Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Today was not a lot of fun. Everyone has those days from time to time, and today was one for me. I’ve been in pain all day, and work events could have fallen together more smoothly than they did. Still, as my Forester climbed the bluff on Ingleside Drive, I managed to quickly sneak a glance down at the river below. It is swollen from the melted run-off from all the snow, and it was drizzling, too. The currents strong, the extra water rushed along, splashing against the huge boulders and bubbling over the smaller rocks hidden beneath the surface.

Suddenly, I was transported back in my memory to a time almost thirty-four years ago in June, when I joined a group from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Tennessee for an afternoon of “tubing” in one of the rivers up in the Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee, just an hour or so east of Knoxville. I had heard others talk about how much fun it was, but had never done it myself. All I was told was to wear my swimsuit under cut-off jean shorts and T-shirt, bring a couple of towels, Band-Aids, and to definitely wear sneakers. So, appropriately attired and adequately warned about the icy temperatures of the water, off we went. Once at the river, I was instructed that I would need to sit across the inner tube, as opposed to down in it. There were other instructions - - forgotten as soon as inner tubes with their assigned bodies slapped down onto the water and pushed away from the banks. We started our descent from just below Cades Cove, moving downward toward the placid pool that awaited us further down. It wasn’t long before I discovered the reasons for the instruction to sit across rather than down in the middle of the inner tube. The downward rush of the water propelled the tubes on varying speeds over, around, into and occasionally over some rather large boulders. Sometimes, one could get lucky and get a hand or a foot in position to push off of the boulder, rather than crashing into it. Once in a while, you’d just get stuck on a rock. More than likely, however, contact between boulders, vulnerable rear ends and the backs of thighs would result in marks of the encounters for a week or so thereafter!

Among the other dangers of this little trip were these little eddies created in the spaces between boulders where the water would pool and spin against itself. When these are large enough and in larger volumes of water, they’re called whirlpools. Of course, I fell off my inner tube just where one had formed, got sucked under, and ended up needing to be pulled out of the water by some of my friends. This marked the second water related near-death experience in my life. Once safely on solid, dry land and still shaken by the whole thing, I looked back at the inner tube, speedily spinning where I had been separated from it only a moment before. My friends were able to retrieve it from the water and I carried it up the hill to the waiting van; it and I were done for the day, never to meet again. I stuck to hiking in the Smokies from that point forward!

Rivers rushing along their courses to the sea, splashing over and around the rocks are hypnotic and beautiful. They sparkle and shimmer whether in sun or moon light, occasionally rushing loudly enough to disguise the sounds of the American version of the Lorelei that entice one to ride along only to be dashed against the hidden perils or pulled under to perform an eternity of underwater somersaults. I’m an old pro with these, turning over and over under the water, seeing the light that marks the surface, but never quite able to reach up to it or get one’s head above it or one’s feet on the bottom. Perhaps it’s the danger that intrigues us, motivating us to hop aboard that ship (or inner tube) instead of allowing it to just float on by.

As I mentioned in my previous missive, the river flowing along beside us in our prayers is analogous to our stream of consciousness. When we go to God in our centering prayer, we are saying to him that we accept the invitation to be in His presence. We are saying that we will try to remain as quiet as we can so we might experience him in the stillness. I can tell you from experience that the stream can be as welcoming as that first dive into the pool on a sticky August day in the mid South. After all, the initial sessions of centering prayer function in ways similar to a psychological spring house-cleaning and fumigation. Who wouldn’t rather go for a motorboat ride or a quiet, yet invigorating sail?

One of my more favorite memories of Charleston, South Carolina, in the months I lived there prior to meeting my husband, was an afternoon of sailing on a beautiful, windy afternoon in November. I had my camera, and wanted to take photographs of the City from the Harbor. So, leaning against the mast and looping my arm around it for balance, I did snap some pictures, but soon abandoned the photography for the pure thrill of the sail. The wind whipped the sails back and forth – ditto with my hair -- and the vessel was slightly tossed about on the choppy surface. Here and there, salt water would be slung up in a spray by the wind. The sun’s rays were warm on my back, balancing the chill of the air. In those few moments, for it seemed as if the entire afternoon only lasted an hour or so, I think I felt more alive, more present in the moment, and closer to God than I had felt in a long time. The elemental power of the wind, the fiery energy of the sun, the being away from the solidity and nurture of terra firma, and on the water, medium for the most delicate of sea creatures, yet a liquid cemetery for all non-gilled and non-swimming creatures all came together in those fleeting moments, and I wondered how could one experience this confluence of nature and deny the omnipotent, unmitigated glory of its Creator? What was I that He cared enough about me to allow me to be a witness to it?

We are awakened into these revelations by the grace of God. He puts into us the desire to be with him; the yearning for spiritual nurturing through Bible study and the longing to seek and find Him in all the created order. We don’t do this of our own accord; He provides the impetus, and if we’re astute enough to understand it, we are given the freedom to act in imitation of His life and ministry embodied in Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son. May the Grace and Peace of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always.


1 comment:

  1. Found your blog by clicking on Jeffersonton - I live near you! Love your writing. Our farm is on the Rappahanock, I love Cades Cove in the Smokies (have just driven through but want to hike it) and have tubing and sailing stories too! Please keep writing! Your imagery is beautiful and speaks to the spirit.