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The list of Selected Sermons.
To open, I'll quote from a wonderful little book, The Conquest of Happiness, where Bertrand Russell makes the point that many people find the gathering of collections to be a very great part of their pursuit of happiness, and he says of himself:
"For my part, I collect rivers: I derive pleasure from having gone down the Volga and up the Yangtse, and regret very much having never seen the Amazon or the Orinoco."
Reading from Langston Hughes, a poem titled: The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans,
and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Reading from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi
Once a day a cheap, gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keokuk. Before these events, the day was glorious with expectancy; after them, the day was a dead and empty thing. Not only the boys, but the whole village, felt this. After all these years I can picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer's morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, with their splint-bottomed chairs tilted back against the walls, chins on breasts, hats slouched over their faces, asleep - with shingle-shavings enough around to show what broke them down; a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk, doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the "levee"; a pile of "skids" on the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town drunkard asleep in the shadow of them; two or three wood flats at the head of the wharf, but nobody to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them; the great Mississippi, the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest away on the other side; the "point" above the town, and the "point" below, bounding the river-glimpse and turning it into a sort of sea, and withal a very still and brilliant and lonely one. Presently a film of dark smoke appears above one of those remote "points": instantly a negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, "S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin'!" and the scene changes! The town drunkard stirs, the clerks wake up, a furious clatter of drays follows, every house and store pours out a human contribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and moving. Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many quarters to a common center, the wharf. Assembled there, the people fasten their eyes upon the coming boat as upon a wonder they are seeing for the first time. And the boat is rather a handsome sight, too. She is long and sharp and trim and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped chimneys, with a gilded device of some kind swung between them; a fanciful pilot-house, all glass and "gingerbread," perched on top of the "texas" deck behind them; the paddle-boxes are gorgeous with a picture or with gilded rays above the boat's name; the boiler-deck, the hurricane-deck, and the texas deck are fenced and ornamented with clean white railings; there is a flag gallantly flying from the jack-staff; the furnace doors are open and the fires glaring bravely; the upper decks are black with passengers; the captain stands by the big bell, calm, imposing, the envy of all; great volumes of the blackest smoke are rolling and tumbling out of the chimneys - a husbanded grandeur created with a bit of pitch-pine just before arriving at a town; the crew are grouped on the forecastle; the broad stage is run far out over the port bow, and an envied deck-hand stands picturesquely on the end of it with a coil of rope in his hand; the pent steam is screaming through the gauge-cocks; the captain lifts his hand, a bell rings, the wheels stop; then they turn back, churning the water to foam, and the steamer is at rest. Then such a scramble as there is to get aboard, and to get ashore, and to take in freight and to discharge freight, all at one and the same time; and such a yelling and cursing as the mates facilitate it all with! Ten minutes later the steamer is under way again, with no flag on the jack-staff and no black smoke issuing from the chimneys. After ten more minutes the town is dead again, and the town drunkard asleep by the skids once more.
Last a reading from V. S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River, a novel set in mid-20th century Africa:
"There would always have been a settlement at that bend in the river . . . It was a natural meeting place. The tribes would have changed, power would have shifted, but men would always have returned there to meet and trade. The Arab town would have been only a little more substantial than the African settlements, The Arabs had only prepared the way for the mighty civilization of Europe."
I have the greatest admiration for the writers I have found who have been able to articulate their experience of rivers. I wish I could do half so good. When I'm browsing a book store, I usually have to buy most any title that has the word "River" in it. I've run across some wonderful writers that way. Of course there is Mark Twain; we will return to him later. He is a hero of mine. It is very possible that you have already heard the very best part of what I'm going to do here, today. We have already heard from Langston Hughes and V. S. Naipaul, and I will be quoting from others later on, too.
