On Sunday, June 11, the Creation Justice Network sponsored Sacred River Sunday vigils across the SOC.
In honor of our sacred rivers — one of God’s greatest gifts of Creation — we share with you these words by Rev. Nancy Allison of Holy Covenant UCC, Charlotte:
Rivers of Sorrow
Rev. Dr. Nancy Ellett Allison
I am the Living God, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your Ruler. Thus says the God, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters… Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
When despair for the world grows within me and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. (~ Wendell Berry)
Wendell Berry writes the restoration of the soul. At the edge of a lake, on shores of river and creek, even from a high window watching the crash of ocean waves, water calms and cleanses.
Sun and moon, sea monsters and all deeps, rivers in the desert; poetry of beauty as Psalmist and Prophet alike offer praise for God and God’s glorious creation, fueling our moral imagination.
It is through our imagination we begin to touch the hem of the unknown. We cannot know God. We cannot fathom all of creation, the depths of ocean, heights of sky. What we know about the natural world is vastly outweighed by that which is yet to be known. We know that mitochondria is a part of what fuels and directs our body’s cells – what fuels the mitochondria?
Madeline L ’Engle had a heyday imagining mitochondria run amuck as she developed her “Wrinkle in Time” trilogy.
Langston Hughes, amazing poet of the Harlem Renaissance, drinks in strength as he imagines himself in a long line of river keepers.
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when the dawns were young.
I built my hut by the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down
to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in
I’ve known rivers.
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers. (~Langston Hughes)
When you read Charlestonian Pat Conroy’s novels, the Ashley and the Cooper rivers are always places of healing and salvation. Water, whether a soaking bath, a bracing shower or a tube ride at most any speed, cleanses, restores and heals not just our body, but our soul as well. It is no accident that Jewish cleansing rites were intentionally brought into the Christian church and exalted as the marker of commitment we call baptism.
When Isaiah writes that God is making a way in the sea and a path in the water, he allows his holy imagination to begin envisioning the new thing God is about to do. As the Hebrew people rebuild from their crushing destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, Isaiah is ready to imagine another world is possible than the world where tenant farmers are crushed under the heels of the landowners, where women are shunned as an unclean source of sin and children are not only left behind, but bruised and battered in their abandonment.
Isaiah, like Jesus, who is to come, seeks a wholeness and healing beyond our imagination: the healing of the nations, fullness of life and a blessing for all brimming with unconditional love.
Prophets like Isaiah, Wendell Berry and Langston Hughes remind us another world is possible than the one we are driving to destruction with harsh rhetoric, armed warfare and a crass disregard for the holiness of all creation. Another world is possible than the one of endless competition and the spiritual death of constant consumption, another world is possible than the one choked by our pollution and littered with our self-sufficiency.
In this Easter season how do we imagine new things from our resurrecting God, how do we imagine a new future for our individual and collective lives, a new future for the world which sustains us. It is so hard to do when we know that villages from Sierra Leone to Guatemala do not have clean drinking water and the drought across the deserts of Africa and rising ocean levels in the Pacific are driving entire people groups from their native homelands. It is hard to do when our planet’s temperature has reached record heights – each year exceeding the past since 2014. Already this year, we hit almost 80 degrees in February. I killed my first mosquito yesterday.
We live in an unsustainable society where we are constantly consuming. It is unsustainable to take increasingly scarce irrigation water from the dwindling Colorado River to grow alfalfa in Brawley, California; compress the alfalfa into pellets shipped to Japan to feed Kobe beef which is then slaughtered and returned – by ship and train and truck – to Brawley and Charlotte and New York city.
