All who are thirsty, come to the waters. (Isaiah 55:1)
The Merri River has drifted in and out of my life like a gentle breeze. As I walk along it, or swim in it, I often feel like God is nearby.
My first memory of the Merri River is swimming in Stingray Bay. We were tourists back then, just visitors camping in Surfside before we later came to Warrnambool to live. I preferred the calmness of the river mouth on the days when Lady Bay was just stirring up choppy waves. Local teenage boys would often meet up for adventures along the river, just up from the Thunder Point bridge. I could see them from where my brother and I were splashing about. They would chop down large succulent flower stems and lash them together with odd bits of rope to make rafts. Then I’d watch up they paddled slowly up and down the river between the Thunder Point and Edwards bridge, standing up with an oar well before SUPs were a ‘thing’. Twain’s words from Huckleberry Finn came to mind – ‘You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.’ The river held a promise of calm adventure awaiting.
Later when I was studying Outdoor Ed at Warrnambool Secondary College, we drove out to the Woodford bridge and piled into the river with our canoes. We spent an easy afternoon paddling downstream, back into Warrnambool and all the way to Edwards bridge (negotiating a few weirs along the way). We didn’t speak much, with the quiet majesty of the river claiming us. It was a fine day, with birds flitting on the bank from shrub to shrub, and the cool dip-dip of the paddles into the water refreshing my soul.
Sandwiched between these two memories is that of my baptism in the Merri River on the bend at Warrumbit Birrang Yaar. The original plan was to be baptized in Stingray Bay, but the wind was wild that day. The sand whipped up at the perfect angle to go straight into your eyes. So instead, we drove in a great big convoy of cars out to Woodford, cars fanning out across the grass (well before the playground was there). The pine trees overhead protected us from the wind and the grey summer drizzle. The minister, mum, and us two girls getting baptized waded into the river pushing through the weeds pointing downstream.
The tranquil river has claimed me and regularly refreshes me, enabling me to go forth into the world and plant seeds of goodness where I can. I feel like I belong more to the Merri River than any connections I’ve had to the Yarra River of my birth.
On regular walks down to the river, I walk across the wooden bridge to school and look downstream. I can still see the riverweeds floating and pointing to Stingray Bay. Then I spin 180 degrees and can look upstream to where my daughter was baptized, and think of all the adventures around the corner for her, too. Ω
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together daily stories and images from people in the congregation which are focused on God in this place. Why this theme? Read this! #Lent2023. Our Spiritual Geography © Sanctuary, 2023. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Full acknowledgement of country here.
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