Wednesday, June 19, 2013

River People and Hill People: Ohio River Reflections

Many years ago I had a an Indian friend tell me that there are really two types of people--river people and hill people. As much as I love the mountains, and as inspiring as it is to climb a summit, I'd have to say I'm a river person. I grew up on the Ohio River, or Pelewathiipi as my ancestors called it.

I've swum in this stream and pulled a wide variety of fish from its waters. I've boated to its islands, and I've hiked, biked, and driven along its shores. And I'm not the first in my family to have this intimate connection to what the French called La Belle Rivière. I've often watched the sun set along the rippling waters of the Ohio and found myself reflecting on the past or dreaming about the future.

You see, the rivers and the mountains, they both carry an array of stories of their inhabitants. Sometimes you can hear echoes in the ripples or in the wind. Last week, my dad, Jamie, and I stood atop a hill looking down on the river and into the Ohio country near Parkersburg. As I we watched the sun sneak behind some low floating clouds and disappear from our view, I found myself thinking about all of those who have come before to this place, and my own history with this river.

There are some places that we make a habit and a lifestyle of visiting. For me, the Ohio River is probably the most longstanding sacred space in my family. At times I feel as though something is missing or my visit is incomplete if I don't make it to at least gaze upon this river for a few fleeting moments before journeying onward. It's as though the river is one of my longest standing friends, and she always seems to have time to catch up, and after leaving, I always feel refreshed, renewed, and as though I've connected with something not quite supernatural, but still larger than myself. Maybe that's the way it is with all of the creation. I find, quite similar to Jonathan Edwards, that there is an image or shadow of the divine in the whole of creation. When I see the rolling mysterious waters of the Ohio, I'm reminded that there is Someone who is larger and more powerful than any river, and yet I can't even get my mind around the power and majesty of the river.

Are you a river person or a hill person? Where are the places you find yourself journeying towards as though catching up with an old friend or relative? If you don't have a place, I hope you can find a little sanctuary in your neighborhood whether it be a hill, a river, or some other parcel of the created world.

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