On a Monday morning in 2001 the Conestogo River in St. Jacobs claimed me. This river meanders through picturesque Old Order Mennonite country north of Waterloo, part of the Grand River watershed.
During my years as a pastor in St. Jacobs, I rarely went down to the river flats. But then Woolwich Township got serious about walking trails. By 2001 the riverside Health Valley trail in St. Jacobs extended from the parking lot behind Benjamin’s restaurant almost to the expressway bridge. I returned to St. Jacobs to walk that trail from time to time – a pleasant walk, but not brimming with significance.
All that changed the morning I ventured under the expressway bridge and found a much less well-marked dirt path continuing on the other side.
I followed the path through a small bush, then through a farm gate which reminded me of rural walks in the British Isles.
After a while I couldn’t identify the actual trail anymore, but since the gate opened onto wide river flats, it didn’t much matter. I focused on finding solid footing on the squishy ground. Someone had built makeshift bridges where small streams cut through. I noticed some cow patties, but a sturdy fence kept the cows themselves in a pasture on a hillside. Every so often I stepped right up to the river’s edge to watch its gentle flow. It seemed an idyllic place.
But as I continued along the flats I became aware of my internal chatter: “It’s really quite isolated here…I’m not sure I should be here…maybe I should turn back towards St Jacobs.” And then, “I’ve never been here before…I really don’t know where I am or what’s up ahead.”
Then another internal voice reminded me, “You can’t possible get lost, for you’re following the river. It’s here on your left the whole time. You know this river flows to the village of Conestogo. You know that if you keep following, eventually it will take you there.”
(Later I realized I had experienced that spot along the river before. For when Orvie heard me tell this story, he informed me that the trail meandered alongside his river flats and lower pasture, which I’d admired many times from the family’s orchard near the fenced-in cows on the hill)!
…Nevertheless, that walk along the Conestogo, farther than I’d ever gone before, became a metaphor for me of trust in God and the markers God has graciously provided for my life and ministry. Often I’ve found myself in territory I’ve never traversed before – or think I haven’t – and typically there hasn’t been a wide well-marked trail.
Since that day in 2001, walking along that section of the Conestogo revives my spirit. As the sun sparkles on the water, I watch for the osprey, gliding from a certain rock in the river to a tree top along the bank, sun glistening on its wings. In springtime I cheer when I spot the trillium in the bush or smell the fragrant blossoms in the old orchard. In summertime I step carefully around those cow patties in Orvie’s (now Stuart’s) lower pasture.
For some unknown reason, that section of the Conestogo connects my spirit with the river of the water of life – one of the deep metaphors of the Bible. It bubbles up in Genesis 2, watering a garden. It flows from the throne of God in Rev. 22, refreshing a city. It expands into a mighty river in Ezekiel 47, teeming with fish, renewing the land wherever it flows.
As I walk or drive along the Conestogo, it becomes for me this life-giving stream. I imagine myself wading in, then finding the current, carried by its healing energy.
I want to keep moving with the current of God’s grace, wherever it flows. I want it to carry me. I want to be curious and unafraid, open to surprise about the territory up ahead.
…But beyond all that heady stuff, I simply enjoy the river and its environs. My most nourishing countryside drive follows the river from the St. Jacobs dam to the village of Hawkesville and beyond. I never tire of it. I request it at least once a week in spring, summer and fall….
Question for Reflection:
What walk along a body of water or drive through the countryside especially nourishes your spirit?
Next week: Birthdays!