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    Kim and the River of Life

    May 7, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    And he shewed me a pure river of water of life,
    clear as crystal,
    proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

    Revelation 22:1

    [dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike most other Year Five AO families, we are reading Kim for this term’s literature selection. Like many of the literature selections, it’s a tough read. The language is complex. The culture is foreign. Et cetera. Because of this, even though I would classify this particular student as “independent” — Plutarch is about the only thing I regularly read aloud to him for lessons — we read the book together at first. I told him to let me know when his mind had adjusted to the style; when he felt capable of reading the book alone.

    Kim and the River of Life

    So I read it aloud for about a week and a half, and then I passed it on. The chapters are packed with details, so I’ve divided them into two, or even three, separate readings, spread over the week.

    I pre-read all of this child’s books. My goal is to keep up all the way through and hope that my study at this stage is retained enough that I do not need to pre-read for my younger children unless new books are added. So I’m still reading the book, but I’m reading the whole week’s worth of readings in a single Sunday afternoon.

    All of this is background. I have fallen in love with this book. Of course, I am a Kipling fan, and this is just about the only Kipling novel I haven’t read, and I haven’t read it because I was saving it for when I ahem when my son was in Year Five.

    There was a point recently where I really wanted to throw the book across the room. I haven’t finished the book yet, though, because I’m reading at the term’s pace, so I’ll share why I was frustrated as long as you agree not to spoil the ending! Deal?


    What is the River?

    Kim’s tale really begins with a lama. Kim meets the lama while he is on a sort of spiritual journey. He is attempting to “acquire merit,” that he might get off the Wheel. If you’re familiar with Buddhism, you recognize that the lama wants to be released from suffering and reach Nirvana. The lama believes that he knows the pure form of Buddhism, the real Truth, and that many of the other Buddhists in India have been deceived by inferior silly stories.

    To earn merit he is traveling by foot (all the way from Tibet!) to visit the holy places of his faith that are scattered throughout India, and seeking the River. He explains the River’s origins to a curator thus:

    “When our gracious Lord, being as yet a youth, sought a mate, men said, in his father’s court, that he was over tender for marriage. Thou knowest?”

    The curator nodded; wondering what would come next.

    “So they made the triple trial of strength against all comers. And at the test of the Bow, our Lord first breaking that which they gave him, called for such a bow as none might bend. Thou knowest?”

    “It is written. I have read.”

    “And, overshooting all other marks, the arrow passed far and far beyond sight. At the last it fell; and, where it touched earth, there broke out a stream which presently became a river, whose nature, by our Lord’s beneficence, and that merit He acquired ere He freed himself, is that whoso bathes in it washes away all taint and speckle of sin.”

    “So it is written,” said the curator sadly. The lama drew a long breath. “Where is that river, Fountain of Wisdom, where fell the arrow?

    “Alas, my brother, I do not know.” said the curator.

    “Nay, if it please thee to forget — the one thing only that thou hast not told me. Surely thou must know? See, I am an old man! I ask with my head between thy feet, O Fountain of Wisdom. We know He drew the bow! We know the arrow fell! We know the stream gushed! Where then is the river? My dream told me to find it. So I came. I am here. But where is the river?”

    “If I knew, think you I would not cry it aloud?”

    Kim joins the lama as his personal servant, and together they search for that for which they are looking: Kim, his own mysterious red bull, and the lama his River.


    Meeting the Fathers

    It was later in the book that I wanted to throw or break something. One of the reasons why I love Kipling is his symbolism. Just as I’m convinced that the incident of the rich boy falling off of the yacht in Captains Courageous is a baptism (and the boy’s subsequent indenture upon a fishing boat sanctification — the whole thing being redemption), so am I sure that the lama’s River of Life is meant to remind us — Kipling’s Christian readers — of the River of Life.

    Spring up, oh well and all that.


    So to say that I was upset at the Catholic and Anglican priests is an understatement! (For context: Mr. Bennett is the Anglican priest; Father Victor the Catholic.) Here’s what happens:

    “What is it then?” said Father Victor, not without sympathy, as he watched the lama’s face.

