Go With the Holy Flow by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons

2022 October 25

Go with the Holy Flow

Ana Levy-Lyons

September 11, 2022

First Unitarian, Brooklyn

Part 1

You don’t really know a river until you swim in it. And you haven’t really swum in a river until you’ve done it without boom boxes playing nearby and jet skis and motorboats whizzing past you; until you’ve done it by yourself, under the open sky, in the shadow of the swaying trees. You don’t really know a river until you have been there alone with God or, as some might say, alone with yourself.

This summer I was gifted with such a moment. My husband Jeff and I had stayed overnight near the Hudson River about an hour north of here the night before we picked our kids up from camp. I went for a run first thing in the morning heading to a spot along the river that I had visited many years before. It’s known as an area with a nice beach where you can swim. Very known. The last times I had been there, it had been crowded with what felt a bit like a frat party.

But on this particular morning when I came out of the woods onto the sandy beach it was pristine, quiet, empty of people. But full, so full. Lush and shady. The beach strewn with gnarled driftwood and sun bleached logs. The steep rolling green hills and cliffs on the other side of the river. And the water – sparkling, deep and layered with colors. This water was known to the indigenous people here as Muhheakunnuk – the river that flows two ways. Because, well, it flows two ways. Freshwater flows from Lake Tear of the Clouds high in the mountains down toward the ocean. Saltwater tides flow from the ocean up, way up into the heart of the land.

As I swam I could taste the two-ness of it. The water was slightly salty and sweet, flowing both north and south, somehow warm and cool at the same time, ancient and continually renewed, constant motion and deep stillness. I floated, and with my ears underwater I could hear the voice of the river. A deep, swirling, echo-y sizzle, almost frightening in its feeling of presence.

And what was I called to do in that moment? What was my job in Muhheakunnuk’s presence? It was clear to me that my job was to surrender to it. To surrender to something so, so much greater than myself. To let it hold me, support me, and guide me just as the banks lovingly hold and guide the river itself. It was easy to do in that setting – the joy and awe and gratitude came easily. Humility was natural. Prayer was natural. Try to control or own this river? Unimaginable.

In other settings, in everyday modern life, humility doesn’t come so easily. Not for me and not for most of us. We encounter the world and we try to shape it. We ask ourselves, “What can I do with it? What can I use it for? How can I change it? How much can I change it?” For hundreds of years now we have built along the shoulders of the world’s rivers. We have bottled their waters; we have changed their courses; we have filled their bellies. We have become skilled in control and assertion; efficiencies and practicalities. And to be sure, these ingenious human capacities have their place.

But in the course of it, we have forgotten the meaning of surrender. In going our own way, we’ve forgotten how to let ourselves be supported; how to go with the flow. And with each step, the voice of the river has grown harder to hear. The great presence has gotten harder to feel.

And so, despite all our genius, the last few years many of us have felt like we’ve been struggling to keep our heads above water; the pandemic, our democracy, our ecological crisis, along with whatever personal losses we’ve been through. We feel like we have to do it all ourselves, with our own brains and our own power. We have to forge ahead, climb every mountain, ford every stream. When obstacles pile up one on top of another, we fight harder.

There’s something noble and uniquely human about swimming upstream (although, to be fair, salmon do it too). But it’s also lonely and exhausting to always be trying to be masters of our own destiny; always pushing the river. And my goodness, we spend a lot of energy fighting what is.

Song: Wade in the Water (#210)

Part 2

What does it mean to surrender to the river of our lives… to wade into the water not knowing where it will take us? Does it mean we have to accept whatever comes our way? Does it mean we have to be a doormat? A shrinking violet? A wallflower? That we can’t strive to achieve something hard? Speak truth to power? Heavens, no!

This is how I think about it: As we move through life we encounter many different currents. Some are internal – our drives and desires and fears. This week for some of us it might have been some nervousness about the first day of school. That current was tugging us back a little as we started to walk out the door of our homes. Or maybe it was excitement about seeing friends again and the current was pushing us out the door. Those are currents within us.

Some of the currents are external – the pressure of what others are doing or what our job requires of us. Maybe a loved one needs us and we feel the pull of responsibility. Or we’re moving in one direction and then the door slams shut. Some are physical – our bodies as they change; our limitations and abilities. There are currents formed by experiences – the things that happen to us. Wow, I’ve been fired from three jobs in a row! That becomes a current. And then there are all the social currents swirling around us all the time – we are advertised to, barraged with news good and bad, seduced by our smartphones, regaled with new information …

We are pushed and pulled in a hundred directions. In a world like this, going with the flow, surrendering to the current, isn’t so simple, even if you want to do it, because… which one? Wade in which water?

This is one of life’s big questions. And I believe that it goes far beyond the limits of what our brains can handle. Rational calculations will not help with these existential questions. Our own strength will not get us there. This is where we need to invite in a deeper wisdom.

Whatever we may call it – our higher power, our innermost self – I believe there is a wisdom available to us if learn to trust it. But we have to go a place with no boom boxes or motor boats; no cellphones; a place where we can feel small in the presence of something greater. Maybe it’s a beach, maybe it’s here at this worship service, maybe it’s a bedroom with the door closed and a candle lit. Go to that place, let go of the need to control, and listen for guidance. The voice of the river, that low echo-y sizzle, will speak to those who listen.

I believe that each of us can find, not just any flow, but the holy flow that is just for us. The right current for who we are called to be. It might not be the smoothest ride. It might be one that will carry us over rapids or drop us over a waterfall. It happens. But when we find the flow with which we are meant to go, it can be transformative; life-giving for us and others.

And when we find our holy flow, I want to suggest that we don’t just passively float along. We align ourselves with it; we ally ourselves with it. We take a deep breath, face downstream, and swim. Because the beautiful thing is, in this life, whether it’s in our families, in our work, in our schools, or in our congregation, we’re not just along for the ride. We collectively make the current what it is. We form part of our own holy flow. Because a river doesn’t have just one source – it is fed, it is created by every raindrop, every surge of the ocean tides, every little stream and tributary. The rivers of our world are created by all of us together.

When we have our Water Ceremony in a little while we’ll be enacting this mystery together. Each of us is going to pour some of our water into one of the two basins in the side aisle chapels or into this beautiful baptismal font from 1853. This will be a current, flowing from each of us. We will be carried by the flow as we create the flow. The water that results, part salt-water, part fresh water, some chlorine, tap water, hospital water, vacation water, sink water, trillions of microorganisms, … this water we will call holy.

Let’s pray together.


God, Muhheakunnuk, Earth Mother, higher power, deepest self, source of wisdom, we open ourselves to your guidance. We stand before you in humble gratitude for the many streams and currents of this world. Fill us with awe; help us to let go, just for this moment, of the need in us to try to grasp and own and control; release the tightness in our shoulders, our brow, our chest. For this moment let us trust in something greater than ourselves. Let us melt into what is – the warm and the cool, the north and the south, the ancient and the new, the deep and the wide, the salty and the sweet. Carry us through. Carry us when we need to find the right words. Carry us when we greet a new day. Carry us when we are lost and scared. Carry us when we make choices, big and small. We open our ears to your voice. Help us find our holy flow and we will enter it with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength.

Comments are closed.