Tears welled up during a recent morning walk when Josh Groban’s song “River” came on the playlist.

I was not familiar with the song, yet the powerful lyrics and soothing melody delivered in Groban’s rich, self-described “tenor in training” voice transported me to a place of soothing peace and comfort – solace.

I hit replay and listened to the song again, this time with tears trickling down my face. The expression, “seeking solace,” has continued to rattle around in both my head and my heart.

My connection to the song is far deeper than, “Hey, that’s a great song!” As a youngster and teenager, practically all our family vacations and extended family holidays were spent at the river – the Sabine and later Big Cypress Bayou in East Texas – primarily to accommodate my dad’s penchant for hunting and fishing.

Yes, he enjoyed the sport but also provided most of the meat on our table. Playing in the woods, swimming in the cool river waters, and building sandcastles on the then pristine sand bars hold many fond memories and evoke peaceful, comforting feelings – a place of solace.

Today, as an adult, when my world feels crowded, confused and chaotic, I still often go “down to the river,” my parent’s former home on Big Cypress Bayou, seeking solace. Sometimes that solace comes with the company of family, but lately more often with quiet and solitude.

A body of water reflecting the image of the trees along the shoreline.

(Photo: Brenda McWilliams)

For me, being down at the river feels like returning to all that is true and real in life – me, the presence of God, the sense of family, rest and work. Other than my current home, down at the river is the closest I can come to “going home.”

I am reminded of Diana Butler Bass’s statement in Grounded: Finding God in the World — A Spiritual Revolution that home is a relationship, a physical place and God. Are our places of solace where we find God – our relationship and our home with God?

We may seek solace in a variety of places and ways, some perhaps unique to the individual and others rather common or universal. Each of us has those special “thin places” of solace where, according to Eric Weiner in Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, “the distance between heaven and earth collapses.”

Perhaps the thin place, the solace, is in the consistency of the flowing river, the majesty of steadfast mountains, the roll and tumble of ocean waves, the vastness of a fierce desert landscape, the giggle of a grandchild, or the gracious smile of a spouse.

Wherever we seek our solace, it is paramount that we be there, be fully present and be receptive to all that is offered to us.

To be might very well be our primary prerequisite and difficulty in truly seeking solace – simply to be as opposed to being busy, being heard, being accomplished, being productive, being right, being applauded. Is this not the imperative given us in Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God”?

Let’s not forget the examples Jesus set for his followers as he walked beside the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 15:29), sought solitary places (Mark 1:35), went out beside the lake (Mark 2:13), went out to the mountainside (Luke 6: 12-13) and went across the river Jordan (John 10: 39-41) as he sought solace and solitude with his God.

In our spiritual journeys we – at least, I – want to be mindful and intentional in not allowing seeking solace, solitude and being at home with God to become lost in the busyness of active compassionate ministry and social justice advocacy.

All are essential, yet I have no doubt that seeking the solace of, being still with, and knowing God is the fuel that runs the engine of all meaningful ministry and advocacy work.

I’ll take a bit of creative license with 1 Corinthians 13:13 and say, “Now these three remain: ministry, advocacy and seeking God. But the greatest of these is seeking God.”

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