We have lived close to a little river for over ten years. It’s called the Kells Water. We have often looked out at it as we drove in our car over the small stone bridge that carries the country road leading to our local town. Now and then we have stopped for a few minutes when out on a Sunday afternoon walk to peer over the inauspicious bridge walls to the water below. We have always admired the view.
Somehow, during these lock-down days, the Kells Water river has taken on a new significance. It’s been a kind of revelation: standing beside its clear, cool waters; watching its unstoppable, onward dance; listening to its enchanting music. We have started to plan mini-excursions to reach its leafy banks, to look at its loveliness, to be held, for a time, in the sway of its charm. It may not be an exaggeration to say that this little river has brought us joy.
The Kells Water finds its source up in the hills near Glenwherry, nestled in the green glens of Antrim, just a few miles from Slemish where St. Patrick tended his sheep. It flows down towards the adjacent villages of Kells and Connor, at the heartland of the Irish linen industry for two centuries. Eventually it joins the river Maine, and its tributary waters flow out into Lough Neagh.
The villages of Kells and Connor, and the town-lands we walk through to reach our river vantage point, are not known only for Irish linen. For this little corner of Ireland is astonishingly rich in Christian Heritage. Historical sources point to Connor as a monastic settlement in the Early Christian period. There was an Augustinian abbey in Kells until the seventeenth century. And the vicinity of the Kells Water witnessed the humble beginnings of the great 1859 Revival, when four friends met in a local school house to pray.
These days in Kells our church meetings take place on-line. Our sermons are recorded and delivered to us digitally. But the source is the same. For the people who lived here in 1859, and in the seventeenth century, and in Celtic Christian Ireland, turned to Scripture. This week as a church family we turned to Psalm 46, a Hebrew song of refuge, of the Sons of Korah, written for the director of music at the Temple of Israel.
This ancient, Old Testament song lifts our eyes to another river: a river “whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells”. We are given a glimpse of the same river by St. John in the last book of the New Testament: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb”.
Our virtual church gathering today included a song written by contemporary Irish hymn writer and singer, Kristyn Getty, who grew up not far from here. Her song calls out to all of us who are tired and broken, that we might find peace and rest by living waters. Where can we find these living waters? They flow down to us in the ageless stream of God’s love and mercy: they are an eternal source of joy that reaches from age to age; a river of cleansing, of healing, of life. They flow out to us from the cross of Christ.
I am thankful that in recent weeks our beautiful river in Kells has been a reminder to me of the great river of God’s mercy and love. Of our God who is a very present help in times of trouble. Of the trees on the banks of the clear, crystal river flowing through the New Jerusalem, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Of the joy of the Lord that is our strength.