Sacred Rivers

Christine, Michelle and I are heading off on a new river journey inspired by some of the stories we found along the Yadkin. We want to tell the story of how people from different religious and cultural backgrounds connect with American rivers through ritual. We’ve told the story here of the churches that use the Yadkin and its tributaries for baptisms. And as we travel further afield we will bring you more stories about the convergence of faith, community and some of America’s greatest rivers. We spent a weekend in August in Buffalo, N.Y. with the Hindu community there, celebrating the annual rededication to the religious study along the banks of the Niagara River. Last month we celebrated Tashlich, a ritual tossing away of sins, along the banks of the Hudson River with the diverse Jewish community of New York’s upper west side. And we are also interested in looking back to our nation’s past by telling the stories of Native Americans and their connections to our rivers.

We began close to home, in Stokes County beside Double Creek, a tributary of the Dan River, with Joy Truluck and Matt Scheidt for the blessing ceremony of their infant boy, William.  Joy and I go way back. Her daughter and my son were in preschool together in the late 1990s. We both divorced and remarried and she has a 13-month-old son. Christine took family portraits of them earlier this year and when it was time to bless William they asked Christine if she would take photographs again. We all liked the idea of the story behind a family that was creating its own river ritual.

A couple of days ago On Being, Krista Tippett’s show on American Public Media, posted William’s blessing story on its blog. I hope you enjoy the first installment in our project on sacred rivers.

Joy and Matt were both raised with ritual, Matt in the Catholic church and Joy in the Episcopal church. But they decided they wanted to create their own tradition – drawing on the faith of their youth and the connections they’ve made in their adult lives. There was much for them to celebrate this year. Matt is a geologist and works with heavy equipment. Two years ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury when a drill bit fell on his head.  Five days later, Joy learned she was pregnant with their child. At first, it wasn’t clear whether Matt would survive and then whether he would recover. So the ritual they designed was more than a celebration of their son. It was a celebration of his father’s survival and of the community of family and friends who supported them these last two years.

Joy and Matt told us much of this as guests were beginning to arrive Sunday afternoon May 29 at a retreat in the Saura Mountains owned by a friend of theirs. Some of us are drawn together by a common faith, by work, by school or by neighborhood. The community that gathered around Matt and Joy were drawn together originally through the practice of Tai Chi, one of the martial arts. They met at the Golden Flower studio in Winston-Salem. Their Tai Chi master San Gee Tam and his wife and Annukka Holland own 200 acres of land in Stokes County and have opened their place up as a retreat they call Heavenly Way. Late May is hot in North Carolina. We left the lodge around 2:30 and headed across a field with the Saura Mountain range ahead of us and down a steep hill until we reached an old farm pond.

“As you know, William’s arrival to this world took place during a tremendous time for our family,” Joy began, reading from the script she and Matt had composed. “The support of our community was a blessing of a thousand folds. Throughout my pregnancy, Matt’s acute and sub acute phases of healing, and into William’s first year of life, you all have been here for us. Thank you.”

Joy and Matt chose a river blessing because they believe in the restoring quality of nature and water – and of play. For Joy, rivers take her back to her childhood. And for Matt, they connect him with the natural world. From the field, we headed into the cool of the woods, singing the old spiritual that many of us knew not from church but from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou.

“As we went down in the river to pray

Studying about the good ol’ way

And who shall wear the starry crown?

Good Lord, show me the way!”


When we reached the creek, Matt, Joy, Joy’s daughter Lili, Matt’s brother Bill and Joy’s sister Miriah clambered down the bank to the water. Someone handed William to his parents. Bill and Miriah, the godparents, promised to guide and protect William, and Lili, his big sister, promised to help her mother and stepfather raise her baby brother.

Trees hung over the creek from both sides of the bank, the water ran over flat river rocks and Joy’s ideas about rivers and play came true. William sat splashing in the shallow creek and soon everyone else was in the water, splashing and skipping stones. And so a river ritual was made.

Phoebe Zerwick, October 2011

~ by yadkinriverstory on October 28, 2011.

2 Responses to “Sacred Rivers”

  1. Loved the clip of ‘River Blessing’ I caught on the On Being blog. I’m going to be watching how ‘Sacred Rivers’ develops. Love the concept and the work you’ve done so far.

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