Bistrita River, Bistrita, Romania
freedom comes when we find the place where mercy starts
I could follow the winding lull and twisting rapids of a river for days. Wild and cocky, shy and modest, wise and agile, I am drawn to their banks and captivated by their steady mystery.
If you ask me about a place that I have visited, I will answer first by telling you of their rivers.
About the summers spent at my Mamaw and Papaw’s house in Mississippi, I will tell you about playing on the banks of the Chickasawhay River; swollen, deep and murky.
About my trip through Slovakia, nestled beyond the roads leading out of the capitol city of Bratislava, I will tell you of the Danube. Dug impossibly deep into the earth, the rocky ledges that make the banks are dotted by cottages and smokestacks billowing out their warmth high into the mountains that tower over them like a fortress.
Of my trips to Budapest, Hungary- I will tell you of the majestic bridges and cobblestone walkways over the Danube, the mighty river that stretches 1,785 miles across ten countries and tells a story as far back as the Romans.
And of my time living in a graciously-slow, by-gone world nestled at the foot of the Bargau Mountains, not far from the legendary Transylvania Mountains, I would tell you first of the sweet orphans I got to love on. Then, I would tell you of the Bistrita River which cuts through the heart of the city and has provided for the people since the early 1200’s. From the Slavic word bystrica, which means ‘serene water,’ the town Bistrita was named. A living, breathing, moving work of divine craftsmanship. When I think of the Romanian people- strong, resilient, peaceful and artistic, I think of their rivers. When I think of the 20 year-old-girl who went to live among them, I think of the Bistrita River and how it forever calmed something deep in my soul.
Of Santa Fe I will give you The Pecos River. Yes, I will give you my river. Every year I take a pilgrimage to the Santa Fe National Forest. I sit on the same rock- at the same bend in the river- and I learn how to be human again. For hours I sit in complete silence in a wilderness so far removed from civilization that I feel utterly unknown to any one in the world. And there on my rock, in my river, I am whole.
I believe God meets people time and time again in certain places. He certainly did in scripture.
On mountains. In our sleep. At the alter. On long runs. Within the church. And for me, at rivers.
God meets me at rivers and shows me something about myself and something about the Trinity that I do not seem to hear- or learn- or know any other way.
In the new song, Broken Hallelujah’s, I wanted to invite people into the most intimate, well-worn place where God shows up and meets me; a broken and quite flawed girl.
The most beautiful part of my spiritual journey has been realizing that God does not tolerate our state of brokenness with disengaged disdain, but embraces us, lovingly, in the midst of it.
I’m not good at faking it and pretending to be something I’m not. I’m not willing to make a bunch of empty promises that I know good and well I cannot keep. What I have learned about the Christian God is, those things are not what is required of me anyways. Instead it is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with my God. I’ve got the “walk humbly” part down. It is at the river- both physical and symbolic- that I come before the Lord and lay down my weaknesses, sin, shame, and shortcomings. And there are many.
And it is there that the Lord smiles over me. Rejoices over me. And takes sheer joy in who I am. And once again I am unashamed to be me. I am free. I am known. I am accepted. I am loved. I am cared for. I am, like a lost sheep, picked up by the Shepherd and brought to life-giving water and safety. And I find rest with the others who have also been carried back to the banks of the streams and rivers on the shoulders of a strong- gracious-relentless Shepherd intent on finding even one lost lamb.
Unmerited grace and mercy are most manifest when we find ourselves in the place where we finally understand that we need grace and mercy.
In the forward to one of my favorite books, Embracing the Love of God by James B. Smith, author Richard Foster summarizes his friend’s work by saying, “Under the overarching love of God we receive God’s acceptance of us so we can accept ourselves and others; we welcome God’s forgiveness of us so we can forgive ourselves and others; we embrace God’s care for us so we can care for ourselves and others… Nothing can touch us more profoundly than the experience of God’s loving heart.”
It is because of this type of love from God that I do not merely sing songs of brokenness, but songs of broken praise.
I have found that an offering of broken hallelujahs is the sweetest kind.
So if you ask me about a place that I have visited, I will answer first by telling you of their rivers…
where the Lord has showed up time and time again.