The Madawaska River is one of the most beautiful rivers I know. Starting in the wilds of Algonguin Park it flows through some of the most spectacular scenery that Ontario has to offer until it eventually heads into the Ottawa River. The Ottawa River? Now there’s another fine river, not to mention the St. Lawrence River, the MacKenzie River, the Mississippi River. I’ve had the good fortune of being on them all.
Come to think of it, I have never seen an ugly river that I can recall. Any river, left to itself, is beautiful, whether it is a black canyon carved through basalt rivers with waters raging or foaming, or a muddy meander through the farmlands. Left to itself, every river is beautiful. That includes the tiny Avon River which I live near in Stratford.
Rivers only become ugly when we destroy them, with toxins dumped into the waters, with debris carried along by the current. Do you remember the river in Ohio, almost 20 years ago, that was so polluted it caught fire?
All rivers run down to the oceans. Most rivers I should say. The Jordan River ends up in the Dead Sea. Ironic that for Jews and Christians, the river that is so much a part of their faith story doesn’t follow the otherwise universal pattern. A good reminder that every river is different. No two rivers ever occupy the same watershed, the same valley. They all draw from their own unique sources and follow their own unique routes.
Rivers are rather like us, in my way of thinking. Each of our lives is unique. No two of us ever live precisely the same journey, the same experiences. Each of us has our own sources of strength or nourishment. Like rivers, each of us is beautiful – unless we have been spoiled. By money or power. By greed or lust. By addiction or dependency. Of course, all of us are beautiful in God’s eyes. But I’m not God. I won’t claim there is no such thing as an ugly person – but there is no such thing as a person that someone, somewhere can’t love.
Yet despite our uniqueness, we all flow to the same sea. The Hebrews thought of the ocean as death, because it was too salty to drink, too salty to irrigate fields. In a sense, the ocean is the death of every river.
Our lives too all flow to the same end. Death. Yet the water of the river does not die. It carries nutrients into the ocean, sustaining the rich life there. Perhaps, when we die, our life experiences nurture and sustain God. I rather like that idea, myself. According to a rather esoteric branch of theology, called “process theology”, that’s how God changes – absorbing our experiences into the divine whole.
Though there are many rivers, there is only one ocean. We call various oceans by different names – the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and so on – but they are all connected. And they are all at sea level.
If we are like rivers, perhaps the ocean is like god. Universal. Endless. The Alpha and the Omega., the beginning and the end. And when we die, our individual rivers of life are accepted back into the universal womb of life.
Science tells us the ocean was the womb of life, the place where resurrection began. It is still the earth’s most prolific source of living creatures. And it is still the source or resurrection for rivers. For from the oceans, the heat of the sun evaporates moisture. Air currents carry the invisible water vapour high into the atmosphere. Until somewhere over the land, it condenses. It forms clouds. The tiny droplets of water gather together until they are big enough to fall through the air. They come down onto earth as rain. And start life as a river again.
It’s not the same water. It’s not the same river. But it is a kind of resurrection.
A blessed Easter to you all! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rev. Douglas Reble
Assistant to the Bishop
Eastern Synod, ELCIC