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Speaking Fluently

“Whoa! Dude! You got Maytagged in your Tupperware then Swirilied! You lived to tell… Righteous!”

With water pouring out of my mouth, my nose, my eyes and my ears, I squinted to see who was near me. I was struggling to find meaning in the strange language being spoken. You see, not more than a few minutes prior to this, I was sitting in the eddy behind Whale Rock on the New River in West Virginia. This was my first whitewater kayak trip on the New and that day the river was running wild! It was FAST!  It was HUGE!  It was ROARING!  And I was TERRIFIED!

I had never kayaked water this big and my imagination was running as wild as the river. I had perused the guidebooks. I had read the names and descriptions of the rapids on the map.  Some of them sprouted worrisome visions in my head. Pinball… Halls of Karma… Greyhound Bus Stopper…Thread the Needle…I was reckoning all kinds of carnage happening to me that day.

My fears grew more intense when our guide provided the running instructions for Lower Keeney.

“Ok. This here’s Lower Keeney. Skirt left and hit the eddy just above the drop. From there you’ll see the rooster tail. To the left you’ll see the tongue. Hit the tongue. It’s pretty pushy at this level so be prepared to brace. Keep one blade in the water at all times. Keep moving forward. And don’t let it knock you into the Washin’ Machine. It’s really sticky in the Washin’ Machine but you can surf it left to flush. Don’t surf right or you’ll end up down yonder in the Meat Grinder.  If you flip, try to Eskimo Roll ‘cause rescuing you and your equipment will not be easy. If you don’t have any luck with a roll, then pull the skirt and wet exit. We’ll pick ya up at the bottom of the wave train at the Halls of Karma or Lollygag dependin’ on which side you flush.”

All I really wanted to do at that moment was stay there in the eddy. Amid the noisy chaos of the river, it was a place of peace and it felt safe. But I knew it would be unfair to my group, delaying their joy of the run because of my need to sit in the comfort of the eddy. Deep down, I knew had the skills to make this run, but I was danged if I knew half of what our guide said. I quickly had a glimmer of brilliance. I’d just follow our guide and mimic everything he did and with a gulp, off I took behind him. In hindsight, what I thought was brilliance was folly.

He disappeared quickly, dropping over Lower Keeney below the horizon line. He was no longer in sight as I slipped over the top of the drop. Hearing nothing but roaring, I furiously tried to coordinate the chaos my eyes saw so that my brain could instruct my body’s movements. I did not see the rooster tail, and so I managed to maneuver exactly where he told us not to go.

SMACK! I hit the rooster tail head-on. Its dancing plumes of spray disguised the wall of water below them. The water wall brought my kayak to an abrupt halt and momentarily suspended my craft in midair. It was as if the river had me in the palm of its hand and then threw me with a slam into the middle of the agitating Washin’ Machine. I landed hard and upside down. The Washin’ Machine was loud! It was violent! And underneath my head, it was a low-oxygen environment!  As you may imagine, none of these were good things!

I felt the full power of the river as I spun and tossed about. In an attempt to upright my kayak, I tried to Eskimo roll. I needed to get my head above the waterline where glorious oxygen lived. My first attempt failed. So did my second. On my third attempt, I almost rolled up, but didn’t quite make it. I did manage to grab a big gulp of air before flopping back over. Beginning to feel exhausted and thinking I needed to give up and pull the spray skirt, I somehow managed to work my upside down kayak to the edge of the Washin’ Machine. To my surprise the Washin’ Machine spit me out onto the tongue of green water. Although I was upside down, I was back on the proper route through Lower Keeney.

My helmeted head was banging on rocks underneath the water’s surface as I sped down the river at rocket speed. Just as I was about to give up and finally pull the spray skirt so that I could wet exit, I decided to give my roll one more try.  Success! Big deep breath!  

With two final paddle strokes, I landed in the most peaceful eddy there at Halls of Karma. I was shaking and gulping air. That’s when the other kayaker startled me. He had witnessed my frightening ordeal. The strange language he spoke was accompanied by a grin. I returned his grin as he told me that he had experienced the Washin’ Machine that same way the year before. We exchanged some tales of our paddling experiences. Through the sharing, I came to understand that even though fear often crept in, the real joy was in leaving the eddies and taking on all the action the river had to give. And it was through those experiences that I learned Paddle-speak, a language full of action.

My creative mind works in strange ways sometimes. This was the memory I recalled as our elder class studied the Book of Order in preparation for examination by the Session. I was struck that like Paddle-speak, God’s language of Love is very much a language full of action. Our Book of Order states “God sends the church in the power of the Holy Spirit to exercise compassion in the world,

feeding the hungry,

comforting the grieving,

caring for the sick,

visiting the prisoners,

freeing the captives,

sheltering the homeless,

befriending the lonely.

(W-7.3001) (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 4:18-21; Rom. 12:6-8; Gal. 6:9-10; Jas. 1:27, 2:14-17)

Perhaps this is the reason GPPC’s statement of purpose and values really clicks with me. As a congregation, we use them to remind us of how we respond to God’s call. We respond with our action by worshiping God regularly, feeding ourselves spiritually and sacrificing in service to others.

We assert that God’s language of Love is indeed a language full of action. We recognize that in order to speak it fluently, we must leave our eddies of comfort. We must run the rapids of this broken world reflecting God’s love and compassion in all we do for others.

Lisa Dove has actively participated in the ministry of GPPC since she began attending last year. She answered the call to serve on our Session with enthusiasm – likewise, our request for blog contributions from our incoming elders. Lisa works in marketing and media relations for a nonprofit organization associated with community health care. She and her husband are empty nesters. “Be it on land or water,” she says, “we delight in the selcouth adventures of the great outdoors.” (You may google “selcouth” – we already have.)

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