It was daylight the morning I walked across the bridge on my way to Kathy’s Diner. I was meeting friends for breakfast later than usual. When I was teaching I would have to meet my friends much earlier to get to school on time, which meant I was crossing the bridge in the dark.
But I am not teaching anymore. I am in between things.
It was cold like January can be that early in the day. Hard, flinty; brittle and bright like a blade. The sky was just beginning to pink up and the day held the promise of a warm sun, but that would be hours away.
I heard the sound the moment I stepped onto the bridge. The applause of loud water. I looked to my right.
Normally the Little Androscoggin is quiet this time of year, but with the recent thaw and then another day of rain and snow, its waters were a fierce tumble. White spray was shooting up from the rocks and clouds formed and immediately floated to the bridge’s rails.
I know it isn’t Niagara Falls; the little river doesn’t even compare to its big cousin breaking over boulders in downtown Lewiston, but I am in awe just the same.
No matter its size, there is something about the power, the pounding, the pushing of a river. Even when it is slow and meandering...everything must go with the flow.
No matter what ends up within its liquid grasp, it will either be taken for the ride of its life, or scraped down and polished… smooth as glass. Changed forever.
I looked to my left. This part of the river was silent. Snow lay on top like a blanket. The river, exposed near its banks, revealed a faint shimmer of movement. Mostly it was a still s-curve of whiteness.
Where I stood on the bridge that morning is the place right before the spilling, right before everything changes. The in-between place.
Jesus followers call this in-between place the now and not yet:
Jesus has come.
God is here.
Just not in his fullness.
It is when we have glimpses of God’s glory. Touches of his healing. Revelations of understanding. In the dark. In the pain. In the questions.
“Richard Rohr calls this place “liminal space”—-a particular spiritual position where humans hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them. The Latin root limen literally means, threshold, referring to that needed transition where we are moving from one place or state of being to another. Liminal space usually induces some sort of inner crisis: you have left the tried and true (or it has left you), and you have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.” –Ruth Haley Barton, Life Together In Christ
I love watching a river. I always have.
As a child, if I’d managed to get the passenger side of the backseat of the car, I would press my face against the glass of the car door and watch the Sugar River, a small tributary of the Connecticut River, as it ran alongside the road near my home in New Hampshire.
In winter, snow would mound like white mushroom caps on top of the boulders standing sentinel as the river swirled around them, water constantly moving moving moving, but never freezing, and I would wonder where it was all going.
The river changed color all the time. On really cold days it would be a deep indigo blue and where the trees thinned and sunlight shone through, pockets of diamonds would sparkle among the rocks and snow. On cloudy days, the river ran black, a dark charcoal line against the snowbanks. No twinkling on these days. Just a muted palette of grays and blacks.
In the spring, I would roll the car window down until I got cold and I’d watch the river roll over the boulders, many of them completely submerged except for the really big ones. I could hear the roar of the river above the sound of the car motor and sometimes I wished my dad would stop the car so I could run to the river’s edge and and let the roar of it run through me.
Summertime brought a canopy of leaves hanging from the trees that lined the banks; a fairy wonderland. Moss appeared on some of the boulders and the river trickled a bright golden ribbon. My sisters and I would step lightly in the clear waters to collect the speckled rocks we could see so clearly now. One day my not yet five year old brother straddled two big rocks and caught a small trout with his bare hands.
When Autumn came the river would snake slowly, now a shallow place, an exposed place. Sometimes I would notice a fallen leaf here, another one there, floating down down down like a little paper sailboat. Rocks that were once hidden only months before were now open for viewing. What was not seen, now revealed.
I dream about rivers. Mostly when I’m in the middle of a big life change and I haven’t the faintest idea how it’s all going to turn out.
In the wee hours of my dream sleep I will be walking about when suddenly a massive river will spring up out of nowhere and I have to quickly figure out a way to navigate my way across the rapids. Sometimes I have people with me, other times I’m alone. I am never afraid, but I am always perplexed. After much hard thinking and a good bit of Providence, I manage to get to the other side every time. It is quite the adventure and most of the time I wake up feeling hopeful. But it is not lost on me that it’s in the in-between places, in the now and not yet where the real navigation happens.
I am on the threshold of something I know not of. What has been tried and true for me for so long is no longer part of my day to day routine. I am under a blanket of snow, a quiet shimmer of wonder and listening. Listening for the sound of the river’s roar and where it will take me next.
This is one of my favorite scenes from Lord of the Rings. When I first saw it I cried. God knows my heart for the beauty and the power and the life that is in the river.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved. God will help her when morning dawns. Psalm 46
I could not find any photographs of the little Sugar River so the last four photographs are similar rivers from the great state of New Hampshire. The Swift River, Moose River, Lost River Gorge and Pemigewasset River. (Google Images)