    “There is a river in this country which he wishes to find so verree much. It was put out by an arrow which — ” Kim tapped his foot impatiently as he translated in his own mind from the vernacular to his clumsy English. “Oah, it was made by our Lord God Buddha you know, and if you wash there you are washed away from all your sins and made as white as cotton-wool.” (Kim had heard mission talk in his time.) “I am his disciple and we must find that river. It is verree valuable to us.”

    “Say that again,” said Bennett. Kim obeyed, with amplifications.

    “But this is mere blasphemy,” said the Church of England chaplain.

    “Tck! Tck!” said Father Victor sympathetically. “I’d give a good deal to be able to talk the vernacular. A river that washes away sin! And how long have you two been looking for it?”

    “Oh, many days. Now we wish to go away and look for it again. It is not here, you see.”

    “I see,” said Father Victor gravely. “But he can’t go on in that old man’s company. It would be different, Kim, if you were not a soldier’s son. Tell him that the regiment will take care of you and make you as good a man as your — as good a man as can be.


    “I do not understand the customs of white men. The Priest of the Images in the Wonder House in Lahore was more courteous than the thin one here. This boy will be taken from me. They will make a Sahib of my disciple? Woe to me, how shall I find my river? Have they no disciples? Ask.”

    “He says he is very sorry that he cannot find the river now any more. He says, Why have you no disciples and stop bothering him? He wants to be washed of his sins.”

    Neither Bennett nor Father Victor found an answer ready.


    The Ready Answer

    I am no expert in cross-cultural ministry. I live a small life with my husband and my children and my books and my dairy herd. I don’t even travel. But even I can see that these two men, chaplains of the King’s army, were without. Here is a man, looking for the River, asking to be washed of his sins, and what? They have no answer?

    …be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you…

    — I Peter 3:15b


    In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse…

    Revelation 22:2-3a

    It’s not every day that one is asked about the River.


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  • Reply Mama Rachael June 2, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Ah, we will have to wait few years for my response, we are only in Y1. From reading what you said, yes, I will be frustrated. I am familiar with cross-culture communication, having lived in China for 3 years. But when someone asks you about the river that washes away your sins, it is a crime to call yourself a christian and have no answer. So, now I want to hear the end of the story!

  • Reply Elaine May 4, 2017 at 11:36 am

    The River of Life is one of my favorite images from the Bible, so when I read Kim recently I had the exact same thought! I think that Kim considering the Bull the soldiers idol might be Kipling showing that Kim doesn’t understand the priests just as they don’t understand him. They all needed a little training in cross-cultural communication.

  • Reply Sarah May 4, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Spot on.

    But, because words mean things and names mean things and names using words sometimes mean different things: “Roman Catholic,” not “Catholic.”

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 4, 2017 at 9:01 am

      Think I ought to change it? Maybe I will… 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca Dolores May 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    sporadically. :-/ (I’m a stickler!) hahah

  • Reply Rebecca Dolores May 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    I’m reading Ivanhoe, Birth of Britain, The Once and Future King, and History of English Literature for Girls and Boys. I will be adding in some of the others as I acquire them. I really like all of them! Well, I only read two chapters of History of English Lit so I’m not really into it yet, but the first three are wonderful. I am a big history lover so the fact that they all tie in together with things that I have been learning alongside my year 1 child are making this very satisfying. I was going to start at about year 5, but since we are reading the same time periods I thought I would just jump ahead. I will be going backwards though, sporatically, so I can pre-read some of her future material. But I hope to continue on my own course as well because I am doing a lot of it for my own self-education. I will be keeping an eye out for more of your year 5 related posts though, because I am starting to get those books in order. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      I think that is very smart, to read the higher books that correspond to the lower levels.

      I ♥ Ivanhoe. One of my favorite books of all time. It will be fun to read it again. Normally, I would skip a book I’ve already read to save time, but not when it comes to Scott. 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca Dolores May 8, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Hello, Brandy. I’m not reading this book, but I am reading some of Year 7’s books. I don’t really have anything to add to this discussion because I haven’t read it yet. I did just pick it up at a used book sale though! So now I think I’ll read it after I finish the 5 books I’m currently going through. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      Which Y7 books are you reading? Do you have any favorites yet? It is hard for me *not* to jump up and read the HEO books because they are such a feast, but I can’t read both right now. But I can’t wait! 🙂

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