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The Frio River Paradox

(a Steve Orr scripture reflection)


The Frio River is cold, really cold, take-your-breath-away cold. Its headwaters are in a valley a bit west of San Antonio, Texas—and that’s where we find the paradox. On the west side of those headwaters is a cliff that towers over the little river; its crevices, notches, and caves, starkly etched by the morning sun, are all but invisible when the sun slips away at end of day. 

That cliff is the site of the paradox.


You see, there are hawks above the Frio. Hawks do a lot of gliding. They catch the lift of rising thermals, warm thrusts of air that allow them to gently spiral up, up, up—until they finally tilt over to glide or dive. Hawks are hunters. They repeat this process, over and over, to help them spot and then claim their prey. This is how they get their food.


Above the Frio, the hawks perform as expected. They corkscrew up on those elevating winds alongside the face of that cliff. Then, when they reach the end of that thermal, they either glide along the cliff face in a long, slow decent, or they dive hard and fast toward their target. As they near the bottom of their passage, those hawks catch another thermal and start a new ascent. I’ve watched them do this for hours: gliding above the length of the Frio, swooping back toward the headwaters, searching for that next thermal to carry them aloft to their hunting height. 


The paradox: How can there be thermals?


It’s counterintuitive. The Frio remains shockingly cold all year round, even though the Texas heat usually exceeds 100° Fahrenheit throughout the summer months. The air above that river should not even be warm, much less hot enough to lift hawks above the lip of the cliff—and yet there they are. Somehow, God has contrived to place extreme Texas heat and extreme cold next to one another and make them do wonderful things. Neither appears limited by the other in any way. How? God only knows.


God does some amazing things, and we can observe them—even participate in them—if we’re open to paradoxes. There’s a great example in this week’s scriptures. 


The 2 Corinthians passage has this formula: Expansion of Grace = Increase in Thanksgiving (to the glory of God). As each person is extended grace, the result is more than the addition of thanksgiving. Somehow, thanksgiving increases exponentially when grace expands. It’s counterintuitive. Mysterious. Beautiful. 

Like those hawks above the Frio, grace increases thanksgiving in ever-rising spirals. 

And God is glorified. 


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