Thinking about what I was going to try to say for this service, it suddenly dawned on me just how long I have been employed, working on the river. For those of you who may not know, I make my living as a river captain, pushing barges up and down the Mississippi River. I passed a milestone this summer. I have spent exactly half of a lifetime working on the river, now. I can remember when I graduated from High School, it seemed to me as if I had spent all of my life in schools. When I quit college, each time, the first, second and the third time, I felt like I had spent a very large portion of my lifetime in school. My workplace experiences were a series of jobs that lasted a year or two here and a year or two there. Then, just exactly a half of a lifetime ago, I got a job on a Towboat pushing barges on the Upper Mississippi River. And it has been a gas!
When it began, I felt sure that I would spend a year or two doing it and then drift on to something else. I was wrong! After that first year or two, the adventure of learning these esoteric skills didn't go away! And there was far more yet to learn. The work itself was physically demanding and very satisfying. My body got into the very best shape that it has ever been in. I was strong and young and healthy and only beginning to understand growing older. In those earliest days, It was easy for this aging Hippie to forget that he was involved in a business. The learning adventure and the romance of it all was what was at the top of my consciousness. I loved doing it. I loved being it. I made the river into "my world." And I found refuge on the river from the "real world". The River has been my hermitage.
I could probably go on, and on, about my personal experience of living around rivers. But somehow, I don't want to use this platform that way. I would like to draw your attention towards what rivers have meant to civilization, to humanity, and to our spirit. I'm sure that you will hear all that you can stand of my personal viewpoint as we move along.
River valleys have been the cradle of the world's civilizations. On the banks of the Nile and the Indus; in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Yangtze and the Huang Po, mankind made the transition from hunting and gathering to begin the cultivation of crops and the husbandry of animals. On the banks of Rivers, the worlds earliest civilizations found the fertile, loose soil that could easily be prodded to grow the grains and vegetation that sustain humanity. The places on this earth where food is most easily grown, where shelter is easily found, where fresh water is most readily available; these places are on the banks of rivers and at the mouths of rivers on the shores of the seas. These are the places where the living is easy. These are the places where humanity gained the leisure to begin representing language by writing; where humanity began occupying some of its time outside of the pursuits of food and shelter. It is on the shores of rivers that humankind found the living to be easy enough that there was ample opportunity to do other things beyond what was required for simple survival. Civilizations began on the banks of the world's great rivers.
There are places on rivers where there have always been settlements. Close by, Cahokia, Illinois comes to mind. When the Europeans came, they built St. Louis, Missouri in the same place, but on the other side of the river. Rome, Paris, London; Calcutta and Bombay; Dresden and Prague; Shanghai and Guangzhou; the list of cities on the banks of rivers is a long, long list. Quincy is on that list; Hannibal, Canton and Keokuk, too.
Rivers contribute much more than just their waters to civilizations. The alluvial plain next to the rivers contains some of the most fertile soils to be found on the planet. These soils are rich in nutrients, loose, and easily worked, the proximity to a water source makes irrigation often unnecessary, and very easy to accomplish when it is necessary. Periodic flooding adds both new soil and nutrition to the existing soils. Crop land in the River Bottoms is some of the most highly desired farm land to be found.
As a geographical feature, rivers are both an avenue of easy transportation, and a barrier to easy transportation. For those who travel overland, rivers are an obstacle to be overcome. Even small rivers can become a formidable obstacle to those who are traveling on foot, or on horseback, or when attempting to carry possessions in a wagon or a travois. Rivers are most useful as a barrier when they are considered as a fortification. The term "sitting duck" comes to mind. A river gives very little concealment to an invading army. A city situated on the bank of a river has one of its sides permanently defended against easy military attack. Political entities as small as tribes, as well as states and nations have found rivers to be a natural and easily defended border.
For easy commerce, however, it is far more useful that a River should be wholly contained within one country or state. When one political entity controls both shores of a river, the waterborne traffic moving on it is free from the harassment that can happen when political rivals patrol the opposite shore. Thomas Jefferson understood this principle most acutely. It was at his insistence that the navigable rivers of the United States were placed under federal jurisdiction. He understood quite well that if jurisdiction were placed with the various states, that the end result would be a choking of the commerce that passed this nations waterways.
