I didn’t have to paddle. Instead, Lucas did the steering up front while Keith supplied the power from the rear. I sat in the middle on a cushion with a pair of binoculars and the backpack of water bottles and snacks, like a queen in a floating sedan chair.
On this trip we were able to identify the water bird we chased upriver the last time—a kingfisher giving a strident rattling call as he dove from a tree limb and skimmed the water, racing around the river’s bend. Once I was able to catch his profile, high atop a dead cypress, a bird over a foot long with a shaggy, blue-gray crest and back, and a heavy, pointed bill. After we left one behind, we soon came upon another. These birds are highly territorial and know not to cross the invisible boundaries.
Every time we passed fallen trees in the water, I raised the binoculars again and was usually rewarded with one or more turtles sunning on the logs, some with shells as large as hubcaps, some brave and daring as we paddled closer, others slipping quietly into the water as soon as they sensed us closing in, with no splash at all, a perfect score in Olympic diving.
If it were just me, I would have been happy to continue on like that, a peaceful, beautiful, relaxing float on the water. But with two guys, both of whom have the adventure gene in them, it was not to be.
We often passed small streams emptying into the larger river, but also a few backwaters—larger, deeper creeks that quietly flowed into the river. Lucas pointed one out over our shoulders as we passed it, and Keith suddenly said, “Want to go up it?”
Lucas grinned, “Sure!” So with a little effort they managed to turn the canoe and paddle upstream to the tributary.
It was obvious no one had canoed that waterway in years. The banks were overgrown and we stirred up more wildlife in fifteen feet than we had on the whole river. Immediately we came to a tree trunk fallen over, spanning the width from one side to the other, probably ten feet. All of us had to lie down in the canoe in order to get past it. Still we paddled on, through water lilies, cypress knees, and flooded out brush. Eventually, after a couple hundred yards, we could go no further. The stream narrowed and water plants blocked the way, allowing the water itself to seep through, but too thick for a vessel of any size. So we turned the canoe again, a little more trouble in the narrow inlet, and headed back out to the river, ducking one last time as we neared the mouth of the stream.
It was fun to go where no one had been for a long time. It was interesting to see things we could not have seen in the middle of the river and would never have seen where several canoes a day disturb the isolation. But it was also good to get back to the river, where we knew others had paddled and we would ultimately find our goal—the beach just past the second bridge.
Meditating can be a lot like that. If all you ever do is travel the same old path, paddle the same old stream, what will you find that others have not found before you? The scriptures talk about musing, pondering, and meditating on God’s word, on his statutes, on the things he has done. If we want to grow in the word, we need to do exactly that, and it may require going places we have never been, thinking thoughts we have never thought, wondering about things we may never be able to find out one way or the other. But isn’t that what growth is all about? Isn’t that why we often sit and listen in wonder at teachers who have dared to do those things, and who always make us see a passage in a different light, in a deeper, exciting way? I would much rather learn from a man like that than sit in a class where all we ever hear are the same old platitudes.
But even more I would love to find those things on my own, and that will never happen unless I start thinking on my own, daring to wonder about things that may even seem a little heretical. Most of the time, we will discover that they aren’t, that someone else found them before we did, and another old chestnut that is simply wrong will be debunked.
Yet we must always be tethered to the larger river. We must always recognize when it is time to turn around and come back. Exercising our minds in the scriptures is a marvelous thing. It brings understanding, Psa 119:99. But God warns us to keep our eyes fixed on his commandments, Psa 119:6, so we don’t get so far off the beaten track that we never find our way back and are snared by the backwoods trappers who lie in wait. It’s one thing to lie down in the boat so we can pass under a “low bridge.” It’s another to get so entangled in the water brush that we cannot get loose.
So today while you paddle your way down the river of life, be sure to check out a tributary or two. But always be aware of the bowline that tethers you to God’s law, and turn around before you stretch it so tight that it breaks.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psa 19:13,14.