Rivers have always been a powerful symbol for me. This is a bit strange because I have lived near mountains, and oceans, but I have never lived near a mighty river. Perhaps not living near a river has let me see them more as symbols easier than if I had to face them each day as reality. Still, the Mississippi is a powerful river I deal with each year as I teach American Literature. My favorite rook to teach, read, and simply savor, is A River Runs Through It, and I, like Norman Mclean, am haunted not only by rivers, but waters. When I was in graduate school almost 20 years ago the local high school chorus sang a song that so moved me I included it into a paper I was writing on Mclean’s book.
Oftentimes I dream of music, of a river that freely flows….
I have had many dreams, and I still have dreams. I reflect that I am truly blessed in that I have never been without a job, a home, or food. In my river of life, I dreamed of being a military pilot, and so I was. Rivers do not stand still, and so later, I yearned to be a classroom teacher sharing my favorite subjects of literature and history with future generations, and this too was granted to me. To push the metaphor a bit, I took a shore excursion during my years as an administrator, but that too was a dream to make a difference on a bigger scale and I think, I hope, somehow I might have done for other schools what I was unable to do for mine.
And it sings a song sweeter than honey, one everybody knows….
There have been times I have been too focused on my dreams, I can be more than a little obsessive/compulsive when I decide to do something. Perhaps a much greater blessing than achieving what I dreamed of is that they never came easy, or in the ways I envisioned, and the path was humbling in so many ways that helped curbed tendencies towards arrogance or pride. Then I came to middle age. Middle age is a time to take stock of the past, and to look ahead. And I remembered a dream I had forgotten, or misinterpreted.
Late at night I hear it singing…..
Long ago I dreamed of serving, somehow serving, and I dreamed of it in religious terms. I explored the dream enough to find and join a church, but then I channeled my need to serve into a career as a helicopter pilot, and later, a teacher. These were worthy dreams, I think I served honorably in those activities, but there was still a call I was ignoring that wouldn’t let me go. And so I started dreaming another dream, the most quixotic dream I had ever dared. I wanted to minister in a church that consider only single, ordained men, to be ‘real’ ministers. I have written much about this portion of my ‘river of life’ in this blog, including my belief that my dream of serving my local community would not happen. As I said earlier, none of my dreams have happened as I envisioned.
And it fills me up with hope and good will, the will to go on….
I have accomplished my dream of completing a master’s degree in ministry. I have been commissioned a minister by my bishop, but it seemed that I would not ever ‘minister’ as I envisioned ‘ministry’. Recently, and suddenly, I have been asked to do the pastoral ministry locally that I had been told was impossible. I am grateful that I was grateful instead of having an ‘it’s about time’ attitude. It indicated to move that I had moved a little farther along the river, and it had given me time to realize something more important, something I knew long ago.
There is a river in Judea….that my soul cries out to know….
What I am coming to know is that I am called to ‘be’ more than I am called to ‘do’. In the past I confused the two, and it bothered me that I could no longer ‘do’ as in being a Marine, or teacher. I did not understand that those roles gave me a place to ‘be’ whatever it is I am called to be, and my faith is very clear on what I am called to be. As I begin closing my teaching career, and as I begin to do whatever ministry I do, I need to focus on ‘being’ more than ‘doing’. I need to be a good man by listening, caring, taking time to visit a brother, or help a niece select a course in college. I think I am a flawed, but good man. I also think that has sometimes been lost in the action of working to make dreams come true. I can’t fly anymore, and I can’t teach the way I want to, but I can be a man of ‘ hope and good will’ for my family, friends, and those in life I encounter.
I believe it keeps on traveling, but it rests…the time it pauses I almost hear it pray….
I dream a new dream, one of being the best person I can be, and having that be my focus. With my personality that is a significant challenge, but it is always what I have been called to be, and I have gotten that confused with ‘doing’ for many years. And so this year as I look at teaching, or being a father, husband, uncle, brother, friend, or even minister I am going to try very hard to concentrate more on ‘being a good person’ than ‘doing good things’. I suspect that is the song I heard many years ago, the song sung at a river 2,000 years ago.
There is a river in Judea…..