The rivers of the world were the first highways that mankind ever knew. In the beginning, Rivers were the Fast Lane! Barges were poled upon the Nile 5,000 years ago. Our own Mississippi was used as an avenue of transport long before steam vessels came into use. First, there were dugouts and canoes and rafts. Then, the Europeans brought Keelboats and Flatboats. Abraham Lincoln made a voyage from the community of New Salem, Illinois, down the Sangamon and Illinois Rivers to The Mississippi and on to New Orleans many years before he became a lawyer. Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln makes note that it was in New Orleans that Lincoln experienced the slave auctions that may have influenced his perception of the institution of slavery. I might mention in passing, too, that Abraham Lincoln is the only U. S. President to have ever found employment as a River Pilot. Though Theodore Roosevelt's Grand Uncle, Nicholas Roosevelt, is credited with building the very first steamboat to travel upon the Western Rivers of the United States. It was named the New Orleans and it was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and its construction closely followed the patents of Robert Fulton. You will find that when it comes to river trivia, I'm full of it -- so to speak.
It was in 1809 that Nicholas Roosevelt made that historic trip down the Ohio River. By the time of the Civil War, Steamboats were a proud tradition, and until the railroads became better established, Steamboats were the primary means of long distance transportation which contributed to the settlement of the Middle of the United States. I have relatives who emigrated from Virginia to Lewis County, Missouri in 1855 by traveling the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on Steamboats. At least two branches of Leann's family emigrated from Germany by ship to New Orleans, and by Steamboat to St. Louis, then on to Beardstown, Illinois. I think it very likely that many a Quincy native has ancestors who first stepped foot into Adams County from a Steamboat near Clatt Adams' old river front store.
Following the Civil War, Steamboating ascended into a golden era during the 1870's before being eclipsed by the more versatile locomotive as the nineteenth century drew to a close. I should only need to point out that railroads can be built to almost anywhere. That's not the case with rivers. Waterborne commerce fell into decline until the depression came along, and the "other" Mr. Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, pushed for the development of infrastructure as an appropriate avenue for steering this nation out of an economic depression. A series of Locks and Dams were built during the late 1930's and early 1940's which transformed the Upper Mississippi River into a major artery for the transportation of agricultural produce from the very heart of America.
Many people make the erroneous assumption that the series of Locks and Dams on the Upper Mississippi River has something to do with Flood Control. It simply is not true. Before the Locks and Dams were built, the channel was maintained at 4 1/2 feet of depth. It was the intent of Mr. Roosevelt and the U. S. Army's Corps of Engineers that these constructions would double the available depth to 9 feet. It was their intention to raise the water level over the rapids near the Des Moines River mouth and over the rapids in the Rock Island, Illinois area. They wanted to make it possible to navigate a greater distance of the river for a greater proportion of the year carrying heavier, deeper draft, loads than had ever been carried before. And their efforts were quite successful. During the following years, Diesel engines reduced the cost of power, and the modern system of Towboats pushing barges was developed.
The floods on the ancient Nile were not like the floods on the Mississippi! Egypt was a desert then, as well as now. It didn't rain in Egypt. But every year, the river would rise and flood and then recede. We know now that its water comes from the mountains; from the interior of Africa to the south. Well, we aren't in Egypt. It rains on us. And when it rains on us, our river rises. And when it rains on us A LOT, our river rises A LOT. There have been many levees built to contain the rain swollen river. It is often argued that the building of the levees contributes to the problem of flooding. I think this is true, but there is much controversy and emotion here. Perhaps we should leave it by simply saying that flooding occurs when the volume of water pouring into the river exceeds the capacity of the river to carry it away.
When I think of the destructive power of a river flooding, I have to recall a U. S. Coast Guard report that I heard on a marine radio during the great flood of 1993. I'm paraphrasing here, to the best of my recollection, "We have a report of a house floating down the river below Grafton, IL. There is a tug boat following it. Mariners should exercise caution." Or, there is the image of Dan Rather reporting on the flood of 1993, broadcasting from the living room of the Mayor of La Grange, Missouri wearing waders up to his chest, with the water level well above his waist. I am sure that each of us who lived through that time has stories of our own to tell.
