By Flowing Waters

There’s just something about running water.

It’s one of the most familiar images the world—a symbol of bounty and peace. It’s Biblical, yes, but it’s also ingrained in human nature—this sense of being bound to the streams for our very lives. Whenever you turn on one of those programs of calming music, it’s inevitably paired with images of pristine streams flowing over rocks beside emerald-green meadows strung with white and purple flowers.

Generally speaking, we don’t have that kind of stream in Missouri. Millions of years ago, the glaciers melted here, stranding boulders and rocks amid gnarled clay hills. Aside from Ozark springs, we don’t have nice, placid clear creeks and streams. We have drainage ditches. Vast networks of drainage ditches, twisting and dropping and chewing through the valleys.

And when it rains a lot, as it has the twelve months, the creeks fill with roiling, roaring masses that look more like chocolate milk than water, uprooting trees and hurling them downstream like javelins, gobbling up the banks and reorganizing their curves with every downpour. I’m always amazed that we have any topsoil left at all.

No, we don’t have crystal-clear streams. But we do have rivers. Oh, do we ever. Rivers channeled into narrow, twisting strands by the Corps. Rivers flowing silent and deep, so deceptively calm that you almost don’t notice the speed with which the flotsam slides out of sight.

In Minneapolis, the Mississippi glides through a gorge, with pleasure boats drifting on its gentle surface. In Iowa City, the Iowa River flows good naturedly between grassy banks, and unless my eyes deceived me, it’s all flat. Flat to the edge of the river, flat on the other side. (Which of course means it floods, but I’m talking about ordinary days here.)

Here, the waterways are murky, and pulse with a restless energy, gnawing endlessly at their banks. Hardly the picture of calm, flowing waters.

Yet there is a different kind of rest to be found by my Missouri streams. A rest found in meditating on the dense undergrowth hanging over the stream, the trees clinging to the banks with only a few roots.

In staring at the rapid passage of bubbles on the surface, marching downstream, flirting with and twirling toward and spinning away from each other. In the gentle constancy of the picture, despite the perpetual motion. In the laughter of its passage over rocks, and the play of shadows as the sun peeks from behind lazy clouds and then hides again.

This is where I go to cover the sound of traffic, to lull my busy brain, to reconnect with God.

There’s just something about running water.

holy experience