At the end of the Zion National Park Canyon lies The Narrows; named for the place where canyon walls draw together, and at times leave only an arm span distance apart. The Virgin River, undaunted in its progression travels from the North, flows through the Navajo Sandstone of the Narrows and the gentle twists of the Canyon, eventually empties into Lake Mead. When the winter snows melt and spring rains arrive it is an impossible feat to traverse this space, but in the fall, the river is shallow enough you can navigate the river bed with the help of a walking stick and a good pair of water shoes.
It isn’t an easy walk. The quickly running current of ice cold mountain water can easily reach mid-thigh. The water is not clear and large rocks hidden underneath the current are invisible to the eye making each step a search for a firm place to put your foot. Some pilgrims find the deep yet sandy shoals, others encounter large boulders that can make it difficult to remain upright.
The young, fit and strong are not the only ones to take on the Narrows. Among the brave are grayed adventurers with youthful spirits and first time parents whose gentle swaying gait lulls to sleep the toddlers carried in their carrier backpacks. There are those who have trekked this river before, sure of their steps, confidence on their face. Others arrive unprepared, without water shoes or a stick to balance, and still others are barefoot, hoping for the best. While there are those who walk holding hands, most walk independently. There is a unique energy around those who walk closely together; a caring confidence they will make it through with the help of another.
As I sat on a rock resting my soul and feet, I couldn’t help but notice the manner in which people moved through the current and around the unseen obstacles. It reminded me of the various ways we navigate life. Some go with a partner, holding on to each other or cheering the other forward. Some of us go it alone, independent, in need of no one, at least that is what we think. We have learned this well in our cultural mantras of: “You can do it!” “Don’t ask for help!” “Don’t tell anyone that you need anything.” This is certainly the pattern I learned growing up. Be independent. It can feel easier to “go it alone” than to ask for help and “appear weak.”
While many started out this adventure up the river very independently, on the way back I noticed a change. Small groups formed. Strangers huddled together to plan how best way to move through the waters. They shared with each other where the deep places were and where it looked like there were obstacles or a fast current. When they came to a place in the river that felt impassable, they were more apt to laugh with each other as they stumbled along. The caution of the river was there, yet it was easier knowing you were not alone.
Life is meant to be navigated in community with other people and it can be one of the most difficult shifts to make in our lives. Community works best when we can bring our whole self, including our vulnerable places. It is hard to be vulnerable, to let another know our fears or to reveal the places where we do not feel like we are enough. And yet, in vulnerability there is great strength. And hope. Because we are truly all in this together.
These last few days our group has traversed heights, navigated quick moving currents, hiked high altitudes that brought you to your knees as you waited for your breath to return. We have practiced offering our vulnerability into the center of the circle. It is hard and yet I see that when we have offered our vulnerable places to each other, it has made us stronger, both as individuals and as a group.
This week as you reflect on your ability to navigate the waters of life consider vulnerability. What are the obstacles in your river? Who walks with you? Write down the names of two people who whom you can share the river obstacles. Doing this together makes us stronger because we realize we are not alone.