Growing up in the greater St. Louis area, I have always been very familiar with the Mississippi River. In my early childhood, my grandmother would take me for a streetcar ride across the McKinley Bridge to get from Illinois to downtown St. Louis. Time has passed; streetcars have become outmoded; cars fill the family garage; but the Eads and McKinley Bridges still span the Mighty Mississippi along with newer and broader expansions.
The river also holds ‘Huck Finn’ type memories for me. My parents regularly took me to a friend’s riverside cabin where we would fish, hunt mushrooms, and build bonfires. As I grew and my interests changed, the river remained important. Motor boats and water skiing near Alton or the Admiral Boat anchored at Laclede’s Landing offered fun weekend activities.
More time passed. Today, I still regularly drive to St. Louis but now on one of several multi-lane interstates with the multiple bridge options that connect Illinois and Missouri. The Admiral has long been retired from the riverfront landscape and has been replaced by expansive casinos and a few sightseeing boats. The magnificent Arch frames the city and casts its image onto the river. However, in spite of the passage of time, culture or landscape, the Mississippi seems timeless, ever flowing southward toward the Gulf of Mexico.
The river springs from a secluded northern Minnesota lake named Lake Itasca, which was first called Antler Lake by the Chippewa Indians. In fact, it was a Chippewa Chief who ended the centuries-long search for the river's source by guiding Henry Schoolcraft to it in 1832. Schoolcraft strung together parts of two Latin words, veritas caput, meaning "true head," to create the name Itasca. From this hidden forested place, the Mississippi flows approximately twenty-five hundred miles to the Gulf of Mexico, bordering ten states and expanding to more than a mile in width. A drop of water takes sixty days to reach the balmy Gulf.
Continuously – and seemingly timelessly – the Mississippi travels from the head waters toward its destination. Life around the river may transform and change, but the river remains unaltered. Decade after decade, the waters released at Itasca will touch the banks of cities, support commerce and entertainment for the citizenry, and eventually spill out into the oceans that touch the world.
Jesus told His disciples that out of them would flow a river (Jn. 7:38). In part, He was stating that they would provide the fountain head for the water of His life to flow. Things that have small beginnings can have mighty cultural influences. Jesus’ original small band of followers has grown into a worldwide movement. Time passes and culture changes, but His water moves continuously – and seemingly timelessly – from His people throughout the generations and into the nations.
Those who live near that River of God have memories of good days that have ‘floated’ their way and promises of blessings that shall yet ‘drift’ downstream. No matter how culture may ebb or flow or how the undercurrent of humanity may pull, God’s Word and Spirit always provide that timeless, steady stream of life.