Most ancient religions use crossing a river as a metaphor for meaning, whether it is between years, between lives or between stages of life. The ancient Greeks spoke of crossing the rivers Styx and Posida, the rivers of mortality and forgetfulness into Hades. The Buddhists talk of crossing the river of attachment in life towards the farther shore of enlightenment. In each case, there is a ferryman to take us across. Throughout our lives we face and cross rivers of both sorrow and joy. In each case, we are accompanied by those we know and love. It is not always easy to cross these rivers but it is rarely done alone. Ultimately we must cross from this life to what lies beyond and there let go of the ones we love. We may not know what lies upon the farther shore. Only by crossing can we find out.
In order to take that journey we must each have the will to try the crossing. It is never enough to ride on the back of someone else as they cross. Each must enter the forest at the darkest place of their own choosing, commanded Arthur to his knights in search of the Holy Grail. Each of us must make our own crossing in order to fully understand what we want to change. Its not like we can’t have help finding where to cross, that is what a church community is for; we help you with finding the place on the shore where you might want to cross and change, but ultimately you must do this on your own.
The spiritual quest is aided by your fellow travelers but you must find the spirit in your own. There is an old proverb “God has no grandchildren”. The religion of our choosing must be our own. This is the way of Unitarian Universalism, we are each on our own journey even as we are united by a common bond.
Along the way to the other side there will be circumstances and people who will thwart you. There is an old Persian story of a Scorpion who said to the frog “Carry me across the river”. The frog responded that he wouldn’t because the Scorpion would sting him. “If I sting you” said the Scorpion, “then we both drown.” About two thirds away across the river the Scorpion stings the frog anyway. As the frog is sinking he asks the Scorpion “Why?” The Scorpion replies,“It is in my nature.” Well,it may be a Scorpion’s nature to sting but we hope human nature is no such thing. Still there are those stings of misfortune that slow us down if not stop us. Whenever we change, we risk the critic’s voice, often from ourselves first and loudest. I can only say this: consider turning the old maxim on its head, instead of waiting to see in order to believe, consider instead believing it before you see it. This is the place of faith in life’s journey,in crossing the river. Faith, the deepest held belief that life has meaning, is, ultimately, the river we cross. We are born on it, over it and then on it we cross to the other shore.
As we continue to live the days of our lives, please embrace the fact that if you are part of this church you are never alone. Each of us crosses the rivers of our life with help along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Helping each other cross is the very reason we exist.
Yours with Grace and Grit, Rev. John