River of Life
With readings from Genesis 8:20-22, 9: 12-17, Psalm 104 vs 1-13, and Revelations 22:1-5
In the ink black of night, flying over Canada, you can see them – tiny jewels of light in seams of ebony – the habitation of humanity, rimmed around a lake, inching as close as possible to the curve of the river, the lap of the shoreline. We are drawn to water. Rivers are life-lines to so much of who we are, what we need, how we get around, and in this season of Creation, we reflect on rivers and the River of Life.
Until I was seven years old, I lived within listening distance of the beautifully named Prophet River. If I stood just so, looking between the trees, I could catch a glimpse of the River as it flowed somewhere over the bank and through the trees from my home along the Alaska Highway. There was something reassuring, mysterious and peaceful about its steady journey north.
The scriptures are full of images of water and its life-giving properties. Waters are purifying, but they can also be terrifying – as the ancient flood stories from Genesis, and other traditions attest.
As near and recent as the flooding of the Bow River in Calgary, the Red River in Winnipeg, the Salmon and Eagle Rivers of the Shuswap – we know intimately of the danger of too much water, and yet, we cannot live more than a few days without it.
The image of the River of Life is so powerful, the need for water so essential we incorporate it into our liturgy – the initiation into both the Judaic and Christian faith is through being submerged in water – that which we call the sacrament of baptism.
The image of the River of Life is not ours alone, but is reflected in other traditions, as in these powerful words of encouragement by a Hopi elder from the Hopi Nation in Oraibi, Arizona.
“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered . . .
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!”
“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
“Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
“The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
In the final chapter of the last book of the Bible, we have this amazing image of light and beauty, of healing and the River of Life, all in the midst of community. I invite you to close your eyes, take a few deep and cleansing breathes and listen now to this reading from the book of Revelation 22:1–5 …
Still, with your eyes closed, imagine yourself there at the edge of the river of life-giving water… See and feel the water, crystal clear and cool…
The water is flowing up into the roots of the trees…
It is flowing into the city and the nations all around…
Not flooding…flowing…in a beautiful path.
Sit or kneel there at the foot of the tree of Life that lines the riverbank… Feel the leaves of the tree gently brush your forehead… These leaves are for the healing of nations.
Let a sense of hope and well-being rise within you – for you and for the world…
What do you sense is in need of healing…?
Feel the life energy of the river, of the trees flowing through you…
Drink deeply of the healing waters… and send your healing prayers to those places in you, around you, beyond you that are in need of healing…
What is God leading you to do…?
(while people still had their eyes closed, I sang…)
“Come drink deep of living waters, without cup bend close to the ground.
Wade with bare feet into troubled waters where love of life abounds – come drink deep.”
Carolyn McDade – copyright 1983