One of the things I love best about the Appalachian Trail is the wide availability of water along the way. Every few miles there seems to be some spring popping out of the ground or a heavy flowing creek coming down the side of a mountain. And the water is so refreshing!
Water is very important to almost every religion and culture in the world, not just because it’s necessary to survive, but for ritual purposes as well. In Judaism, we are taught about the purifying power of water. In the morning after waking up and before eating any bread (as well as wet vegetables), we are to ritually wash our hands and even say a blessing over the action in the first two cases. Water has always felt spiritually powerful to me and these rituals have held significant meaning for me since becoming Jewishly-observant.
Recently, though, I have had many more opportunities to really think about the spiritual benefit of connecting with water. When I stayed with my friend Gdei and B in Sylva, NC over Shabbat, I had two powerful encounters with water.
At dinner, Gdei and B had another friend over, Will. Jewish by ethnic background, but spiritually open to experiencing the many wonders of the Universe, he and I shared some stories. After hearing about my pilgrimage journey, he was so moved that asked if he could wash my feet, as was once a custom in ancient times. He didn’t offer it as some kind of Christian ritual, but simply one human washing another human’s feet who is on a long pilgrim’s journey. While I was reluctant at first, I could see how much this one act meant to him and it moved me too. I now look back on it as pivotal moment of my journey, one that now stirs a myriad of emotion as I reflect upon it.
On Sunday morning, Gdei took me to visit the mother mound of the Cherokee People, Kituwah. As we walked to the Tuckasegee River, Gdei mentioned she wanted to show me the Cherokee way of Going to Water. A simple ritual that involves a washing of hands, the face, and the heart in a number of steps, it has now become my morning ritual every day before morning prayers. I cannot describe how I feel right now, but I will find the words and try to relate them soon. But know this, my life is really in a spiritual upheaval on the trail right now. I am being cleansed by living waters. And to drive that point home, here is one more water story from the last seven days.
A couple days ago, we got a heavy downpour of rain and storms. Feel Good and I were about to hike over Jacob’s Ladder, a very difficult and steep climb and descent. There was a break in the clouds, so we decided to go for it. We wanted and needed to get to the next shelter as soon as possible to dry off and eat. So we trekked on, steadily climbing. About half way up, we saw that the mountain was becoming engulfed in dark clouds and that it was beginning to rain again.
*BANG* Thunder rolling in, lightning flashing. Blue glowing static electricity filled the air. We were just more than halfway up when I turned around and said “this is exactly the kind of weather we should be running from – tell me family I love them very much.” Half joking, but half scared. We went on. There was another break in the clouds, but it was short lived. By the time we made it over Jacob’s Ladder, we were thoroughly soaked. Boots, socks, pants, underwear, backpacks. Everything. But we made it. We wrestled with the mountain and survived. Two guys with Jacob-based first names, over Jacob’s Ladder, on a wilderness pilgrimage. And the rain washed us clean.
I am going to do a lot of thinking about water. Very soon we will read the Song at the Sea from the Torah as part of the Jewish observance of Passover. How appropriate as I experience the divine power of that special elixir of life on the trail.
If you are so moved and would like to contribute to my pilgrimage (thank you!!!), please visit my GoFundMe page here: http://www.gofundme.com/trekonthetrail. And please consider sharing my blog posts with your friends! Happy Passover.