In China, stories of political corruption under the Confucian, bureaucratic system are legion and legend. Among them is the story of the public official who had taxed the people saying that the money would be used for flood control. One spring, there came a devastating flood. And when the people discovered that the money that they had been taxed was used to feather his nest rather than to protect them against the ravages of the river; the people stormed the official's house and killed him.
We saw the destruction that the river can bring on its grand scale in 1993. But rivers are always destroying in a smaller way, always and every day. Every river and stream is constantly eating away at one of its banks at one place, removing soil, and carrying it downstream to deposit the alluvium in another. Like the Yin and the Yang of the Tao, this building up and tearing down are but the two sides of the same hand. The one cannot exist without the other.
Rivers can be thought of as like living organisms. They have many different mechanisms to keep themselves healthy. You can dump sludge into a river and, up to a point, the river can detoxify itself and remain in good health. For example, turbulence, in a river mixes water with oxygen, a powerful purifier and germicide; so too, the ultraviolet light from the sun. Also, many of the plants that grow in rivers, both algae and the higher plants, can remove contaminants from water. But if you keep dumping in sludge, at some point you will exceed a critical level where natural purification mechanisms become overwhelmed and break down. Plants and beneficial microorganisms die, flow patterns change, the river becomes sick. But even a river that appears to be hopelessly polluted is not beyond help. If you will simply stop putting bad substances into it, eventually the levels of contaminants will drop to a point where the natural healing mechanisms revive. Oxygenation increases, sunlight penetrates to deeper levels, beneficial organisms return, and the river cleans itself up. The health of a river can make a powerful analogy with the health of Human bodies; and of Human minds, as well.
In religion, in mythology and in literature, rivers provide us with quite a number of symbols. Christians have used the phrase, "Crossing the River Jordan," as an euphemism for Death and Dying. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has documented the experiences of a great many people who have been declared dead clinically, and were revived to tell about it. Among the many kinds of experiences that these people have reported, there are a good proportion who imagine a river that needs to be crossed. Often, they perceive friends and relatives who have "gone on before" beckoning to them from the other side of that river. The phrases "Crossing over" and "Coming home" are used interchangeably. And I might point out that among those who were interviewed and who reported seeing this image of a river, not one reported crossing to the other side of the river and returning. All reported that they simply observed that there was a river, they observed what was on the other side and then they returned to ordinary consciousness without having crossed that river. Sometimes the images of mythology are firmly rooted in psychic experiences.
In Greek Mythology, the River Styx is the major river of the underworld. Named after Styx, a daughter of Ocean, the river is fabled to have wound seven times around the world of the dead. According to Hesiod, any of the Greek gods who would drink the water of the river Styx, and then forswear an oath, would have to lie in a trance for a year without speaking or breathing! And further, for an additional nine years, he would be excluded from the society of the gods. Even in modern times, the name Styx has become associated with a particular waterfall in Greece. People who live near that waterfall call it the Black Water, and think that its water is not wholesome to drink and will dissolve most any pot that you might put it into.
How many more religions and mythologies use the symbol of a river? The Egyptians placed far more religious significance upon their sun than upon their river, but the rise and fall of their river was a great mystery that was much contemplated.
In the Tao Te Ching, the writings of Lao Tsu, we find that the image of a river is used as a simile for the principle of the Tao: "Tao in the world is like a river flowing home to the sea."
For the Hindus, the Indus River is a most holy place. To have the opportunity to bathe and be cleansed by that muddy river is an object of pilgrimage, and many sacrifice much in order to immerse themselves in those holy waters. I am drawn to a Christian story. The story of John the Baptist and his practice of immersion in a river, Baptism, as a symbol of cleansing and rebirth. Here in Christianity, we can find an allusion to something that is closely kin to reincarnation.
Reviewing yet another literary reference to rivers; one of Ken Kesey's lesser novels, Sometimes a Great Notion makes great use of the symbol of people living next to a river into a novel about vulnerability. During the flood of 1993, this entire community came to an intimate understanding of our vulnerability to the force of a river's nature. The emotional impact of that direct experience was far more forceful than my friend Ken Kesey's novel. As a novel, his One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was far more successful.
