How to taste a waterfall

How to taste a waterfall June 21, 2016


The Scotts Run waterfall was one of my sacred places that I used to go on my fast days when I lived in the DC suburbs. So I went back this Monday since I was visiting the area. I figured with it being a Monday, it would be quiet and peaceful as usual. I didn’t realize the local teenagers would be recently out of school and not yet locked into summer jobs. So there they were swarming all over the rocks with their cigarettes and beer bottles. And I felt like a grumpy old man.

At first I was intimidated. I thought someone would say who invited you, grumpy old man. I wanted to stand under the waterfall and taste the mysterious divine union that somehow I’ve experienced before in that place. But it seemed like the kind of thing that a 17 year old cool kid would laugh at. And for a few minutes, I became my socially awkward 17 year old self. I did what any socially awkward 17 year old would do. I took out my phone.

A few moments later, I was jolted from my Facebook trance by a cry: “There’s a snake!” And indeed there was. I’ve heard that poisonous snakes skimmer on the surface of the water while non-poisonous ones let their bodies down into the water. This snake’s body was entirely on the surface. A young man reassured me that it wasn’t poisonous as he started to get in, but then he asked me to give him a heads up if it looked like it was going to attack him.

Then a couple of dudebros thought it would be awesome to throw rocks at the snake. They actually hit it with one of their rocks and thought they had killed it. But it resurfaced a few minutes later. The dudebros obsessively tracked it around the water and attacked it like they were ancient paleolithic hunters. I was trying to figure out if they were high or just being dudebros. For the next half hour, their mission in life was to kill the snake, which would have been perfectly happy to leave us alone.

When the dudebros had chased the snake far enough away from me, I got the courage to take off my shirt, reveal my 38 year old fat, hairy torso, and wade through the midst of teenage coolness. Because I wanted to taste my waterfall. I was waiting for some teenager to giggle or roll her eyes with disgust. But they were oblivious to me. A guy and two girls were taking hits from a bong. Another girl was posing next to the waterfall while her friend snapped photos of her with her phone.

When I got to the waterfall, I plunged myself beneath it. It’s an indescribable feeling. There’s something electric about the pulsing sensation of having every inch of the top half of your body being pummeled by water at the same time. My eyes were closed, but there was a strange flashing of light, perhaps the natural refraction that the water was causing. I was in communion with God. I could taste his delight pouring out all over me. Since the water was not too thick to keep me from breathing, I stood in this posture for several minutes.

When I was done, I wanted to lecture the teenagers about worship. I wanted to teach them that waterfalls are for delighting in God, not for getting high and taking selfies. As I was thinking these thoughts, I saw a teenage girl carrying a cigarette and a beer bottle precariously across a slippery rock in front of me. I thought about how inconsiderate she was of the sacredness of this space and how furious I would be if I came along later and found a shattered beer bottle and a cigarette butt underneath the waterfall.

But she handed her beer bottle to her friend, sat down carefully, and then took it back. I was watching with bated breath to see if she was going to toss her cigarette in the water when she was done with it. Instead she doused it in the water and set it carefully on the rock next to her. Something about that gesture made me want to stop judging the debaucherous teenagers. She probably threw cigarette butts on the ground all the time as I used to do when I smoked. It’s a pain in the ass to put your cigarette out and carry the butt around with you. But her gesture said to me that on some level, she gets it; she understands this is holy ground.

So I relaxed. I decided that the sacredness of the place hadn’t been ruined by a swarm of teenagers who smoke weed and throw rocks at snakes. They’re at a different point in life than I am. It seemed like God wanted me to enjoy their company at that moment in time rather than compose a judgy blog post in my head. But I still want to teach them about fasting.

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