The Water is Wide

Like most of the posts here, use your spiritual discrimination. If what I write works for you, good. If it rubs you the wrong way, rather than fretting over it or wasting your valuable energy in anger, click away. (Anger can be an energy response that opens doors, but can also close them.) I try to write from different perspectives, and address different spiritual temperaments, and this may simply not match yours. Time with your dog or cat or partner or the spring or autumn sky or a beloved tree will do you much more good.

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Often the spark or seed for a post comes from someone’s “chance” comment in a conversation, in person or online, or a phrase from my reading, or the nudge of a dream. I’ve found repeatedly from painful experience that so-called writer’s block, like spiritual block, usually means too much rather than too little. The door opens inward, and I’m standing in my own way.

This paradox can hurt. It can drive people in so many directions away from the exact thing they need. But for each of us, no one else can say what that needed thing is, only the person living that life. So much is pouring through us that we can’t make out a single handle or corner to grab onto and work with. It’s all just a blur, like standing under a torrent with a coffee-cup in hand. The surge of water can dash the cup from our hands in an instant and snatch it away in the flood.

In fact, when the “pour” is sufficiently loud and strong, like it is right now for so many people in these heightened times, it can feel, perversely, like the opposite, like nothing at all is shaping or coming, when in truth more pours through than ever. The triple frustration of greater need, constricted access, and a suspicion of all that possible abundance out there can make tempers flare, and drive despair.

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The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly,
But build me a boat that will carry two
and we will row, my love and I …

The words and tune of the old Scots or English folk song, in one of its variants, have stuck with me since I first learned them, years ago now. You may well know them. Several versions exist — here’s a plain and soulful one by James Taylor:

Making room for spirit is often a matter of singing a song, re-linking to the awen that is always flowing. If something like this simple melody, easily learned through repetition over several verses, helps calm you, you’re on your way. A visualization I use with it is seeing the boat, knowing what I love most deeply always travels with me, even and especially when it can seem like I’m alone in the boat on the wide water. Or when it feels like I don’t have a boat at all.

Songs, in other words, can launch and power a practice. You may well have your own favorites in play, close to your heart. You know their power. Sound can open us to possibility like nothing else.

The first stanza of “The Water is Wide” is lovely. Listen through the rest of the song, however, and you eventually reach words above love growing old. What?! you may be saying. Betrayed again?! That’s where many of us are right now. Even the most basic or profound solutions aren’t working for us any longer. Even love can seem like it’s not enough. But the chorus comes one last time, a reminder. A boat built to carry two will get us across. Who or what is the Other with us? Always, always, someone or something accompanies us.  The hackneyed saying “we are never alone” remains scorchingly, absolutely valid still. Deny it as I may, I won’t get across without it. But what is it?

[If you’re anything like me (you are and you aren’t, of course, both at the same time, another paradox), you can spend a whole life in denial, till it’s one of your superpowers. I’m a master of denial, and I try to deploy it like the spiritual weapon it can be. But my challenge (it may not be yours) is not to let it wield me. Most of the time I need to sheathe it again, rather than keep waving it about.]

Sometimes letting go needs to be my practice, and a song can help then, too. Making whatever I’m feeling into a poem or song is powerful practice, an ancient tradition in many cultures. No one else ever needs to hear it. But some famous laments, and songs of celebration, and every other response to living in this world, have survived for us as models and springboards.

I can’t force the Other into the second spot in my boat. But a practice of knowing the Other is there, whether I’m aware or not, can go far to restoring me to the boat that will carry me across. Both need to row. I can’t get there alone. But build that boat through a practice, and I can cross over. (How often do I need to relearn that?)

Notice this isn’t a faith so much as a practice. I don’t need to believe something I can’t believe right now, where I’m in this moment. I need to practice something I can keep practicing, whatever I believe, the same way anyone gets better through practice. If I’m baking bread — the time is prime for it, people are home more, and hungry — I don’t need to believe the bread will make itself. But by mixing flour and water and yeast, working the dough, and putting it in the oven to bake, bread comes out. Yes, I get better at it through practice. The loaves will be better shaped, less lumpy, lighter. But my getting better, while a good thing, a needful thing, isn’t the final point. The bread is.

The water is wide. May your boats carry you over.

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Thank-you’s to annaelleamaya for her recent likes. Knowing others read and value what I post here helps keep me going, especially in these times!

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