“As I went down in the river to pray/ Studying about that good ol’ way/ And who shall wear the starry crown?/Good Lord show me the way!
O sisters let’s go down/ Let’s go down, come on down/ O sisters let’s go down/ Down in the river to pray.”
(“Down To The River To Pray” by Alison Krauss)
Writers and artists are constantly on the lookout for inspiration; for whatever may bring that golden moment we can transform into poetry, prose, music or art. We look so hard and wade so deep, we often forget that inspiration is all around us and can be found in someone else’s joy as well as in our own.
When Leigh told me we had been invited to little Abe’s baptism in the West Fork of the White River on Saturday, I immediately wanted to go. Yes, you may well say, that sounds about right for a preacher’s kid. But the truth is I’m no big church-goer and have no real denomination nor any set belief concerning religion. I try to respect what others find sacred and I find sacredness in all of the “original text” of creation, as Thomas Berry calls the universe. I express my gratitude to Big Spirit; my own conception of God as a mix of the Native American Great Spirit, and an African woman holding all of us in the folds of her big star-printed skirt.
I am in love with rituals of all kinds and am sorry we have left so many of the good ones in the wake of our motor boats and jet skis. There’s so much motoring we have to do once we leave church on Sunday, which is where we leave the Sabbath, too, I’m afraid. Sitting alone in the vacant pews with the church doors locked. I miss the all-day Sunday sings of earlier days and replace them with my version, a hootenanny of singer/songwriters and audience participants once a year. I miss dinner on the grounds and so attend potlucks and throw fish fries as often as I can. Although baptism in rivers was never a part of my rather staid Presbyterian upbringing, my 85-year-old momma’s preacher-grandaddy used to baptize souls in the muddy rivers of the South.
Abe’s baptism managed to satisfy all my needs at once. We had dinner on the grounds, were witness to a beautiful baptism by a young Lutheran minister in a river that flows into the source of all our drinking water, and we even sang a little (although there could have been much more of that as far as I was concerned). Love that singing!
Wading in those shallow waters caused by drought, we were refreshed and renewed. We were reminded that miracles occur by pictures of Abraham born at 1lb 8oz and hooked up to half dozen machines in the NICU. But always, always surrounded by love–of his parents, grandparents, and dozens of caring friends and family members. Now he is a healthy infant, pink and smiling and big-eyed with fascination for a brand new world outside the hospital. Truly, this was Abe’s baptism into the natural world; a real river surrounded by green overhanging trees, rocks, sun, shade, and humans making goofy faces and noises at him, holding him so they could nuzzle his sweet baby head.
Really, I barely knew anyone who was there. But I fell in love with Abe immediately, and of course, that’s all it takes for an infant’s family to like you back. I went because I knew in my poet’s soul that my need for inspiration would be fulfilled at the river’s edge that day. I would be afforded an opportunity to rejoice on someone else’s behalf. When Abe was lowered to that clear running water, everyone there was of one mind in their prayers and hopes for the babe and his moms. As soon as the minister walked clear of the water with Abe, here came a water snake just getting it up the middle of the river until he made the safety of downed limbs on the far bank.
Snake, who for Native Americans represents transmutation; the ability to turn hardship, even that which is deadly, into something healing and bountiful for the people. Snake who, unable to lie, can only tell the truth. Snake, who strikes fear into the heart of so many, but actually harms so few. Abe has his totem, and it is a powerful one indeed. And I have my inspiration and am writing this to share it with you.
Think of the inspiring moments you have had during this long spring. Share them with someone(s) else, so they, too, can learn to look for inspiring moments in the everyday experiences of life. Write a poem, a short piece, or make up a song. Honor your inspiration with ritual, small or large. Baptize your own bad self in a lake or river. Repeat your poem or chant when drought sets in. Be grateful for every golden moment you get. And thank you Abe, Sarah, and Kelly for sharing yours with us.