I still walk along the Potomac. But some days I sit by it. Those are rowing days, when I watch my daughter’s crew team race on the water.
The young women are dedicated. They spend the winter months training, working out for hours on erg machines and running. In the spring, they get on the water, perfecting their form and rowing together as a team. And they learn the river, figuring out winds and currents to their advantage. In effect, the best boats become one – a unity of rowers and river as the team works together and with the Potomac. It is not an individual sport where people can jockey for attention; nor can rowers fight the river. Rowing embodies strength, control, and flow, the spirit of the waters. My daughter says she “feels alive” on the river; it has, in many ways, become her teenage church, a place where she meets the divine.
Watching my daughter row on the Potomac, I wish I were stronger, younger, a rower. Because I think I understand what she loves out there, over the riparian edge, racing on the currents. The river is a religious experience. “Throughout the whole of religious tradition,” remarked poet Ted Hughes in an interview, “rivers have been gods. Water has been the soul. And water is the ultimate life, the divine influx.”
The Bible begins with the deep, when God’s spirit sweeps over the waters. From wind and the seas comes all of creation, (Genesis 1:1-2). For Christians, the Bible also ends with water: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.” The final scene in the book of Revelation is the river of God, the water that heals and washes away all sorrow. “Let everyone who is thirsty come,” the last words of Jesus invite, “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift,” (22:1-2, 17). Water in the beginning, water at the end. God is the Alpha and Omega of the wells, rivers, and seas.