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  • Writer's pictureRachel F

Down to the River to Pray

I find it easy to believe that I can love the earth. That is natural, available, and feels comfortable. I remember the first time someone asked me “Do you believe that the earth loves you back?” I was stopped short. If the answer is “yes” (which I firmly believe it is) then what does that mean? What does that look like? In a sense the question is, how does the earth love?

As the morning haze burned off of the Tuckahoe river on a Saturday morning ten people gathered at the Hillsboro boat launch to explore those questions. We were gathered for silence with the water - to pray for the river and to enter deeply into relationship with all that the river is and holds. Shortly after sharing a poem by Mary Oliver we pushed off from shore. Our practice was “breath paddling,” which involves synchronizing the breath, muscles, and movement of the water. We practiced our breath paddling in silence together while the river simply practiced being the river. To be the river, we learned, was to hold flashes of painted turtles, sweeping boughs of sycamore, thrashing bodies of carp, slow paddling geese, and even a doe who was hot from the sun and joined our group as she swam through the cool water. We encountered each of these beings all held within the silty banks of the Tuckahoe just as we were encountered by them. As we deepened the practice, I was reminded again of the power of not only loving the earth but also by being loved by the earth. The earth loves like the Tuckahoe river on a Saturday morning - cooling, holding, quieting, thrashing. The banks held so much life that morning, and then agreed to hold us also.

Below, three voices weave against each other, like rivulets of water on marsh grasses. Lisa, Libby, and Eliza, each brought their unique voices to the paddle (along with others and the voice of the river) and have agreed to share a part of their experience with you. From the retreat itself, to the biology of the river, and into the heart of encounter, these three women offer their stories. As you read them, what images or longings surface for you?

Lisa Dodge Pinkham

As a newcomer in every way, Heather and Rachel provided a welcoming, spacious mini-retreat for me and all of us. I enjoyed just the right amount of quietness, movement and connection. I connected with my breath, my paddle, nature, the river, Immanuel- God with us, and all the paddling partakers. Some highlights for me including remembering a special time of paddling in the past and responding to Rachel’s gentle invitation to share some of that story, paddling upon a turtle and getting a great view of it diving deep, being still on the river for five minutes and discovering that while I was convinced I was going nowhere a force beyond me was still taking me somewhere. I was also trying to befriend my new paddleboard and a fellow paddler’s gently curious question about how I liked it resulted in a kind offer to help adjust my fins and even more peaceful paddling. I would gladly partake in another prayer paddle with Rachel and Heather hosting and would love to see it become a regular offering.

Libby Rice

The invitation to 'let go and float' ended up feeling like a hug from the be held and rocked, bathed in warm sunshine, cooled by a gentle breeze....a moment of bliss and peace.

"The smaller carp will try to bump into the female in hopes of getting her to spill eggs so that they can fertilize them. This is, generally, how carp spawn. They don't make redds. They're broadcast spawners, meaning the milt from several males can fertilize the eggs of several females."

Eliza Chapelle

“The River paddle was a beautiful invitation to come together, as strangers joined in humanity, in a peaceful connecting to nature and ourselves. It was a call to peace, to gratitude, and to give back. I took away from the paddle that I can give something back to nature by offering the very same nonjudgmental witnessing and appreciation that I am so grateful to receive from it.”

“As we moved along the River together in the prayer paddle, out of the quiet rose into my attention a bustling natural community in total synchronicity. At first, I felt like I was trespassing, perhaps sloppily, in someone else’s house, but through the practice - connecting my appreciation, to my breath, to my the muscles, to the water- it softened into a remembering that I was a part of it too, another synchronized movement in a community design. I felt called to join the natural ease of the dancing cardinals, the splashing fish, the swimming deer. In the vividness of that place, I felt somehow closer, like my prayers could be more directly heard.”

“I felt both humbled and held. Floating on the water, I was reminded that my own intentions and plans are merely a suggestion, as it is the River current that will go where it will with me on it, on the water and in life. I was invited to let go of my misconceived responsibility of control, for a moment glimpsed what my experience might be like if I saw it as neutrally as the fish or the deer, without judgment”

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