Last week was the first week of Lent. (Those of us who follow the Julian Calendar are running five weeks behind the rest of the world this year.) All week, wherever I turned, I kept running into river imagery.
On the weekdays of Lent, the Byzantine lectionary gives us Genesis and Proverbs. On the first day of Lent, we begin with the first chapter of each, and we work our way through both over the next six weeks. I read Proverbs last year, so this year I’m reading Genesis. Once again I came upon Genesis 2:10: “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” I lingered over the image, and it remained with me in the following days.
Last week’s tothesource column was a critique of Richard Dawkins’ condemnation of the politically incorrect God of the Old Testament. (Bottom line: Dawkins elsewhere describes the world as indifferent to good and evil; this leaves him no basis for condemning God or anything else.) The article cited Dawkins’ 1996 book, River Out of Eden, whose title is an obvious reference to the Old Testament he now so despises.
While doing some number crunching, I listened to The Turning, the 1987 album by Leslie Phillips (who later re-christened herself Sam Phillips). This album was her first collaboration with producer (and later husband) T Bone Burnett. The first song on the album is Burnett’s “River of Love,” which begins with the line, “There's a river of love that runs through all times.” The line itself winds through the song like a river, repeated before each verse and again at the end of the song. The song’s three verses are about different sorts of rivers – rivers of grief, tears, and fire, respectively. Each of these rivers is evoked in detail, unlike the river of love. Yet, when each verse ends, the river of love is still flowing. As if to reinforce the song in my mind, I heard it again the next day on Burnett’s own self-titled album of 1986.
The boom box on which I listened to these CDs at work is showing its age. Before I can play a CD, I need to hit the play button repeatedly for a minute or two. Recently, while waiting for a CD to start playing, I have been working my way through Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 34, which I read last week, begins with the image of the Tao as a flooding river. It flows everywhere, nourishing all, yet without exalting its own role.
Upon creating man, God placed him in Paradise, which was watered by the river. After our first ancestors’ expulsion from Paradise, their descendants clung to the river, eventually spreading south into Mesopotamia along two of the river’s branches. Though they were deprived of Paradise itself, they still had the river that had sustained their life in Eden. Though fallen, they were not deprived entirely of God’s love for them. Likewise, as we work our way through Lent, continually reminded of our fallen state, we are nourished by signs of God’s love, flowing through it all.