul. This urban poet was drawn to the world of animals, who as he said do not lie in the dark weeping for their sins or make anyone sick discussing their duty to God. He delighted in the gigantic beauty of a stallion and in the small beauty of a leaf of grass. He saw himself walking the old hills of Judea with the beautiful gentle God by his side. He saw the wonder of bringing help for the sick as they pant on their backs, and for the strong, upright men, who needed even more help. He questions, Why should I wish to see God better than this day? I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then. The river runs deep through Walt Whitman. As I find myself increasingly caught up in the dualisms of good guys vs bad guys in political and economic and religious spheres, and the dualism of nature’s purity vs. the city’s corruption (especially the financial sector of the city!), it does me good to dive into such a broad and deep understanding of God and grace as Walt Whitman offers, and remember what it was like to sing an anthem that lends grace to the exploits of a Wall Street broker: We the great and small stand on a star and blaze a trail of desire through the dark’ning dawn. It’s asking for the taking. Come run with me now. . . Let the river run.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.