I think I have always been fascinated by flowing water. I think all children are. Leann takes issue with me. She thinks that our daughter inherited a disposition toward stepping into water puddles only from her father. She insists that those aren't her genes whose feet are getting wet! Maybe she's right; I did it, too! As a child, I enjoyed watching water splash. I still do! I can recall being happy to get out into fields in the spring after being cooped up indoors all winter long. I chased the spring runoff through the rivulets in the fields and into the streams. I studied the movement of water from up high on the hills to the lowest parts of our fields. I built dams using bales of straw and branches from trees. I got my hands and my feet muddy playing with the meander of the water running off of the hills. And I found it fun! I found it fascinating. The sight of it and the sounds of it could keep me in thrall for far more hours than my mother would have had me spend there, too.
Fifteen or twenty years later, I recalled those fascinations as I walked out on a tow of barges moving down the Mississippi River. Walking out two-tenths of a mile beyond the towboat itself; out to where the sounds to be heard are the sounds of the water splashing against the sides of the barges; far from the mechanical noises of the diesel engines; there I found a mind cleansing peacefulness listening to the lazy creak of the barges flexing against the rigging that held them together as the pilot steered first one direction, and then another.
Another favorite writer of mine is Hermann Hesse. In keeping with the theme of this day, I can easily characterize his prose as "liquid." A characteristic of his novels is his way of presenting his character's lives in the form of the history of a soul. Those of you who have some familiarity with Buddhism will quickly recognize his play upon the name of his book titled Siddhartha. The secular name of the Buddha was Gautama Siddhartha. Hesse traces his principal character's life from Brahman ease and luxury to the poverty of a wandering monk; then to the life of a worldly and successful man of business, before he brings him to the banks of a river, and delivers him into the care of a ferryman. Hermann Hesse chooses to treat this river very much like a character in his book. He gives the river life, endows it as a source of eternal wisdom, and allows the river to become the great teacher, a teacher greater than Gotama.
Quoting from the novel:
"And once again when the river swelled during the rainy season and roared loudly, Siddhartha said: "Is it not true, my friend, that the river has very many voices? Has it not the voice of a king, of a warrior, of a bull, of a night bird, of a pregnant woman and a sighing man, and a thousand other voices?"
"It is so," nodded Vasudeva, [the Ferryman,] "the voices of all living creatures are in its voice."
"And do you know," continued Siddhartha, "what word it pronounces when one is successful in hearing all its ten thousand voices at the same time?"
Vasudeva laughed joyously; he bent towards Siddhartha and whispered the holy Om in his ear. And this was just what Siddhartha had heard."
I wish that, years ago, I had made a tape recording of the sounds of making the locks at Keokuk, Iowa, southbound. I wish I had recorded it from the head of the tow, far away from the sound of the engines. Over the intercom, the conversation between Captain Wimpy Schickling and his favorite Mate, Slim Turner, was like a libretto. The accompaniment, the continuo, beneath that melody was the increasing echo as our tow was lowered forty-some feet between water-slick, concrete walls. The contrapuntal theme was the increasing prominence of the dull ringing of the floating timberheads clanging in their wells as the water was drained from the chamber, and the creak of the lines as the tow surged against them. It should be evident to you from this review of that performance that I would recommend the concert to any of you who has the opportunity to catch it. You won't be privileged to hear Slim and Captain Wimpy performing, like I did. I was young then, and they weren't. Now, I'm not so young, and they have both crossed over the river. Still it makes little difference who you might find playing the concert, I can recommend it as a performance to be savored.
