I Have a River

It is strange to live so long in a town with no river. Absent, I forget. Though Bull River defined my Montana childhood wanderings. Walking down the middle of the wooden one-lane bridge to and from the bus stop. Playing by the edge all summer long. Trout fishing and frog catching. 

The log church was built too near the steep bank, but I loved to sit where I could gaze out the window at the water during worship. I was baptized in that river. Some folks got married with their feet in the river. If I were to give directions for my ashes, I would compel my family to make the journey. Walk the river, and return me to its snow-melt current. 

Deep River is not the opening essay in Diana L. Hayes’ collection No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality. But I turned there first. Searching. Tomorrow we host the Interfaith Alliance; I will lead the opening devotion. Our local imam, reverends, and the rabbi whom I greatly respect. I am out of my depth. 

Hayes’ description of our lives as a river resonates. And reminds. Of people and places. The meandering and the rhythm. An image for contemplation. 

I see my own life as a river flowing from and through my parents, grandparents, and beyond, with tributary influences from loving friends and mentoring teachers, with drifts and shallows where I thought I had stopped moving at all, and with sudden rushes and gushes where I thought I would carry away all before me or be swept away myself. (31)

Memories wash over me. Faith born and nurtured by the river. Women who seemed old then, but still pray for me now. Who understand difficulty. The twists and unexpected turns. Of God calling. Compelling. The rush of water. Then. And now.

So many details of my life differ from Diana L. Hayes’ story. But she describes God’s two-part directions to her in a way that feels deeply familiar. Reassuring. When she was working as an attorney in Albany, New York,

“God came to me and called me out of my old world into a new one I had not at all foreseen.” (Intro, xx) 

For Hayes, it was the Catholic church. Becoming a theologian and professor- despite severe rheumatoid arthritis that makes writing painful and kneeling at the altar impossible. And the anomaly of being a black woman and a vowed celibate layperson. 

But each of our lives is a river, and we are part of the greater river, flowing to the sea, returning to our God. Different in the details. With source and end the same. She quotes Howard Thurman’s essay Deep River:

“The goal of life is God! The source of life is God!”

Hayes reminds us that “we can accept the grace to be part of that flow or we can choose to step outside of it.” (36) Sometimes we are willing to be swept up in the current. Other times we want to get out and stand on the bank. Becoming the righteous of God is not easy, but is strewn with obstacles, twists and turns.

I am buoyed by memories of Bull River. But I do not long for Montana winters. My calling has brought me here. Where the view from the window is pavement, cars, and buildings. Come summer I will fly far away west, sit by the running water, and let it wash over me. For a while. Now, I will be strengthened by Hayes’ encouragement:

Let us continue to pray and ponder, thinking of the river of our own lives, how it has flowed, where it has been stilled for a while, where it has gushed forth with vigor…. Let us ask ourselves how we can come together to forge a mighty stream that will cleanse and heal, that will purify and carry us home into the arms of our loving God. (37)

Bulletin: 2/16
Order of Service: 2/16
Sermon: Jesus Our High Priest

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