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Down by the Riverside

(Good) Morning

Morning Canyon, Green River, Colorado

     I'm not a morning person.
     I can relate to the coffee memes posted by one of my siblings on her Facebook page. Memes like "Morning forecast: Slightly exhausted with 100% chance of needing coffee. Scattered sarcastic comments through the afternoon." Or: "Nothing like the smell of freshly brewed magical psychotic rage stabilizer in the morning." The one I like best is: "Really, I'm pretty low maintenance—I just need my coffee and 6 or 7 hours of alone time in the morning and I'm fine."

     Only my beverage of choice is strong black English Breakfast tea.

     I, too, need time to adjust to the expectations of the day. Some Sundays when we go to church and an ebullient worship leader bursts forth with a cheery "Good morning, Church!" honest to God, I shrink back in my chair, thinking I should have ingested that tea earlier. One of my darkest secrets is that I feel like an atheist until after 10 a.m. Though I know feelings are not facts, I find it hard to believe that "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world" until after a sufficient dosage of caffeine.

     Maybe it's because I was born with a melancholy temperament. (Think Eeyore.)  When my siblings and I were going through some boxes of family photos after our mom died,  we found an album she'd put together of pictures she thought were significant. Under the cellophane pages were arial photos of the family farm, wedding portraits, reunion photos, and those tiny school pictures of us from every grade. Mom had also kept a candid photo of me at four years old, face stormy, lower lip thrust out, turning away from the camera. Mom had affixed the caption: "Sondra in a sulk."

     Apparently, this had happened more than once.

     Or, maybe I feel like an atheist until after the caffeine kicks in because I'm all too aware of suffering and injustice in the world, the endless horror show that is the morning news. 

     So, that's why I treasure memories of really good mornings. Like the morning of June 4, 2016, the day our youngest daughter, Barbara, got married. Barb had rented a gorgeous log cabin on the shores of Lake Huron for the festivities. While others were finishing their breakfasts, I took my little Sawyer Starlight solo canoe out on Lake Huron. The water was calm and all silver except for a molten path made by the rising sun. Balancing my weight carefully over the center of the canoe, I headed toward the horizon, ripples unfurling from the paddle like folds of gray silk. I breathed deeply of the sweet air, knowing that soon we would celebrate one of the most sacred moments in our daughter's life.
     I also remember a morning on a river trip that the whole family took in 2014, four days and three nights whitewater rafting on the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument. Swept along by a cool green current from the Gates of Lodore to Split Mountain Canyon, we floated by fantastic layered and uptilted rock formations. We saw bighorn sheep and black bear cubs in pocket canyons. A bald eagle calmly surveyed the river from a high cliff.

     Sometimes we paddled double or single in inflatable kayaks. Sometimes we teamed up in six-person paddle rafts. Sometimes we took it easy on an oar raft and let the guide do all the work, pivoting us around rocks or dropping us five feet into a rollercoaster of waves. Once the guide glided up to a canyon wall and showed us Fremont petroglyphs etched into the rock. What a joy to experience all this with our adult children. Describing the portion of the trip through Island Park, our oldest daughter, Laura, wrote: "The wind coming out of Split Mountain Canyon urging you to back. Don't leave. Stay forever."

     On the morning of Day #3, we sat in a circle of camp chairs on the sand eating French toast for breakfast. Sunshine brightened the slanting walls of the canyon at our backs. We gasped as a peregrine falcon rocketed upstream. Then, across the river from us, stepping daintily out of the shadows, a doe and a fawn came down to the water to drink. Spellbound, we held still and did not speak. The deer, the mist over the water, the sun rising above the remote and shadowed canyon—it was our own Garden of Eden.   

     In her most famous poem, English author Eleanor Farjeon juxtaposed God's original act of creation with her own moment of hearing a blackbird sing on a sunlit, rain-washed morning. "Morning has broken like the first morning / blackbird has spoken like the first bird."* I've sung "Morning Has Broken" many times in church, but the version I love most is the 1971 recording by Cat Stevens. The rolling piano accompaniment, the lilting Gaelic melody, and the exquisite lyrics combine to remind me: Oh, Sondra, take delight in this beautiful world. The song's purity and durable sweetness dispel my habitual gloom. 

     Today, may your delight in God's creation rise with the sun. May you praise with elation when moments of glory come. Whether calm water or tumultuous rapids await you, may you receive with gratitude the gift of this day. 

Scripture: "God said: 'Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good." Genesis 1:3-4 (NRSV)

Playlist: "Morning Has Broken," Cat Stevens, Greatest Hits, 1975. 

* Eleanor Farjeon, "Morning Has Broken," reprinted in The United Methodist Hymnal, #145.

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