Mark Twain's River is the same river that I have lived half of my life on. It hasn't changed its spirit in all these years. Most of what he has to say about the character of the Mississippi still holds true. There is just one detail in his book, Life on the Mississippi, that I have to take exception to. I'm going to read another passage from that wonderful book to you. Something that you should notice; from nearly every other author that I read to you, I am able to pare the reading down to a sentence or two. Not so with Mark Twain! With Mark Twain, I'm hard pressed to limit a reading to a few paragraphs. If I thought I could get away with it, I might have just tried to read you the whole book! Here is another passage from Life on the Mississippi:
The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book - a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparklingly renewed with every re-perusal. The passenger who could not read it was charmed with a peculiar sort of faint dimple on its surface (on the rare occasions when he did not overlook it altogether); but to the pilot that was an italicized passage; indeed, it was more than that, it was a legend of the largest capitals, with a string of shouting exclamation-points at the end of it, for it meant that a wreck or a rock was buried there that could tear the life out of the strongest vessel that ever floated. It is the faintest and simplest expression the water ever makes, and the most hideous to a pilot's eye. In truth, the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it, painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading-matter.
Now when I had mastered the language of this water, and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry, had gone out of the majestic river! I still kept in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed when Steamboating was new to me. A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood; in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold, through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous; in one place a long, slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water; in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings, that were as many-tinted as an opal; where the ruddy flush was faintest, was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines, ever so delicately traced; the shore on our left was densely wooded, and the somber shadow that fell from this forest was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver; and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun. There were graceful curves, reflected images, woody heights, soft distances; and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily, enriching it every passing moment with new marvels of coloring.
I stood like one bewitched. I drank it in, in a speechless rapture. The world was new to me, and I had never seen anything like this at home. But as I have said, a day came when I began to cease from noting the glories and the charms which the moon and the sun and the twilight wrought upon the river's face; another day came when I ceased altogether to note them. Then, if that sunset scene had been repeated, I should have looked upon it without rapture, and should have commented upon it, inwardly, after this fashion: "This sun means that we are going to have wind to-morrow; that floating log means that the river is rising, small thanks to it; that slanting mark on the water refers to a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody's steamboat one of these nights, if it keeps on stretching out like that; those tumbling 'boils' show a dissolving bar and a changing channel there; the lines and circles in the slick water over yonder are a warning that that troublesome place is shoaling up dangerously; that silver streak in the shadow of the forest is the 'break' from a new snag, and he has located himself in the very best place he could have found to fish for steamboats; that tall dead tree, with a single living branch, is not going to last long, and then how is a body ever going to get through this blind place at night without the friendly old landmark?"
No, the romance and beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat. Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely flush in a beauty's cheek mean to a doctor but a "break" that ripples above some deadly disease? Are not all her visible charms sown thick with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever see her beauty at all, or doesn't he simply view her professionally, and comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn't he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade?
Mark Twain; my, how that man can write! How I envy him that. But he missed the boat about the river, that time. Perhaps, if the Civil War hadn't cut his river career to a short two years, he might have begun to be more secure in his knowledge of the language of the river. He might have found that he no longer needed to exclude the romance and the beauty from his consciousness, just to be able to know that he hadn't missed something important to navigation. He is quite correct about the dangers that can be read from the surface irregularities of the water. He is also correct that there are dangers that can be avoided by paying close attention. But I think that our Doctor friends here today will join me in affirming that when the neophyte has gained sufficient experience that the beginners insecurities are fading away, the ability to notice the beauty that is everywhere begins to return. As that phenomenon happens, another dimension is added to our consciousness of what is familiar.
It is very much like a healthy love which grows first in breadth, and then in depth; and then settles in to grow in yet other dimensions. Un-spacial dimensions; dimensions whose description eludes us. So it is that we perceive growth in our lives, and in our loves.
I'd like to close my presentation this morning with yet another perceptive quotation from Hermann Hesse's book Siddhartha:
[Siddhartha] ". . . once asked him [Vasudeva, the Ferryman], "have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?"
A bright smile spread over Vasudeva's face. "Yes, Siddhartha," he said, "Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?"
"That is it," said Siddhartha, "and when I learned that, I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man, were only separated by shadows, not through reality. Siddhartha's previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.""
Our closing words come from Norman Maclean's novella, A River Runs Through It:
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. I am haunted by waters."
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