Be Like The River

Spirit of Life, source of all love,
this is my prayer today:

It is high summer and the air is hot and still
dry leaves crackle overhead
and cicadas buzz in my ears.
Fires rage out of control in the mountains
and cruelty rages out of control in the nation.
I weep with anger and with sorrow.

In times such as these
let me go down to the river.
The water is a blessing
so cool and clear,
so delicious on my skin,
I can let go of all I carry
and let the water hold me
and soothe me
and wash away my tears.

The river slides over rocks,
sculpting them as it goes:
all in its path is made more beautiful.
If the rocks stand in its way
it finds another way
under or over or around or through:
it will not be stopped.

The river will not be stopped.

Spirit of Life,
Help me be like the river.
Help me be a blessing
that soothes away pain
Help me be a coolness and a clarity
that dissolve cruelty and hatred.
Help me join with others
to become unstoppable.

Help our love change
all whom we touch.

Help us be like the river.

Amen.  Blessed be.

A Single Pebble

At the river, there is a pool both deep and wide.  It is ringed on three sides by boulders, willows, and alders, and on the fourth side by a sandy beach.  Dragonflies zip back and forth over the shining water; swallows and dippers busily hunt for insects; and green fish with gold sparkles on their backs investigate every new movement.  Humans shed all clothing and immerse themselves naked in the sacred waters.

The water here has dropped down from a smaller pool above, in a cascade through boulders as big as cars.  Each season the pool starts high and full, and the water is cold and fast as it emerges from the boulders.  It rushes toward the far side of the pool and bounces upstream, causing an eddy that catches debris and foam. As the season goes on, and the water gets lower and warmer, algae begins to grow on the bottom of the eddy side.  If left alone, the pool would shrink into a smelly green pond.

But the people who love this river do not leave it alone.  At the downstream edge of the pool, at its lowest point, they make a beautiful ridge of rocks that extends part way across the stream.  Water flows over it in a clear smooth silken curve.  The rate of flow is the same as before, but the pool is preserved.

Each rock is placed with love and care, precisely where it is needed. The people who love this river want not to divert it, but rather to preserve its beauty.  They pay close attention, because they know that you can change the course of an entire river by placing a single pebble in the right location.

You can change the course of an entire river by placing a single pebble in the right location.



Her Wild, Wild Beauty

For Rebecca

(Beloveds: You have seen this before, but it is my favorite spring poem, and I wanted to share it again.)


I met God again at the river today.

Not in one of Her more glamorous guises,
only as an alder tree.

Only a plain simple alder tree
crouching by the water—you know how they do—
reaching out to dip its lower branches in
with new spring leaves fully unfurled.

Not even a very big alder tree
just a simple small one,
and I contemplated the simplicity of God:
the way God is just there
all the time
in the background
making oxygen
so we can breathe.

And then four swallows swooped in
and rose up
and swooped and dived
and rose up again
in ecstatic aerial ballet

And then a pair of mergansers flew
wings pumping fast and hard
across my line of sight

And then a redbud tree
extravagantly decorated in deep pink blossom
waved its branches a little
and the bright orange poppies
demurely nodded their heads

And I could no longer contemplate
the simplicity of God
but only Her wild, wild beauty.


Spring Cleaning

I was longing for spring
but it was not forthcoming
so I went to sit by the river
and found that, as always,
the winter storms
have changed it.  The bank
on the other side is gone
and the river has a new course.
The granite boulders are sparkling clean.

When last I was there
at the end of fall
the air was still filled with smoke
and there was very little water.

The boulders were slippery and orange
and stank of algae
that had grown and died
and the rocks on the bottom
were covered with mucky green.

Drought and fire in the autumn
were followed by winter storms and flood
and now we may be close to the other side,
to the time when flowering trees bloom
and the poppies raise their orange heads
on the bright green hillsides—
but not quite yet.

For now, what we have are
granite boulders scoured clean
by powerful water that rose high
and scrubbed out all the muck.

For now, what we have
is a river whose course was changed
by powerful water that rose high
and washed away resistance.

O let us be that storm that comes

Let us be that water
that rises high

Let us be that water
that has such power

that power
that power
that power

Let us be that power
that scrubs away filth
and washes away resistance
and leaves behind only clean stones

only clean stones

and the knowledge
that flowers
will be blooming soon.

Everything Is Shining Here

After the rain:

blue sky shining
pine needles shining
yellow willow branches shining
water droplets on moss shining
stones in river shining
ripples of water shining
waterfall on canyon wall shining
pools of rainwater shining
tears on my face shining

Everything is shining here

Resting in the Beauty of the World

Spirit of Life, Mystery beyond Mystery:

The wheel of the year has turned again
and now we welcome young Summer.

