I am the River

We were set loose to stand in silence, but my head kept filling up with words.  

There I stood, yesterday.  In the middle of this difficult time, grappling with some very hard things.  It ended up working out that I could attend a sort-of spiritual retreat, in the middle of nowhere, at the cabin owned by the pastor of the church I have been attending.

As it began, he set us loose for a little while in the wet and chilly forest.  Oaks and maples stretched their limbs out in the hill next to the tiny cabin.  A meadow filled the space behind it.  The long dirt driveway was in front, next to a tool shed, a fire pit, and some chairs.  And on the other side of that, a bit of a crevice, and a river perhaps twenty feet below.

A little awkward, wordlessly, we all filed out of the cabin.  Set loose to stand in the silence.  My head kept filling up with words.  I traipsed across the corner of the meadow.  The land swept downward gradually, leading me to the river I could have put my toes in, if it wasn’t November in New England.

  I wondered about rivers and why I am always so very drawn to them.  It is partially about that amazing white noise they create, the wonderful ordered dynamic way they roll left and right and back and forth.  Not staight and not crooked, I have this sense there is a pattern that rules over them, but a pattern to intricate for me to wrap my brain around.


I know there is all this stuff about the spirituality of water.  I thought about this and I dismissed it as a suitable explanation for why I love gurgling, burbling streams so.  And after this dismissal, I told myself again about how this was supposed to be a silent time.

I know a half dozen ways to escape what the Buddhist’s call monkey mind.  When I am at my best, I can get past the babbling and eternal monologue of my thoughts.  For at least a few minutes.  I was not at my best, though.  And also, I wondered if maybe there was some important things I was meant to see.  

Perhaps I was just hiding from the silence we had bidden to stand in.  Silence is pretty terrifying.

Or maybe there was something bigger than the pastor at work.  He is a gentle guy, Lucas.  I thought if I asked him, he would have laughed, and shrugged, and said, “Whatever, man.  If you don’t feel like you should be silent, don’t be silent.”  Or maybe he would have found a deeper way to express it, something more Yoda and less surfer dude.

Whatever the reason or rationalization, I quickly gave up on the quest to fill myself with silence.

I let my always churning mind do the thing that it loves to.  Analyze and ponder and synthesize.  

I began to think that the river is not a thing at all. 

The river is not the specific droplets of water that runs through it.  Because that water used to be clouds and rain.  And soon it will sink into the ground or it will join a lake or merge with the ocean itself.  

Nor is the river the rocks and dirt that make up the river bed.  These are all constantly being worn down and moved down stream.  If you could swoop in and take every last grit of dirt away, every last pebble and boulder, you would not have taken the stream.

The stream, at best, is a negative space.  It is a process.  It is a becoming.

This was scary, or sad.  Kind of both.  Because it felt like a statement about me.

We all know how we are not just the collection of the physical elements that comprise us.  The molecules are replaced within the cells.  The cells are replaced within the body.  There is not a single piece of us that was with us more than a few years ago.  This idea about our physicality is not new or unique.

But what if it runs deeper than that?

Minds and souls are not made out of stuff.  But if they were?  This stuff is always growing, dying, being reborn.  I had this sense that there is not a piece of my soul which was with me from the beginning.

It is not as bleak as it seems.  There is something eternal.  God’s breathed into us and made us human.  But breath, moving air, it is not a static thing.  It is not a thing at all.

We are a negative space.  We are a process.  We are becoming.  That is the eternity within us.  That is the little emenation from the creator of the universe that resides within us.  Not a physical thing, not even a piece of soul…  But a pattern, a verb, an unfolding, an interconnection.

The very deepest place of us is a relationship.  A multi-tiered, multi-faceted relationship.  Paradoxically, it is with ourselves.  It is also with our maker, who we have been given this distant, faded echo of.  And it is with each other.

I hope that you will connect today.    Perhaps with someone you love.  Perhaps with someone you will grow to love.  Or maybe you will just smile at the person who rings up your coffee.  Or maybe you will leave a comment below, and build or build on a connection between you and I.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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