On June 19, 2021, St. Lawrence Regional Gathering took a contemplative walk after a morning hearing about the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and its impact on the life of Kahnwake. We had also heard an explanation of legal issues under discussion about the personhood of rivers. For this contemplative exercise, walkers were encouraged to walk by water if they could.
Montreal Meeting has taken two contemplative walks during different seasons in the last year. Since the pandemic made it impossible for us to walk together, we used Zoom to gather for readings and worship sharing around our individual walks. Some chose to walk in the city, some by lakes, some in the countryside. One person returned repeatedly to the Reflective Pool in the garden of the Sulpicians in downtown Montreal. After we walked, we shared in worship the insights which came out of these intense and meditative encounters with spirit.
Below are the readings we read to each other at St. Lawrence Regional Gathering, adapted to the theme of rivers.
Readings before taking the walk:
As I silence myself I become more sensitive to the sounds around me, and I do not block them out. The songs of the birds, the rustle of the wind, children in the playground, the roar of an airplane overhead are all taken into my worship. I regulate my breathing as taught me by my Zen friends, and through this exercise I feel the flow of life within me from my toes right through my whole body. I think of myself like the tree planted by the “rivers of water” in Psalm 1, sucking up God’s gift of life and being restored. Sometimes I come to meeting for worship tired and weary, and I hear the words of Jesus, “Come unto me, all that labour and are weary, and I will give you rest.” And having laid down my burden, I feel refreshed both physically and spiritually. This leads me on to whole-hearted adoration and thanksgiving for all God’s blessings.
From Philadelphia Yearly Meeting “Extracts on Experience and Faith”, #47
Today as we walk, we honor rivers and bodies of water, both pristine and damaged. We mourn the destruction our mindless busy-ness has inflicted on nature. Our hearts cry with the beasts of the field as written in Joel 1, verse 20: “The beasts of the field cry unto thee, for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.”
But we walk and create in hope, in a world which God continually sustains and regenerates. Isaiah 41 verse 18 assures us, “I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, the dry land springs of water.”
Brief silent worship, broken by these readings:
What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6: 8
Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
for we walk by faith, not by sight—
2 Corinthians 5:7
You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.
How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
Friends leave to embark on their individual walks: about 40 minutes.
After returning from their walks, Friends share a moment of silent worship, ended by these readings:
..as Friends love to say, our worship does not begin when we sit down together in our public assemblies, nor end when we leave them. The worship in spirit and in truth is in no way limited by time and place.”
Caroline Stephens, Quaker Strongholds, 1890
God is never far away. God’s Spirit is always so close—closer than breath. But unless we stop and listen, we might not notice. We practice listening. We listen with our whole selves—with our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our imaginations, our creativity, our souls.
Faith & Play Working Group, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 2008
After a period of worship sharing, we close with final readings:
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth.