THE RIVERS OF OUR LIVES
Rev. Kit Ketcham, Sept. 7, 2014
Pacific UU Fellowship
“I’ve known rivers”, wrote Langston Hughes, “ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Growing up in Oregon, I mark several of the stages of my life (and maybe you do too) by the presence of the Columbia River, the river to whose shores Astoria and much of Clatsop County are anchored.
As kids, driving with our parents from Athena down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, we’d compete to see who would be the first person to spot the river as we got closer to Boardman. The first one of us to see it would burst into “Oh Columbia the gem of the ocean…” knowing full well that the song didn’t refer to “our” river but needing to herald its presence in some majestic way.
As a young adult in my first real job, living in Stevenson in the Gorge and watching the river rise and fall with the spring runoff, held back by Bonneville Dam, I looked across the river at night to try to spot the campfire of a hermit who reportedly lived in the forest above Cascade Locks, wondering if he was watching it too.
When I moved to Denver in the mid-60’s, I joined up with the Denver Friends of Folk Music partly so I could sing “Roll On Columbia” with others who liked intoning the names of that river and its tributaries: Woody Guthrie sang “Other great rivers add power to you, the Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat too, Sandy, Willamette, and the Hood River too, it’s roll on, Columbia, roll on”.
Other rivers, however powerful, paled in comparison to this River of the West, the Columbia. The Colorado rolled through some pretty beautiful country like the Grand Canyon, but I always yearned to come back to the Columbia River and my homeland.
Are there rivers that have shaped your lifetime? What might they be?
Call them out.
Rivers have been analogies for some important ideas. The UU song writer Peter Mayer has a song with the theme of “God” as a river. And I like Bill Staines’ song River whose chorus says it this way: “River, take me along, in your sunshine, sing me your song, ever moving and winding and free, you rollin’ old river, you changin’ old river, let’s you and me river run down to the sea.” In this song, the sea represents the vast pool of souls who have gone before us.
I like the analogy of a river as representing Life and its constant movement, its changeability by tides, by weather, by obstacles in the channel. Rivers can get dammed up, choked with debris, just like life. Rivers need to run clear and clean but they’re often laden with silt, fallen logs, beaver dams, and the clutter so common in nature---and in life.
Many of us have brought deep hurts and ecstatic joys to share today, important insights to ponder. We share all these experiences as we share these waters, as we begin a new year together as a community. We will use these pooled waters, during the year, to bless our children and dedicate ourselves to their wellbeing; we may also use these waters to say goodbye to beloved members of this congregation.
I always save the water from year to year, purify it, and add a small amount of it to the common vessel, in acknowledgement that this community, represented by this shared water, is an ongoing thing. In past years, our friends Michael Link and Ruth Jensen brought their waters to this ceremony. They are still a part of this community, in this way.
In gathering these waters every fall, we commemorate the ways our lives have changed during the past months and share those changes with this community. Water is the basic stuff of life and, like community, we need it for our very survival.
All over the United States and even the world today, Unitarian Universalists in many congregations are bringing water representing the rivers of their life experience. We join our waters together today in memory and celebration.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
BENEDICTION: As Veja extinguishes our chalice, I will close with these words. Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that our lives affect one another, for our experiences shape us and thereby shape our relationships. May we remember this and share ourselves and our lives in ways that enhance our time together, for this is how we heal ourselves and each other and knit up the rips and tears in the interdependent web of existence, of which we are a part. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.