Three years ago, on February 2, 2014, 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled from Duke Energy’s Dan River Steam Station into the Dan River in Eden, N.C. It is hard to imagine a sadder tale than that of North Carolina’s legislative negligence related to Duke Energy. Because the abuses had been so blatant for so long, in 2013, the Southern Environmental Law Center began filing violations of the Clean Water Act, planning to sue Duke Energy. Time and again our NC legislators have blocked those law suits. If Duke had been held to best industry standards and practices, they would have conducted a $20,000 test of all the Dan River Station discharge pipes revealing the weakness that led to the corrosion and eruption of the spill. Now they are paying millions in fines and ongoing clean-up and our citizens, waters, fish and turtles are suffering.
But, as Pricey Harrison, a Democrat in North Carolina’s General Assembly says: “It’s nearly impossible to do anything in the legislature that Duke Energy hasn’t signed off on.” She has been trying to pass coal-ash cleanup bills since 2008 but says that she “keeps running into all kinds of roadblocks due to Duke’s pervasive influence in the legislature and the (former) governor’s office.”
The poorest people in Stokes County, the region most intensely impacted by the spill, are at the heart of a new documentary series entitled Life in the Sacrifice Zone. In 2016, employees within the NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources publicly resigned from office because of the disinformation sent out to NC residents dependent upon well water within the reach of leaking coal ash ponds.
In this Easter season how do we imagine new things from our resurrecting God? Czech poet, dissident and president, Vaclav Havel, points us in the direction of transformation, writing: “Authentic leaders in every setting – from families to nation states – aim at liberating the heart, their own and others, so that its power can liberate the world…. The salvation of the world lies nowhere else but in the human heart.”
What tugs at your heart?
What system do you have the power to impact and transform? First and foremost: the one in which you live! This is not a new list, but let me remind us all, because we all KNOW to do better than we actually do, we make a difference by contacting our city, state and national leadership. Advocacy matters. We make a difference by buying less, by using cloth napkins, wash cloths and rags instead of paper towels, opening our windows and leaving the AC off, carpooling, not idling our cars for more than 30 seconds, not creeping through a drive-in restaurant, installing rain barrels, planting gardens, creating a worm bin and ceasing to buy bottled water.
Neither designer water from Fiji nor mineral water from France will lengthen or deepen the days of our lives. When children and adults worldwide are dying because of drought and the lack of safe drinking water, it is spiritually and morally disingenuous for us to participate in making water a marketable commodity.
What tugs at your heart?
It is her two sons who tug at the heart of newly minted activist Amy Brown. Amy and her husband own a small single story home a few hundred yards from the Allen Steam Station in Belmont where coal ash ponds are not lined and for years chemicals have been leaking into the ground water. They are dependent upon their now contaminated well water.
“Once (Amy) learned that her water was not safe to drink, she started making phone calls. She called the state, Duke Energy, and local reporters. After a month, she had convinced Duke to provide her with bottled water every few weeks—before they began doing so statewide. When she found out that Duke wasn’t providing bottled water to her neighbors, she started going door to door, giving her neighbors a phone number to call, a person to nag. The truck started delivering water to the whole neighborhood.” An authentic leader, Amy Brown is seeking to liberate the world – starting with her own neighborhood.
A preacher’s kid, Amy says she learned the hard way, not to trust anyone but herself. “We get comfortable and assume that these people in these positions are doing their job, which is to act in the best interest of the people,” she said. “But that’s just not the case.” https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/04/north-carolina-a-preview-of-life-under-a-trump-weakened-epa/521211/
Five years ago when doctors predicted Amy’s second son would be born with medical complications, she wrote out her concerns on the soles of her shoes so she could walk and pray with purpose. She continues to lift her prayers and her voice saying: “If I’m silent, silence is what I’m going to be given … I’m the best teller of my story. No one will fight for my children like I will.”
Every fight for justice we accept, every behavioral change we make to stabilize and strengthen our environment is our love offering to the earth, a way to exercise our imagination and an expression of our satisfaction with the fruit of God’s work. The women’s march in January, the march for science yesterday are the work of people imagining another possible world than the one we are driving to destruction.
What tugs at your heart? Where do we need to be set free? I invite us now to rest in the grace of the world. Amen.
© Nancy Ellett Allison