Time at the River’s Edge -- A Reflection

White River - Indianapolis

                I’m on sabbatical for the next three months. The theme of the sabbatical is “river crossings,” but as I’ve entered this season I’ve discovered that there is meaning to be found not only in crossing rivers, like Joshua and the people of Israel crossed the Jordan, but there is meaning to be found simply spending time at the edge of the river.

                As I began looking for resources that would aid my reflection I’ve come upon a variety of works that speak of rivers and their meaning. Among the books I’ve been led to is Akiko Busch’s book Nine Ways to Cross a River. In the course of the book, Busch tells stories of swimming across rivers, from the Hudson to the Connecticut. Her stories invite us to consider the value and importance of rivers, sharing how many of the rivers she has swum across were once too polluted to enter. Fortunately, steps have been taken to reclaim them—thus we must protect the Clean Water Act and not allow the current administration to weaken the rules. But that’s for a different reflection. Busch writes in her reflection on swimming across the Hudson River a word about time and its passing. I thought I might reflect on that this morning (since I’m on sabbatical I’m not preaching).

                I’ve decided to pull out two paragraphs to share. So consider this word about rivers and time:
No one disputes the economic incentives in cleaning up the river and reconnecting communities to their rivers. According to the watch dog organization American Rivers, "drinking water, waste assimilation, recreational use, electricity production, seafood harvest, tourism and other benefits of clean water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed community contribute over $1 trillion to the region's economy" annually. But there are also subtle human gains that are more difficult to quantify. Living on the edge of a river situates people on a landscape of constant change and flow that seems to do them good. Proximity to the river offers a lesson about the elasticity of time, a reminder that although we all tend to use time as a way to measure our lives and the things we do, it is, in fact, imprecise, volatile, unpredictable, a miscreant of its own, passing far too slowly in tiny drops that can barely be measured, and then, almost without warning, streaming by in years. 
I think about the Hudson River and how it is governed by both tide and current and how it flows in two directions and how it sometimes even flows in two directions at once, and how this, too, can enunciate the disparities between psychological time and physical time. Who among us hasn't experienced the feeling that the past is gaining on us, while the future is slipping by too quickly, or that when we are in pain time passes unhurriedly while pleasure mandates that it be fleeting? There is nothing measured or temperate about time. It has little or no stamina; it is impulsive. It does not pass at regular intervals, but is as mercurial and unpredictable as you or me. We may as well take the absurd view of time adopted by Saint Augustine in the fourth century because the intervening seventeen hundred years mean nothing: The past is gone, the future nonexistent, and the present of no value because it has no duration. Time loses count of us just as much as we lose count of it. And yet. Almost inexplicably, to watch a river flow by affords one a certain peace, or at least, reassurance, because it elucidates all of this.  [Busch, Akiko. Nine Ways to Cross a River (pp. 68-69). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition].
The past is catching up with us, while the future is slipping away too quickly. Indeed. When I was a child time seemed to pass slowly, but as I’ve aged time seems to be speeding up. I look back a dozen years. I was still in my 40s and serving a congregation in California, while my son was still in high school. It doesn’t seem so long ago, and yet it’s been a dozen years. I’ve aged. We’ve all aged. Even Brett has aged. And time will continue to pass us by. That can create a great deal of anxiety. But Busch writes: “Time loses count of us just as much as we lose count of it. And yet. Almost inexplicably, to watch a river flow by affords one a certain peace, or at least, reassurance, because it elucidates all of this.” Sitting by the river, watching it flow by, ever-changing, there is peace to be found. With that in mind, we can sing that old spiritual: “I've got peace like a river, I've got peace like a river, I've got peace like a river in my soul.”


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