Lessons Learned on The Humber River

The Very Rev’d Catherine Short (left) and her friend and fellow priest, the Rev’d Tanya White, with the rafts and “one paddle each” that they had on their journey down the Humber River this past September.
The Very Rev’d Catherine Short (left) and her friend and fellow priest, the Rev’d Tanya White, with the rafts and “one paddle each” that they had on their journey down the Humber River this past September.
By on December 1, 2021
Photography: 
Rick Short
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We often speak of the difference between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality.’ As an individual ordained to serve the Lord and the Church, it is impossible to identify where one ends and the other begins. After a long absence from work battling rectal cancer, and the gift of restored health and return to work, I have come to discover, as I am sure many before me have, that after any life-changing event, you are changed forever.

I find it difficult to be seen as weakened in any way because of my journey, and deliberately set out on occasion to prove to myself and others that I am a strong woman. An occasion such as this arose in August—it proved to me that strength and weakness are mirror images of each other in many ways.

This article is an excerpt from my sermon from August 29th, and I share it in the hope of encouraging others.

As you all know I faced a health crisis over this past two years that has changed me forever. In some ways I can look at it as a gift, a gift from above. That might sound odd because let’s be honest: who among us would choose a 15-month battle with cancer! But, it has always been my mindset that if God is in one thing, he is in everything! And I truly believe that with every fibre of my being; God is in every aspect of my life; good, bad, or indifferent. Sometimes it is a little more difficult to find his purpose but it always stands out at some point, whether it be an interaction with someone in my ministry, or in scripture, or as happened this week (August 23rd), on the Humber River.

Whenever I speak of my own experience, I am deeply aware that others may not have had the same outcome as I have had thus far, or may still be deeply in the midst of a difficult battle, either mental or physical. It is with that in mind that I find the strength to—from time to time—share my story with you.

As I keep telling you, this space—this pulpit—is a very vulnerable space.

With the words from the letter of James in mind, to be a doer of the word and to take a really good long look in the mirror at myself, I want to share with you what I did on Monday afternoon and what it awakened in me.

Marie White, Samantha Kenny, Rev’d Tanya, Rev’d Kay, and Cindy Eddison, in calm waters, on their raft adventure on the Humber River
Marie White, Samantha Kenny, Rev’d Tanya, Rev’d Kay, and Cindy Eddison, in calm waters, on their raft adventure on the Humber River

Facebook memories kept reminding me all week that this week last year I was in hospital with an immune system so weakened by chemotherapy that my body wasn’t strong enough to fight two very small sores that had developed. 

I found myself in what they call “reverse isolation” for my own protection, with IV antibiotics for the better part of a week, pretty much alone because Rick was the only one allowed to visit due to a combination of the COVID-19 restrictions and the isolation requirements. It was a pretty low moment for me—and that isn’t easy for me to say—but it was my reality at the time. Needless to say, prayer guided me through this valley, both my own and yours.

Also, this week last year, several of my friends, fellow priest Rev’d Tanya White included, fulfilled a dream of theirs and rafted down the Humber River. I was ever so jealous of them! And I made them promise if they did it again, that I could go with them. Which brings me to this Monday, as I found myself petrified but reinforced by my memories and my faith, in a raft on the Humber River. This may be an every day occurrence for some of you, as it obviously was for the many who zoomed past us, but it was anything but that for me. This day, earmarked as clergy wellness, became a very spiritual journey!

What started out as a way for me to prove that I was no longer weak, in body or in spirit, turned out to be filled with life lessons I could not even imagine. As with every other difficulty I have faced in life, I was not completely alone in my raft. The five of us tied our rafts together; we each had one paddle, and very little experience, but off we set. This is where some of the life lessons come in.

We tried to stay in the calm parts of the river because we figured that would be easiest. We quickly discovered that those in the rougher waters were being aided in their journey by the force of nature. So, we slowly made our way to the rougher section. It was in those moments, when we didn’t have to work so strenuously, that I could put my head back and enjoy the ride and give praise and thanksgiving to God for this gift of strength and recovery. At one point when we were in the calmer waters, a rope broke loose, and one of my companions was separated from us. But because things were calm, and there were still four of us, we were easily able to paddle to her and easily reattach the rope. As we approached the rapids, we picked up speed and all exclaimed with excitement, “We’re moving now!” Then I heard everyone else exclaim, “Kay’s rope has broken!” The force of the uncoupling sent them quickly down the rapids and me into calm waters. It is astounding how quickly so much really rough water separated us, with them not being able to fight against the stream, and me—with my one paddle—not able to get myself back into the rough waters that would take me towards them.

I didn’t panic, or become fearful—after all, I have gotten through worst. After a few moments I saw a gentleman on a sea doo making his way towards me. I was being rescued through the kindness of a stranger. As he towed me towards my friends to be reattached for the last leg of the journey, I was deeply aware of the lesson being taught. We are lost and alone in the difficulties of life without the help of those who support us on our journey and the rescuer to whom we cling.

As often happens, what started out as a way for me to prove that I am a survivor reminded me that we are nothing without those who accompany us through the difficult times: most especially our Lord and Saviour!

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