Church of Woods and Water

Last Sunday I worshipped at the Church of Woods and Water.  The church is located on the upper reach of the Charles River.

The Charles is a hard used, inspiring waterway which runs 80 miles from its headwaters in Hopkinton to the mouth of Boston harbor. The drainage is 312 square miles.

For 350 years this iconic river has provided sustenance to Native Americans, inspired poets and been hard used by industry.  The Rock classic, ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells says it all https://www.bing.com/search?q=song+dirty+water+by+the+standells&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-us&httpsmsn=1&refig=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85&sp=5&qs=RI&pq=dirty+water+by+the+&sk=AS4&sc=5-19&cvid=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85#CA!VideoFavoritesAddItemEvent

For the last 40 plus years, since Richard Nixon (bless him) signed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the Charles along with a host of other rivers, once used as a toxic dumping ground, has gradually become cleaner.  Insects, fish, birds and mammals have returned.

The woods, water and soil have slowly healed.   As a Christian, the theology of grace, restoration, resurrection come to mind.

Sure there are elements of toxic metals that remain in the soil and silt.  Points of pollution from fertilizer, to engine oil still find a way to the water.  But the Charles and rivers like it are much cleaner than anyone thought possible before the Clean Water Act was signed.

It is ironic, that Donald Trump is in the process of gutting the EPA by 30% and refers to Climate Change as a ‘hoax’.  The Charles, this fragile waterway which has come so far, is at risk of returning to the toxic pre-Nixon era.  That this newest Republican doesn’t respect the vision of his Republican predecessor is painful to see.

But last Sunday I put my worries for the river’s future aside (if for a few hours).  With my wife Tricia we slipped our kayaks into a stretch of the upper Charles and paddled upstream for several miles.  There were few signs of other humans… a few canoes, a few houses, the muffled sound of a distant car.

For the most part our companions were flowering dogwood trees, old growth white pine, maples, oaks, witch hazel. Birds were in full throat calling to mates, building nests.  Beaver lodges stood as sentinels along the bank.

As we paddled we were accompanied by the wisdom of prophets and mystics.  I heard Isaiah say ‘listen and your soul will live’….I heard the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating ‘the Creator’s first language is silence…everything else is a poor translation’….I even heard Martin Luther: “The sound of birds, wind in the trees, the fragrance of flowers, the mud, rocks, water…all are Logoi, ‘little words’ from the Creator.”  https://www.facebook.com/kent.harrop/videos/10212994239355454/

As dusk approached we allowed the current to return us.  We loaded our car, synched the ropes and left the river.

Soon the Church of Woods and Water will call out to my soul.  I’ll need to return to the woods and  water to be restored, to be healed, to be blessed.

Contemplative Paddling

We live in a culture that celebrates our ability to spin many plates, both professional and personal. We also remain highly connected through multi-media, not the least being the ubiquitous ‘Smart Phone’.

I’m not writing to bemoan the state of our culture. There is a lot to be said for the ability to multi-task and staying connected to our immediate and wider community.

Yet there are times when our brain, heart and spirit ask that we let our plates drop (for a while) and tune out from technology (for a while). The reason is that physiologically, emotionally and spiritually we need time to rest, reflect and restore.

A wonderful way to do this is through contemplative paddling. Recently I paddled with a group from the church I serve. We met early in the morning on the banks of a local lake. Our instruction was to limit our talking and to paddle slowly. We were given a meditation mantra from the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in I calm my spirit….Breathing out I smile….(inhale) Living in the moment….(exhale) This is the only moment…”

Kayak lone paddler photo

As we paddled on the lake, we were invited to practice this mantra when we found our thoughts pulling us away from being present to where we were. Half the time we simply floated and allowed the wind to take us where it would.

As we slowly paddled or simply floated we found that our minds, hearts and imaginations slowly began to be filled with the simple and profound beauty that was under and around us. Those busy spinning plates or glued to their computer, were missing the beauty that we floated upon.

3000 years ago a Jewish prophet named Isaiah offered this: “Listen and your soul will live”. From the waters of the lake we listened deeply, to the call of a mallard duck, to the soft wind, to the hopes and dreams that slowly emerged as we paddled or floated.

There’s a reason Jesus often removed himself from the demands and busyness of life, to go to a quiet place to pray, to listen. In the late 19th century a mystic and theologian named Soren Kierkegaard said: “The Sacred is always present, simply waiting to be found.”

Sometimes all it takes is time on the water to rest, renew and restore one’s soul. Sometimes all we need to do is slow down to find that a blessing is simply waiting to be found.

Paddle well.