The River Will Tell Us

Many years ago, I joined friends and family in the grand adventure of rafting down the Colorado River. For a week, we traveled through the Grand Canyon, carried by the mighty river by day and camping on its sandy banks by night. I remember the richly varied experiences of the week, both the wild roar of the rapids as we tore through them and the gentle hours of floating quietly past looming rock walls. It was a time of living in the sacred now. We experienced the Sacred through the magnificent power of the geology around us and through the breathtaking intensity of suddenly churning through rapids, my sun-warmed stillness soaked in icy water.

I remember Duffy. He was our guide, wise and experienced in the ways of both River and tourists, holding our safety in his hands. On the first day, someone asked Duffy, “So how far will we go this morning and when will we stop for lunch?” Duffy replied, “The River will tell us.”

In the afternoon, another traveler asked, “Where will we be stopping to camp for the night, and how long until we get there?” And Duffy calmly replied, “The River will tell us.” Duffy knew that the Colorado is changeable, that he needed to read the river carefully before he decided when and where we’d stop—and how we’d negotiate the rapids, too.

Those words echo for me now. The river will tell us. Yes, but only if we pay attention to it!

Our life journey is a bit like a rafting trip. Sometimes it’s quiet and peaceful; sometimes there’s tumult and fear, and we simply hang on through the waves. Much is out of our control, but almost always we can make decisions that shape our experiences.

In this time of rapidly shifting cultural, political and economic currents, amid the year of the pandemic and all the unknowns of the future, we may feel lost and overwhelmed. To make wise decisions on our lifetime rafting trip, we need to be attentive to the river. We need to know it so we can travel well.

Immersing ourselves in the present reality, its grief and weariness as well as those refreshing moments of gratitude and gladness, invites us to live contemplatively. Being contemplative isn’t separating ourselves from daily life, but living fully awake in the midst of daily life. Being contemplative means being attentive to what is, including being fully attentive to God’s presence.

When I am open to Divine Presence, I am more likely to find a way forward. I am more likely to notice when it’s time to pause and wait—and when the time comes to act. When I am open to God, I notice the Divine nudge that says, “Now! Now is the time to paddle.” Or perhaps “Now is your time to reach out in love! Now is the time to bear witness to truth.”

Can I trust God’s timing and nudges? A century ago, the Jesuit scientist-philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, wrote

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability--and that it may take a very long time.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

The journey includes uncertainty and anxiety. Often we will be impatient, longing to “skip the intermediate stages.” May we instead be awake to the present moment and listen attentively. As we travel on life’s river, may we learn to trust the journey and the Guide.

6 thoughts on “The River Will Tell Us”

  1. Hello Nancy –

    There’s nothing I want to add, only an ‘Amen’! The rock group Queen once had a song which included the words ‘I want it all/And I want it now!’ – and that kind of sums up the kind of culture we’ve created – one in which we cannot bear to live with things being different from how we feel we need them to be, for us to feel comfortable. Waiting, waiting: we need to re-learn holy waiting, and the discernment it involves.

    1. Hi Roy,
      I agree that waiting is truly holy, and that we find it very hard. The discomfort of waiting for discernment, for the clarity of knowing that ‘yes, this is the way’ is not easy, but it is still holy work.
      May we grow in our trust in God’s slow work. Nancy

  2. Thank you so much for this post Nancy! I was on a sort of search for this story…a story about a river that would speak to the importance of sharing our life stories…and just a few days ago i decided rather than make a frantic search i would ask for it to be given and that i would be open to receive. So thank you for being a conduit of the giving 🙏🏼…as i read i remembered your telling of this journey in one of our groups, the memory was a bonus gift!🙏🏼💜🙏🏼

    1. Hi Nadine, I am so glad that my writing spoke to your need for a story about a river. Your account truly is about “trusting the slow work of God.” Thank you for writing. Nancy

  3. I loved this beautifully written piece. What a coincidence (or not), that this morning during meditation I had the feeling of life being like a river…and then I read your words! Your writing brings me peace and comfort. Thank you.

    1. Dear Laurie,
      Thank you for writing! I’m so glad that my words spoke to you. We are both traveling on the River together—and sometimes our journeys intersect, and we help each other find the way. What a blessing! Nancy

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