On the river I can breathe Spirit.

“The River is flowing,

Flowing and growing.

The River is flowing,

Back to the Sea.”

Holy Spirit carry me.

Your child I will always be.

Holy Spirit carry me

Back to the Sea.”

Those words were sung by an angelic voice as my son Geoff and I were paddling with 16 other pilgrims down the Connecticut River. It was the 30th day of a 40 day journey, but was our first.

The first hour of each day on the river is spent in silence. This hymn breaks that silence. We have all had the experience of a song that stays in our heads and keeps repeating itself. That is true for me with this hymn. It has been the sound track for my blessed time in this journey which is as spiritual as it is physical. (And that might be the same thing.)

Sure, we have been doing a lot of paddling – 19 miles the first day, 17 the next and 10 for a half day on Saturday. But even without paddling, the river would move us – just as the Spirit moves us, carries us. “Your child I will always be.” We are connected to the Living God and will be forever. Being on this river makes that seem so obvious. I don’t have to think my way to Spirit. I can breathe Spirit.

More times than Jesus said,  “love one another”, he said, “look”, “wake up”, “see.” It is amazing what you see on a river when you take time to look. I have traveled over this river hundreds of times in the last five years. This is the first time I have been on it and seen eagles, hawks, ducks, and fish that jump out of the water. Here you can experience what theologian Walter Brueggeman calls, the “aliveness of God.”

Here, on the river,  the opening words of the Prayer of St. Patrick take on special meaning:

“I arise today

Through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun,

Radiance of the moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of the wind,

Depth of the sea,

Stability of the earth,

Firmness of the rock.

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me.”

Another big part of this pilgrimage is being in community. It is a special blessing to have Geoff with me. We have never spent this long a stretch of time together in his adult life.

But it is also a great gift to be with other pilgrims and experience the river with them.

A challenging and fun thing to do was attempt to enter the city of Springfield by creating a formation of our canoes and kayaks that resembled a cross. “Resemble” is the key word.

It was a wonderful exercise in teamwork. There are probably a few sermons in that one, as there is in paddling against an adverse wind. But that is for another blog. We have three more days of paddling and praying. “The River is flowing, Back to the Sea. Holy Spirit carry me, Your child I will always be.”

+Doug

A brief video recording of the hymn can be heard here.