Change is all around us and within us,
the pace faster and faster and faster.
We are called upon to keep up with events
each more horrifying than the last
coming at us with dizzying speed.

When it all becomes too much,
when we feel we can’t keep up,
and there is not enough water in our bodies
to make any more tears,
may we rest in the beauty of the world.

May we love the long hot blue and gold days
and the thundery cloudy rainy days.

May we love the cold clear water of the river
and the fragrance of oaks and pines on the hillsides,
the taste of cherries and apricots,
and the songs of frogs at night,
the face of the person to our left,
and the face of the person to our right.

May we love them all the more knowing
we are all ephemeral parts
of one great living breathing
changing shining whole,
whose nature is love.

May we rest, always, in that love.

Blessed be.

After the rain

After the rain
Blue sky shining
Pine needles shining
Yellow willow branches shining
Water droplets on moss shining
Stones in river shining
Little ripples of water shining
Waterfall on canyon wall shining
Pools of rainwater shining
Tears on my face shining
Everything is shining here

Among The Stones

When I go to the river
I wander among the stones
mouth open
eyes on the ground.

Each stone is so lovely in its own particular way
and yet so much more beautiful with all the others.

Try this:

Set four perfectly round
black and white granite stones together, and
see how lovely they are, in their sameness…

But now, try this:

Place, in close proximity, stones that are:

Porous pale green with dark blue-green spots,
Rough black and white checked,
Shining gray with one white stripe,
Smooth charcoal with lightning veins of gray,
Rough gray and white checked,
Porous dark green with veins of darker green,
Silky smooth blue-gray,
Porous reddish pink with grains of white,
Smooth blue-green with swirls of brown…

Oh these are but a few,
and when you place them together
(as has the river in its glorious artistry)
you see what the world could be.

You see how it is the differences
how it is the differences
between the stones
that make beauty beyond compare.

When I go to the river
I wander among the stones
mouth open
eyes on the ground.

When the River is Just the River

One late summer day my friend Katie and I were hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, above a waterfall in one of the side canyons there. We had spent the morning clambering over moss-covered rocks, throwing sticks for our two exuberant dogs, glorying in the sights and sounds of clear water flowing from pool to pool to pool over dark basalt in a green forest.

Now it was time to return to the city, and we had to make our way back across the stream whence we had come. We had just spent half an hour talking about how neither of us is as nimble as we used to be; when we fall now, we fall hard, and we are more aware of the risks we take when we move from rock to slippery rock to cross a creek. I never was very nimble, even when I was young; I have a daughter who leaps from boulder to boulder with no fear and who never falls, but I have been falling flat on my face ever since I can remember.

Getting across the stream in the first place had not been difficult. Rocks are often dryer on the downstream side, but have slippery moss or algae on the upstream side. If you cross in an upstream direction, using the downstream side of the rocks, it can be easy. But coming back across, using the wetter side of the rocks, it is harder not to slip and fall in.

On this day, it would not have been terrible to fall into the water. It was only a few inches deep, the day was warm, and it was only two miles back to the car. I could easily have hiked that in wet boots. But sometimes, we humans get fixated on an idea about how things should be. How they must be. And it seemed to me on that day that I should be able to cross that stream without getting my feet wet. I must be able to.

So I was concentrating with all my might on moving carefully from one stone to the next. My whole body was rigid with tension, my brow furrowed so deeply it felt like my face was one big frown. I had to do this right, I had to get across the creek without falling in.

Then Katie said to me, “Leisa, look up. Look at the river.”

I looked up. I saw the river. It was exquisite. It was so beautiful that I could have died right then and there in perfect happiness. Clear, cold water flowed over basalt, moving around stones with ease and fluidity. The shining surface reflected green upon green upon green, with a few yellow splotches where maples were beginning to turn. The sound of the moving water was paradise. There are simply no words to describe the incomparable beauty of a clear stream running through a forest.

As I looked upon this perfect beauty all the tension in my body flowed away with the water. The music of the stream entered me and I saw how I flowed with it. I was water, standing in water, hearing and seeing and smelling water, feeling water. I stood like this for a long time outside of time. When I came back to myself, I was relaxed and unafraid, and easily stepped the rest of the way across the stream. Katie crossed behind me and we made our way down the trail.

When I thanked Katie later, for saying just the right thing, at just the right moment, she said, “Sometimes the river’s just the river. Not a problem to be solved.”

Sometimes the river’s just the river.