Ben steered with his oars and called out paddling commands from his perch above us on the back of the raft. I expected we would go down the middle of the river, but he immediately takes us from one side to the other. He then directed us to the first of the rapids. I then realized it is not just how you go into a rapid, but from where you approach it. The journey would be from dot to dot. I could see the map in Ben's head as he plotted it out for us. He knew this river. He knew its moods. He had to test out his crew before he knew how he could navigate us on this waterway he called a friend.
As his confidence grew in our ability to listen and follow his commands, he started talking about the river. We approached the various rapids at his command. Sometimes getting soaked, but other times just riding the waves. I started to get a feel for which waves would be wet, and which would just be a wild ride.
Ben would take us through the rough parts of the water but then slow the boat after so we could appreciate our surroundings. He would point us back up the river so we could appreciate where we had been, and how beautiful it was. He especially wanted to point us back to the rapids we had just conquered, showing us how powerful yet elegant they were. Ben pointed out the springs coming from the sides of the river bank, the birds that would dance and play just above the water, and the rock formations that were made by man and mayim(water) through the ages. He told us about the native Americans who had been here long before, and the white men who came to explore this sacred land.
Ben had a playful side. He liked to have fun with his crew. At one point he taught us how to "surf" behind this large rock at a special place in the river. We maneuvered into position at the side of the river, then he swung us around right in front of a large bolder. The water rushed over the rock as we swung in front of it. The raft was positioned so that as we swung in front, all the water going in front of the rock started pouring into the front of the raft, where my son and I were. The deluge of water was rushing in for several moments as we experienced the stationary power of the river, emptying on top of our legs. Novel as it was, we needed to get out. He gave the order, All Back. We tried to stroke against the current, but it was like pressing against a wall. We remained stuck for another moment as Ben decided the best way to get unlodged from the surf. He did something magical from the back. I call it magical because I don't know what he did. We broke free and the water pushed us forward. Aiming back down the river our journey continued.
All through the journey Ben often mentioned the waterfall, which had only been opened up a few days earlier to adventurers to go over it. Ben kept saying how he didn't want to go over the waterfall. A guide only a few days earlier suffered a concussion going over. Even an experienced guide had his limits. Fear is a friend in times like this.
The Journey of a Lifetime
Our experience with the River and with Ben that summer taught me some valuable lessons. Being a spiritual guide on the river of life is an interesting challenge. Many people come into our community wanting to explore an ancient tradition. For some, this ancient tradition is something that their parents or grandparents were in tune with, but not them. For others looking to expand their life meaning, they are seeking connection to the ancient traditions of their Messiah they've known for so long, but never fully understood.
For me, I've been navigating this river for awhile now. I've fallen in love with it and tried to learn its ways. I know where it is calm, and I know where it will test the best of us. As a guide, my job is to keep us all on top and to appreciate the river. I can relate to all of Ben's lessons to us in the raft. As a leader in a spiritual community, I have the job of helping people down the river of life while appreciating its beauty and dangers.
Ben taught me the most important lesson of all. The crew in the boat needs the guide, and the guide needs the crew. The guide can't take a large boat down the river alone. The raft needs strong people in the boat, working together, working strong. Without the right crew, we all will sink. When the crew and the guide work together and respect the river, we all go where no one person could go before. All forward!