The Setting: The Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where a party of about a dozen men and women are floating downstream in a rubber raft. They are members of the AAIU—Association for Advancement of Interreligious Understanding, on a retreat. There’s an Anglican priest, a Methodist lady minister, a New-Ager, a Buddhist monk, a Muslim, a religion professor from a fundamental Christian background who’s now an atheist. There’s also a member of a charismatic, independent church, and a number of others, like a cowboy, who admit to no particular religious affiliation.
They have a guide in the boat, a young Baptist man, and another one sitting a mile above on the bank, with whom he’s communicating via cell phone. They are not far from a treacherous rapids, where many a group has come to grief. They have temporarily disembarked about a half mile above the rapids, so they can talk things over, about how to deal with the rapids up ahead.
BUDDHIST: If we decide to go ahead, I would advise, Don’t rock the boat; sit still, close your eyes, and look inside yourself, for the way through the rapids!
NEW AGER: Yes, chant with me, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
METHODIST: Indeed, we need to be methodical, but even though I am a liberal, I don’t believe that all paths lead to the mountain top, or any path through the rapids will do. I still believe in one Guide, who’s been all through the messes and griefs that we all go through.
COWBOY: Yah, we need to stay connected to the Man Upstairs, right? He’s got a book out, I hear.
ATHEIST: You can believe what you want, but I’ve studied that Book all my life, and even teach religion courses at a university, and I tell you, it’s all nonsense. There’s no one sitting up on that bank a mile above, even if you claim “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.” It’s all fantasy, myth, legend. We are best off if we realize we are really on our own, and if we die, that’s it—no “pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye!”
MUSLIM: No, you really are an INFIDEL! Allah is real, and he’s given us rules for getting through life and through streams like this. Mohammad—blessed be his name— wrote them all down in the Koran.
PASSENGER: Atheism is stupid, and as the TV character Maude used to say to her husband, “God’s gonna get you for that!”
PRIEST: Some people, some religions, say that OBEYING THE RULES is the secret of everything, including getting through rapids or getting through life, or going to heaven when we die. I understand that thinking, but according to Scripture, it’s not really correct. We must have faith; as Ephesians 2 says, “Through grace you are saved, through faith, not of works, lest anyone should boast. . .” God has given us the Sacraments to help us experience this, and get through safely, and effectively, and being “salt” and “light” for the world.
ATHEIST: Oh, did you bring a little bread and wine for us all?
(Before he can answer, the Baptist guide cuts in:)
GUIDE: I just got this message from our friend, up above, quoting Isaiah 43: 1, 2
“But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
ATHEIST: That means we’re all going to drown, just as I thought!
CHARISMATIC: No, not that, but whatever happens, God will be with us! I’ve seen some miracles of healing, and heard of many more, even dead people coming back to life, in the 21st Century!
GUIDE: I’m texting him back, “Thank you.”
METHODIST: Good. As I said before, We have a guide who’s been through all the messes and miseries we go through. As Isaiah said, He was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Look what He did—walked on water, calmed the stormy sea, healed and fed thousands, cast out demons, commanded people to follow him, raised the sick and dead to life, forgave people their sins, even when dying in unbelievable agony on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
PRIEST: Exactly right! Plus he predicted his own death and resurrection, which came true, and by which he showed us that, as the Anglican priest/poet John Donne said, “Death, thou shalt die.”
ATHEIST: I wish I could believe it, like I once did. But now I know too much. . .
CHARISMATIC: That’s so sad, because you no longer know—personally—Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
PASSENGER: I remember part of Psalm 46, something I learned in Christian School:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”
GUIDE: Listen, guys: I’ve been through these rapids, and nearly drowned, but felt a mighty hand reaching down from I don’t know where, pulling me to safety. So I’m grateful that He’s still around, to help guide this little raft through it all. . . Are you all with me? All but one say yes.
The atheist jumps into the river, and tries to swim across.
OK, great! Now, here’s a big, strong rope. Let’s all tie ourselves together, and proceed downstream, and face the music!
COWBOY: Did you see that? That guy’s never gonna make it, against this current. Here, give me that rope! He takes it, and after knotting a hoop at the end of it, throws it out to the struggling atheist, who’s now praying, Oh God, save me! He grabs hold of the lasso, and is drawn back across the river to shore, to the cheers and thankful prayers of all..
COWBOY: I like to watch reruns of RESCUE 911 on YouTube. I’ve often seen the heroes, how they talked after they saved someone’s life, saying things like, “It made my whole life worthwhile!”
Well, now I really understand!
GUIDE: Right, I think we all do, now. OK, everyone—As Moses was told by Yahweh his guide, when facing the Reed Sea, Pharaoh’s army right behind them, “Tell the people of Israel to go forward,” I say, “Let’s go!’