I love rivers. I love watching their ice break-up in spring time, I love watching bugs and minnows play in their shallows, or watching their waters cascade over rapids. I love canoeing on them and swimming in them when they are clean, warm and quiet enough to do so. I can hardly wait for the weekend when I’ll take the plunge to swim against the current in my beloved Whitemouth River in SE Manitoba. I’m convinced that being in relationship with a river is good for our well being.
Watching a river is, among other things, a great stimulus to ponder life’s twists and turns. Ever since reading about the “Life-as-a-river” exercise in the book, GirlTalk/GodTalk, several years ago, I’ve thought about life and rivers that way, even when I’m not at the riverside. And, in the last half year, I’ve tried out this river exercise, on my own and in intergenerational groups.
What is a “Life-as-a-River Exercise”? It in involves remembering significant events in one’s life; its high points, valleys, losses, gifts, life-changers, etc. from one’s earliest childhood to the present, and drawing them into a river, whose course is directed by those events. Difficult stretches can be marked by rock which the waters of our lives find their way around to create rapids. (Younger children find it easier to draw a series of individual pictures of their life memories.)
After drawing and labelling the river, one can begin to reflect on the different faces of God one recognizes through those experiences. Was God present in a challenging, comforting, creative, or laughter-making way?
Or, one can move into story sharing mode, and then do the spiritual reflection later. Each time the story telling has begun; I’ve been delighted by extended and lively conversations that result. Children especially appreciate hearing about older people’s childhood trials and pranks, ask good questions, and sometimes respond by verbally processing trials of their own. Relationships across the generational spans deepen, as does the sense that we are on a journey of life and faith together, where everyone has a valuable place.
Both of these responses are important. I have reflected on and shared my own river story numerous times by now, and each time new memories and deeper understandings of my past surprise me and create new relational bridges.
When we recently did this at our church retreat, we extended the metaphor to include our congregation’s fifty year long life-as-a- river story by adding spiritual events from our lives into that river, and demonstrating how all our little rivers join together in larger congregational rivers, which of course flow into the even larger lakes and oceans of God’s people.
Life as a river. It’s such a rich metaphor. Beyond the blessing of individual memories and story sharing session, a solid rock that is surfacing for me is the idea that the ‘rapids’ in our lives can become as amazing and inspiring as the rapids in an actual river if we offer our hard experiences to God, who is eager to make something good and beautiful result from the obstacles we encounter.
If you decide to chart and share your ‘river story’, Id love to hear about the experience.
 Joyce Mercer, GirlTalk/ GodTalk, (San Fransisco: Jossey Bass, 2008), p. 123.