Below is a reflection I wrote a few years ago when I happened to stay in Dubuque, IA for a retreat. At that time the Midwest was experiencing a severe drought. As we walk in this Lenten time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I post this reflection again and ask you to weave it through your Lenten journey and listen to its message for you now. Blessings!
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you . . .”
Once upon a time there was a town that was built just beyond the bend of a large river. One day some of the children from the town were playing beside the river when they noticed three bodies floating in the water. They ran for help and the townsfolk quickly pulled the bodies out of the river. One body was dead so they buried it. One was alive, but quite ill, so they put that person into the hospital. The third turned out to be a healthy child, who they then placed with a family who cared for it and who took it to school.
From that day on, every day a number of bodies came floating down the river and, every day, the good people of the town would pull them out and tend to them – taking the sick to hospitals, placing the children with families, and burying those who were dead.
This went on for years; each day brought its quota of bodies, and the townsfolk not only came to expect a number of bodies each day but also worked at developing more elaborate systems for picking them out of the river and tending to them. Some of the townsfolk became quite generous in tending to these bodies and a few extraordinary ones even gave up their jobs so that they could tend to this concern full-time. And the town itself felt a certain healthy pride in its generosity. However, during all these years and despite all the generosity and effort, nobody thought to go up the river, beyond the bend that hid from their sight what was above them, and find out why, daily, those bodies came floating down the river.
This story is often used to have the listener reflect on the difference between charity and justice. Author and storyteller, Megan McKenna, would frequently pose the following questions after she told a story: 1) How does the story make you feel? 2) What is disturbing for you in the story? 3) What is true in that story? I’m sure you are pondering these questions right now! That’s a good thing.
I share this story of The River because this past week I had the opportunity to be in Dubuque, Iowa along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. I often would watch the river traffic which was mostly recreational. On my final day, I observed two barges heading south to the Mississippi Delta. Barges are approximately 200 ft. in length and move 170,000,000 tons of freight each year. Recently, over 100 barges were literally stuck in the mud due to low water levels at the Delta.
So I thought of this story and pose a few questions for reflection:
• Like the people in the story, when do we become comfortable with certain ways of doing things because we have always done them this way? . . . Or satisfied with the familiar, the routine, the certainty in life, or the “same old” approaches to problems? . . . Or find that we are unbending in perspectives or attitudes or behaviors?
• Do we ever lose sight of the bigger picture?
• Are we ever called to consider looking at the justice of certain systems and making a personal choice to change an attitude or behavior in our lives that would affect our community, or country, or planet for the better?
As I thought about the drought from our summer that has affected the Mississippi River (it’s down 14 feet) and the problems now facing the businesses, the farmers, and all who depend on this river – (it is the largest river system in North America and the most fertile agricultural region of the country) I ask - how are we much like the Mississippi River?
• When in our lives have we experienced drought? Or floods? (I’m referring to our inner selves).
• When in our lives have we experienced the “muddy waters” of loss, sadness, grief, depression, challenge, and felt “stuck”?
• Who was there to listen to our souls? Our story? Our joyful and sorrowful mysteries?
• Have we ever sensed the need to courageously venture beyond the bend that hid from our sight to seek new perspectives, solutions, or directions that nudged our creative and innovation center?
• Do we just “go with the flow” or do we make choices out of our center where the Holy One dwells?
Let us practice this week being aware of the “rivers and droughts” in our lives. Let us choose daily to do things from our soul.