Well of Mercy

So I spent a lot of the past month traveling around, and a lot of it exploring water.

I traveled back to the town of my earliest days, a town that really feels like prehistory to me, since the only memories I have of it are vague and unformed. There, I sat by the West Branch Schuylkill River, and had a powerful sense that I belonged there, that that river is my home, my headwaters. I know it’s not “true” in a literal way, I know that I have absolutely no roots in that town other than my claim to baptism in a church there. I can’t imagine that the water from that river was used in my baptism. But I don’t care — I have to take everything about my early childhood on faith anyway. So I choose my own story. I am from those waters in some deep, metaphorical way. And it means so much to me.

Then I traveled to the town of my known childhood, the place I grew up, the place where my memories begin. And I found myself drawn, almost magnetically, to the Nescopeck Creek. I was there at my childhood house, my childhood church, all kinds of places with all kinds of childhood memories, and the only place I wanted to go was the creek. (Well, truth be told, I also spent some time at the derelict remains of my elementary school, but I’m not sure if I want to talk about that on the blog. Maybe later — I don’t know.) There at the edge of the creek, I was overwhelmed with memories, memories of standing there playing as an 8-year-old, riding my dirt bike there as a 12-year-old, stomping in the creek as a 13-year-old, standing there crying after a breakup as a 15-year-old, walking wistfully as a 21-year-old. These waters represent my childhood so well — in a way they were my childhood. At least in one way of telling the story they were. I mean, I could tell a complete story of my whole childhood and not refer to the creek at all. (Except maybe for my suicide attempt at the Falls.) It’s not like I built a lean-to and lived in the woods beside the creek. But from a story standpoint, I can see every crucial moment of my childhood, every decision and success and setback, every new relationship, every broken promise, even the emergence of the Dark Voice — all of it seems to me now to be somehow recorded in the flowing of that water. If the West Branch Schuykill is my headwaters, then the banks of the Nescopeck are my memory banks. That water remembers. Those trees remember. That soil remembers.

And then, while seeking out a new labyrinth, I ended up just a few blocks from the first home I shared with my wife, the first home I ever owned (or at least had a mortgage on). And there, just in the background of that beautiful labyrinth, was the East Branch Perkiomen Creek, frozen solid. A snapshot of the water that flowed for four years just past our townhouse.

And this morning I went out again. I wanted to see where the water was here in my current area. I’ve lived here ten years, and I haven’t spent the kind of time in the woods nearby as I did as a child. I thought about Lake Minsi just up the road, the East Bangor Dam a little ways the other way. I ended up driving five miles to the Portland-Columbia Pedestrian Bridge over the Delaware River. I thought I would stand in the middle of the bridge and just look out, see how it felt to me. I found something much better. Right at the bridge was a trail down to the river. There was a wonderful area along the bank of the river, stretching for a few hundred yards down to where the Jacoby Creek enters the river. It was mostly wild, but there was an easy trail to follow, even with a bench, a trash can, and a few signs prohibiting alcohol (a rule I could easily tell was flouted). I loved it. It felt so right, stomping around in the leftover snow, sliding a bit on the leftover ice, finding my way around and listening to the water flowing and flowing. This is a place that just felt right.

If I had been here as a child, I would have imagined so much here, run around so much here, played in the river so much here. Now as an adult, I think maybe I can come back here every now and then. Enjoy the view, feel enlivened, maybe write a bit on the bench. I am so grateful to find such a place here. I’ve lived here for ten years, and I had no idea.

The water of my baptism flows on. I may never have known about this, but it was always here, always flowing, always welcoming me to these banks. From my headwaters through my memory banks, from a frozen snapshot by a labyrinth to a surprising new adventure, my baptism has followed me, carrying me on.

It’s no wonder my memoir is called Darkwater. That’s where I’ve been forever, surrounded and filled with the deepest, darkest water there is. The water of baptism, poured over and into me by the Holy Spirit.

From Thanksgiving for at the Font, Form E from All Creation Sings:

Your love flows through the water of baptism
joined to your life-giving Word:
your well of mercy and cleansing flood,
your sea of deliverance from death into life,
your healing river washing sin away,
your living water springing up to eternal life.
Your steadfast love fills the earth.

Shower us with your Holy Spirit.
Fill us with your love.
Clothe us and all your people with grace.
Embolden us to do justice.
Bless us to love mercy.
Guide us to walk humbly with you,
whom we thank and praise, through Jesus Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.


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