Geese flew over the house this morning, with a honking so hauntingly welcome that it stopped me breathless with the happy assurance that winter is losing its grip. This has truly been a winter of discontent, to borrow from John Steinbeck (my favorite author of fiction). We lost a loved one. Another continues to decline. We are sending up prayers for too much cancer, too many bullets, the sword-rattling of our enemies, and the deaths of two great men of prayer and faith, R.C. Sproul and Billy Graham. This week we had days and days of rain atop melting snow, sending our creeks and rivers out of their banks.
To dwell on all this too long leaves us as drab and lifeless as the snow-matted flood-stained grass. We defend ourselves with intentional numbness. Yet the geese remind us that goodness abounds, that life is not snuffed out entirely, and that there is work to be done. This week, as Trout Creek rose higher and faster, swelling and bullying itself downstream, I thought about the nature of things-water most especially. How it gathers to itself, seeks out the lowest places, dwells and swells with an abandoned playfulness that lurks with deadly innocence too. Water has a voice and a rhythm. It sings and swings down its course, sweeping everything unrooted away with raw power. What other than our faith can anchor us amid the flood of evil tides? But water is also life-giving.
I have spent this winter reading the selected works of John Muir because his writing is extraordinarily uplifting (winter is long in the north, so I strategically choose reading that will edify and encourage me). Muir’s prose is divinely poetic, and his love for God and Creation oozes from every page. He often wrote about the waters that fall from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada in California, carving out passes and canyons-
“The happy stream sets forth again, warbling and trilling like an ouzel, ever delightfully confiding, no matter how dark the way; leaping, gliding, hither, thither, clear or foaming: manifesting the beauty of its wildness in every sound and gesture.” 1
Muir shows us that part of the water’s power is in the way it glories to be on its way, hailing any who would heed. Spring is coming friends. Won’t it be glorious to be on our way, doing the work God has given us to do, righting wrongs with energy, and pointing others to the same hope we have in God? May you “set forth again” and rise up out of your banks with a renewed vigor, confiding in one another no matter how dark the way. Look up. The geese will show you the way.
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- John Muir Selected Writings, A.Knopf, New York. 2017,p.178. This excerpt is from Muir’s first book, The Mountains of California published in 1894. (an ouzel is a bird)