Many Rivers to Cross (When We All Get to Heaven)

Annie Lennox performing at the human rights rally during the international AIDS conference 2010 in Vienna as part of the SING campaign.

When I was little, my mom used to say when she got to heaven all she wanted to do was sit at Jesus’ feet and weep.

Though I’ve always had trouble figuring out what I would do when I got there, I thought my mom’s picture was beautiful…for her.

My mom has a strong spirit and there are times I feel her spirit in me.

I felt it last night.

There is pain in this world – the world, version B – the one we don’t see. Does an african family consisting of only of four brothers really go into town, each one of them, for AIDS testing?

It happens, and though we don’t see it happen, God does.

What does God think as family members and entire childhoods are ripped from these children, leaving them full of fear and loneliness?

Ten years ago I would lead worship services and do my best to drum up some sort of emotion within those sitting in the pews, looking for Jesus. A part of me has always thought they were looking in the wrong place. Most of me still does.

He’s not in all your worship songs with key changes and grandiose musical endings.

That’s what I’d like to go back and tell them. I’d like to tell them that he’s small. That he resides in the tiny piano ballad written after an excursion to see those dying of disease in a land that remains curable, if only…

Last night I watched Annie Lennox sing these words:

Many rivers to cross
But I can’t seem to find my way over
Wandering, I’m lost as I travel along
The white cliffs of Dover

Many rivers to cross
And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
I’ve been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my pride

And this loneliness won’t leave me alone
It’s such a drag to be on your own
Lovers left me and I don’t know the reason why
Well, I guess I’ll have to cry

I’ve got many rivers to cross
But just where to begin, we’re playing for time
There have been times when I’m by myself
Thinking of committing some dreadful crime                                       

There are many rivers – many, many rivers… 

…so many rivers…

It was the most beautiful thing I had heard in a long time. And sitting there, I thought of all the people in all the church services I had led over the years, trying to see Jesus – hoping they’d find him in their sanctuaries, calling down blessings on them or sending shivers up their spines. Yet as I sat in my living room, I could’ve sworn he was wearing an HIV Positive t-shirt, sitting at a grand piano, and wailing the blues of what I’ve always felt was true – that I’ve been licked, washed up for years. And that I merely survive because of my pride.

In my mom’s image, I always pictured Jesus in a robe, long hair and a beard, taking in her worship and tears – believing her. But when I get to heaven, I don’t think I will be singing at all. I’ve always thought I would – hands up, singing my guts out to Jesus.

But maybe Jesus will be singing to me.

Maybe he will be sitting at a piano, singing the blues. I wouldn’t mind it at all. I’d love to hear him sing and tell me there are many rivers to cross – but I had found my way over. And I don’t think I’d be a bit surprised if he didn’t have a beard at all, but instead looked sort of like Annie Lennox, or at least how she looks when she sings, which is gorgeous, stunning, compassionate, powerful, resolute. All the things I long for in a person…in a Savior. And all the things I need. Especially when there are…

…so many rivers.

*Listen to Annie’s rendition of Many Rivers to Cross and let it wash over you.

**This essay was previously published in Matt’s self-published book:
The Blind Writer: Finding Faith Beyond Our Christian Subculture.
Get a paperback version HERE or a free e-book download HERE.

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