As summer’s heat continues to bake the Sonoran Desert, I continue to reflect on the theme of water. After focusing on the dying Dead Sea and the thirsty Jerusalem Temple, I want to turn my attention to the flow of water because of a line I recently encountered from a poem by environmentalist Wendell Berry. The line from his poem “Our Real Work” states, “The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
I’m used to thinking of water as making noise. As it flows from our faucets, the sound of splashing fills my ears as the flowing water is impeded by sinks and pans. Summer thunderstorms bring the reverberation of water bouncing off rooftops, asphalt, and hard-baked ground. Dry arroyos echo with the rush of flowing water as it carries leaves, branches, and discarded trash along in its wake.
Yet a deeply flowing river can be astonishingly silent. I’ve stared at amazement at the broad and silent Han River which flows through the bustling metropolis of Seoul, South Korea. I’ve floated in a paddlewheel boat upon the mighty Mississippi River as it flowed in soundless majesty through the boisterous city of New Orleans. Henry and I just returned from a four-week road trip during which we crossed over the Mississippi, Ohio, and other broad rivers as they flowed in stately silence beneath us. (I’ll share some images of those rivers this week on Instagram.)
This contrast between noise and silence reminds me of the necessary contrast that caused Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr to establish the Center for Action and Contemplation thirty-five years ago. As I’ve shared previously, he states that the most important word in the organization’s title is “and.” We need both action and contemplation, noise and silence, singing and stillness, for our lives to be balanced.
Circling back to Wendell Berry’s line, I realize that for much of my life I’ve avoided impediments in the flowing stream of my life. I’ve redirected the flow and sought the deeper silence. I’ve not often been singing—but now I know I need better balance. Much of this has come from witnessing the pain of my siblings of many colors and a variety of genders through my ongoing antiracism education. I know I still have much to learn, but I am willing to let the stones of their pain impact the flow of my words here on this blog. I’m not going to just spread “goodness and light”—though I will do that! I’m also going to “sing” of the agony and challenges to which I’m slowly coming to bear witness.
Next week, I’ll focus on a place with very noisy water that Henry and I visited on our road trip. Meanwhile, I invite you to ponder your own relationship with impediments in the flow of your life. How do you balance singing and silence in the flow of your life?