by Joni Mitchell

It's coming on Christmas

They're cutting down trees

They're putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

But it don't snow here

It stays pretty green

I'm going to make a lot of money

Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I wish I had a river so long

I would teach my feet to fly

I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me

You know, he put me at ease

And he loved me so naughty

Made me weak in the knees

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I'm so hard to handle

I'm selfish and I'm sad

Now I've gone and lost the best baby

That I ever had

I wish I had a river I could skate away on

Oh, I wish I had a river so long

I would teach my feet to fly

I wish I had a river

I could skate away on

I made my baby say goodbye

It's coming on Christmas

They're cutting down trees

They're putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

I wish I had a river I could skate away on

This summer, I jumped into a living waterfall. It was one of the most wonderfully exhilarating experiences of my life, but to be honest, I was really scared to jump. I‘d traveled with friends from my area up to Nagano, which is a more mountainous and forested part of Japan. It’s known for its ski resorts in the winter, but all of that snow becomes rivers and streams that flow from the mountains as the ice thaws. Our plan was to try out canyoning, which is like hiking up these rivers with the help of a seasoned guide. Fitted with wetsuits, life vests, & helmets, our small group of friends were tasked to press into our common goal: to plunge into the river flow; learn the current, climb the rocks, and eventually jump into a few waterfalls. Late summer is the perfect season to brave the currents of a living river.

Recently, I’ve been making work on this theme. Living in Aichi, in a town of rice fields, the flow of water is necessary for life and commerce. If I were to step out my door and go for a walk in any direction, it would be a short while before I was stopped by a steadily-moving stream, or a wide, living river. However, this winter, I have been thinking about rivers frozen in place.

Ordinary life, as lived in a pandemic, has been a challenge for all of us. At the time of my writing, the cracks of our cultures, our institutions, our relationships, ourselves, have been submitted to new levels of pressure, and what once were light and easy tasks are now imbued with an increased weight of responsibility, and consequences.

There have been aspects of this season that made me want to disappear down the surface of a frozen river. The last thing I wanted to do was face my own condition; to plunge beneath the surface of what this looks like in the context of community. I haven't wanted to climb up the risks of the mossy rock, or get caught in swirling currents of emotion. Navigating life in a body requires new rules; new ways to protect ourselves and others that have proved clumsy and uncomfortable. Communication is often confusing and misinterpreted. If the river would just freeze, I could skate away from the trouble of communion; community. If I could just let winter take me away; I wouldn't have to surrender to a current’s will. And climbing upstream is a drag, especially when deep waters swirl and eddy. What do we gain from a frozen surface? Distance. Distraction. The cold air is sterile.

Skating on a frozen surface is living in a way that requires the river to be still. It requires the water to act as a paved surface; the smoother, the better.

The water’s truth distorts as it freezes. The river loses its voice. What are we asking for when we demand a shallow life, one where the depths are forever lost to us, unless we fall, tragically, through the ice?

The ever increasing cracks have made living a surface life almost impossible to maintain. We can’t put our lives on pause and fly away; a heat and a pressure is causing this moment to be one for the climbers; for the swimmers. I wonder if we’re willing to strengthen our limbs to cling to the rock, and pass through the current as it moves? I wonder if we’re willing to commit to hearing the voices ahead of us, calling us forward on the journey, to pass the word on to those with us, as we journey through, to the living source?

Which emotions have risen to the surface? Anger, fear, offense, despair? Of gratitude, hope, and a renewed resolve?

Perhaps questions of how we can care for one another; what is required of us. What do we need to give, and give up? From a perspective of faith, I’ve had to face how I‘ve stood in the way of what God is doing in another’s life, through my obtuse selfishness.

“Most Christmas songs are light and shallow, but ‘River’ is a sad song,” Taylor told The Post. “It starts with a description of a commercially produced version of Christmas in Los Angeles . . . then juxtaposes it with this frozen river, which says, ‘Christmas here is bringing me down.’ It only mentions Christmas in the first verse. Then it’s, ‘Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on’ — wanting to fall into this landscape that she remembers.”

I have to ask, who am I attempting to create distance from when I reject depth? Often, it’s the people God has set me with, as imperfect as me; as disappointingly selfish, offended, insecure, fearful, and angry as I am. I often ask a lot of them, and come up disappointed when they can’t come through for me in the way I’d hoped they could. In essence, when they can’t be God. I need to be honest about the nature of the self. The battle we are waging, within and without, is never over this side of eternity. If we’re watching the blooms of the tree of this life opening, the challenges are about to ramp up significantly. However, there is promised a grace to endure:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. - 1 Peter 4:8

When we read the verse in Japanese,


The words used tell us that love is encouraged to not lose its heat. That is what creates the power of sincere love.

What if we were to become enamored by the beauty of the Lord? What if my experience of God is revealed not just for my benefit, but also for others to enjoy Him as well? How you perceive the Lord further completes my perception of Him. If we’re not, by grace, “in this together”, our experience is needlessly limited.

If I don’t address what offends me about how God chooses to show up in my life, or who he intends to use to “sharpen iron”, I’ll likely find myself bereft of those blessings, downstream of where I was initially led. Who else, besides myself, will this affect? It takes seasons for ice to thaw, unless we’re subject to a holy fire. Stay warm.

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