Since childhood I’ve associated bodies of water with refreshment and renewal. My parents and I vacationed at Pecks Pond, a small lake in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, toting food, bedding and fishing gear to a cabin owned by friends.
Many years later in Ontario, my first spiritual director Ruth offered soul refreshment from her year-round cottage on Lake Huron. The rhythm of the water quieted me as we sank into comfy chairs by huge windows overlooking the lake.
And as I wrote in last week’s blog, Colpoys Bay at the base of the Bruce Peninsula has calmed me as its shown off “ordinary splendors” for the past 29 years.
In addition to all that, rivers keep beckoning me. My husband Sam, the photographer in our family, has taken countless photos of rivers over the years at my behest. Rivers will appear repeatedly in my blog. I’ve chosen to begin with the lazy Ohio viewed high above the banks at Ripley.
When I’m actually on the river I can’t see beyond the next bend. I need to trust the current to carry me. But 100 steps above the Ohio at Ripley, I view the river from an omniscient perspective. My eyes and my spirit take in two bends as I look downstream, and several more if I turn to face upstream. The present moment expands to include where I’ve come from and where I’m going. This comforts me.
Yet the Ohio River at Ripley has a story to tell beyond flowing from its origins in Pittsburgh to the mighty Mississippi. The river at Ripley tells not only a familiar story of flowing with the current, but also a story of rowing across the current.
For in the 19th century, it was at Ripley that nearly 2000 escaping slaves and their river guides crossed the dangerous boundary from the slave state of Kentucky to the free state of Ohio.
At the top of the hill above Ripley, just out of the river photo’s range, is a stop on the Underground Railroad known as Rankin House. The Rankins – Presbyterian minister John, his wife Jean, and their 13 children – apparently hid most of the 2000 slaves who crossed into freedom at Ripley. They expressed pride at never having “lost a passenger.”
Looking down at the river from their back yard, I’m filled with gratitude for the willingness of those river pilots to row across the current, for the courage of those who trusted them, and for the readiness of the Rankins to offer dangerous hospitality. I’m reminded when I’m called to be a river pilot, I have options beyond “going with the flow.”
The river below Rankin House reminds me that sometimes – likely more often than I choose to see – I’m called to row across the current. It reminds me that when God’s Spirit invites me to lean into new life for myself and others, it may well mean taking uncomfortable risks.
Loving my neighbor as myself…acting and speaking out for justice…these may require of me courage sustained over a long time.
Oddly enough, wrestling with this part of my call restores my soul. For a nourished spirit doesn’t only feed on the “feel good” stuff, but also on invitations like the one to join that mighty torrent of justice glimpsed by the prophet Amos.
Questions for Reflection:
When have you heard and responded to a call to “row across the current”?
How has doing so nourished the spirits of others? Your own spirit?
Next week: Reflections on a Road Trip