Dark water disturbs me, and yet there I was staring into the green darkness of the Willamette River. I watched as bits from the bottom swirled in the currents just inches below the surface. Tiny bubbles rose from some hidden thing moving about in the depths. As I stood at the end of the concrete quay, I felt the rise and fall of the water’s movement. A brief moment of seasickness welled up in my stomach, and I wondered what it would be like to be pitched headfirst into those dark green waves. And that fear of the unknown—anxiety—crept over me.
I had just tossed a temporary art piece into the flow. With my hands and fingers, I had twisted twigs together. It was no particular shape, but it reminded me of a fishing net without the net. Water could flow through it and around it. I had created it with the intent of allowing it to become part of the river; but when I was finished, I didn’t want to part with it. I liked how it looked. It felt right. I wanted to hold on to it. Nevertheless, I walked to the end of the wharf and threw it in. I followed it with my eyes.
It floated slowly down river—much more slowly than I had imagined it would. The thought occurred to me that it would take a very long time for that piece to reach the ocean. I thought about all the obstacles that could prevent it from ever arriving there. It might snag in the shallows near the shore. It might drown in a strong undercurrent. It might be entirely dismantled by the falls at Oregon City. It might never reach the ocean, but my heart hoped that it would or at least a small part of it. I wanted it to become a polished piece of driftwood transformed by the water.
Dark waters are death. Dark waters are life. As I reflected on the river scene, I thought about my own river journey. My deepest desire is to reach the vast unknowable ocean—the depths of God who knows the depths of me. But I get snagged in the shallows because the deep threatens to drown me. When I venture into the current, I am dragged to the bottom where I roll around on the muddy floor and bump against sharp rocks. I resurface dirty, bruised, and gasping for air. I fear the thundering falls that threaten to break me, scatter my bones, and cause my death. Yet this is the river into which I must dive if I am to ever reach the healing waters that salt and scour and polish and transform woundedness into a thing of beauty.
It is from these waters that the Creator called into being the living world. But these waters also brought death to a polluted Noachian world. Out of those waters a cleansed earth was reborn. These waters delivered the Hebrews from slave-death into land-life. These waters were death to the Egyptians who tried to prevent those who were willing to risk the deep. In the Jordan, these waters washed over the face of Christ and affirmed his name—Son of God.
This same flow invites me to a watery grave—death to all that must die. Release the shoreline shrubbery. Stop the struggle against the current. Submit to the roaring falls. Know the anxiety of sinking to the bottom. Touch the slime. Taste the darkness. See the nothingness. Only then will I be carried to the sea. Washed, burnished, revived, reborn and renamed. This is river living—the perpetual life to death to life flow.