As I’ve said before, I have a sacred relationship with the Chippewa River. All of my favorite places to walk and jog are along the river. Last Wednesday after the heavy rains, I went to see how high the river had gotten and marveled at how strong and fast it was running in the places I’m familiar with. Two days ago, I went walking in Meridian Park. It was a hot day and I jumped into the river, sneakers and all. I was in a bad mood that day, and as I swam, I imagined the river taking away my grumpy feelings.
The river represents wildness: when I connect with the river (seeing it or swimming in it), I connect with the primordial, wild, natural part of myself. The part without thinking or judgement, the part beyond time: flowing and present in the Now.
The river represents life and renewal: it cleanses and washes away; it brings fresh new water that is seemingly never-ending.
The river represents destruction: it breaches the dam, it washes away the bridge, it invades homes and businesses, it can sweep away people and things.
This paradox makes me think of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Shiva. One represents the Preserver and one the Destroyer. They are two aspects of the divine, just as they are two aspects of the river. The god of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah also contains both aspects: he creates and he destroys. As the river is a divine or sacred thing, it too has both aspects.
These are metaphysical abstractions, but the damage in Midland, our neighbors to the East, is real. The seemingly endless power of the river to cleanse and renew has been abused by humans for a long time, as those downstream of the Dow Chemical plant in Midland know. One of the main concerns of this flood was how it would affect the chemical plants and the toxic cleanup sites already existing because of Dow’s previous pollution of the river. And pollution is part of the Chippewa as well as the Tittabawassee: when I told a local canoeist today where I swam in the Chippewa River, she said that’s OK but don’t swim downstream of where the south branch comes in, because it is too polluted.
Divine sprit that is present in all things, hear this prayer.
May we be connected to the primordial power of nature. May we know that we are in kinship with the earth, the sky, and the river. May we be awakened and renewed by that connection.
Spirit of life and love, may we respect and honor the awesome power of nature. Though we try to tame the rivers with dams, we can’t stop the rain and we can’t hold back the floodwaters. Nature creates and destroys.
May our neighbors in Midland and Sanford and Edenville be safe. May they be able to reclaim what they can, and accept and grieve what is lost in this flood.
May all of humanity recommit to living in harmony with nature, respecting the rivers and not polluting them. May it be so.