Since the end of February, I’ve been starting the day with a walk. I heave myself out of bed, pull on some clothes and head out when it’s quiet. I now know what buildings or natural features show that I’ve walked 30 minutes from my house. One day I realised I must be near the river Clyde because I could see the cranes. After looking at the map that night, I realised that if I made some adjustments to my route I would come to the river. I’m always drawn to water and so the next morning I set off to see the Clyde.
When I got to the railway viaduct, I realised that the little white section on the map was a footbridge which would take me across two major obstacles: the railway line and the Clydeside expressway. The metal bridge was not a thing of beauty, but it was sturdy enough and soon I was on the other side of the river. Although I knew perfectly well that the same lockdown pertained there, I was taken aback by the sense of exhilaration I felt on the south side of the river. I suddenly remembered what it felt like to be free; to be able to do what I wanted and go where I wanted at any time I wanted. I saw beautiful copper brew kettles in the Clydeside distillery. I saw the tall ship outside Riverside Museum and thought of it sailing out into the Atlantic and beyond.
I began my new routine because I kept falling asleep when trying to pray in the morning. So I was intentionally seeking God’s presence. In that strange way he has of being there and not being there, I do find him. Sometimes I sense his presence. Sometimes it’s on reflection that I see what he’s been doing. That morning he was soothing my mind and drawing my spirit into his peace because he was at the root of the experience – the river was his creation. The engineering and brewing skill that made the kettles were his gifts to people to enable us to live well in his world.
Reflecting a little more, I thought of the way Christians have used the river as an image of our journey from this life to the next. In that river, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim is assailed by terrible fears and doubts about his salvation. He is helped by his friend Hopeful who says, ‘Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is sound’. As Hopeful is manhandling his friend across the river, the Lord appears to Pilgrim who cries out ‘Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you”. Hopeful and Pilgrim make the rest of the crossing quite easily as the water is shallow.
Bunyan is unerring in his spiritual guidance. Although death may be terrifying, even to the extent of provoking doubt about salvation, we are carried over by Hope and met by Jesus on the way.
On the other side, I felt free.
And the trumpets sounded for Christian on the other side.
Beth Dickson fellowships with West Glasgow New Church