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Down by the Riverside


     My husband, Ed, does most of our grocery shopping. I feel guilty about not sharing the load, so occasionally I offer to go along. "I could do the dry goods, you could do the meat," I tell him.
     Turns out, he doesn't like to go grocery shopping with me. He says I take too long.
     It's true—I do dally. I peruse the offerings on the seasonal shelves or consider the items that hang invitingly next to the pink confetti frosting in the baking aisle. 

     I especially enjoy the chromatic array in the produce section. The glossy purple eggplant. The scarlet radishes. The red, green, and yellow peppers stacked together in a bag like the colors in a traffic light. "Stop," they whisper, "look at me."   
     So I do.

     Now, I know that these are calculated strategies by the marketing department. They dangle impulse purchases like low-hanging fruit. They arrange the eggplant to please the eye.      

     I know I'm being manipulated.

     But the kid in me? She just wants to look and look.

     My husband, though, is the son of a factory worker at Pontiac Motors. Ed himself did time in the hot, dirty, and dangerous foundry during one summer of his college years. That was enough, he said, to send him back to school.
     Of course he just wants to go to the store, get the job done, and go home. Condensation is forming on the waxed carton of milk. The ice cream is melting.
     "Keep the line moving," my husband says.

     A lot of us in the Detroit area have a punch clock embedded in our minds.
     Don't get me wrong. I prize efficiency, too. I worked at a factory in Walled Lake for one summer, operating the injection-mold machines that spat out the plastic toys sold at Kmart.

     I was raised by the son of a farmer who had a similar attitude about work. You do your chores as fast as you can because there is always something else that needs to be done. The next row to hoe. The next crop to harvest. Before rain ruins the hay or turns the fields to mud.
     My mother, also raised on a Michigan farm, had no patience with woolgathering, either. She needed all of us kids to pick beans in the garden and hull the strawberries she bought by the case. I remember September afternoons when we pulled glass jars of canned tomatoes out of the steaming kettle with the big metal tongs.

     I can still hear her voice: "Get your nose out of that book and come help me."   

     I get it.
     Life is hard work. The Protestant work ethic is bred into my bones.

     I know that if I want spotless mirrors, I have to get out the Windex and wipe. If I don't want dust bunnies, I have to wrestle the flexible hose of the Dyson into position, thrust it under the bed and suck up the stuff.

     "Days of toil, and hours of ease," the old hymn says.
     And were it not for Ed's speed, it would take two days instead of one afternoon to clean our house.

     But, still.
     Sometimes the kid in me wants to come out and play. To be released from the relentless ticking of the clock. Just to be.

     When I was in seminary, I learned that ancient Greek philosophers had two words for time. Chronos was the word for the ordinary, chronological, sequential time under which we labor.
     The Greek word, Kairos, meant something else, the crucial or right or opportune moment. In the New Testament, Kairos means "the appointed time in the purpose of God." When God acts in human history to fulfill God's purposes.


     Kairos is the word for those mysterious moments when the transcendent breaks into our humdrum existence. When time stands still.
     That's why I go to the river.
     When I am canoeing, the flow of the water soothes my mind and releases something in my soul. The chatter of "monkey mind" inside my brain ceases.
    I can listen. I can see.
    The push of the paddle becomes a prayer.
     When I get off the river, I feel less burdened. More playful. More whole.

     Kairos happens for me sometimes when I am writing, too.

     So, if you see me tapping on my keyboard at the library or loitering in the aisles at Meijer, you'll know what's going on.
     And, if you see me on the river, for God's sake, don't tell me what time it is or how many miles we have yet to go.
     I don't want to know.

     I want to stay in the moment when the world stands still, when there is nothing but the rasp of the cattails and the trill of the blackbirds in the marsh. Nothing but the press of the current against my paddle.  

     I want to be open to what God is doing around me.

     May you be given such moments when God breaks in.


Scripture: "The time (Kairos) is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand." – Mark 1:15 (NRSV).
Playlist: "Down to the River to Pray," Alison Krauss, O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000.

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