ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Author, pastor, and professor David Ellingson talked with First Army Soldiers, civilians, and family members about lessons he learned while undertaking such adventures as paddling the length of the Mississippi River during an appearance on May 12 in First Army headquarters.

During the event, sponsored by the First Army chaplains office, Ellingson said paddling the Mississippi River, Erie Canal, and Hudson River, provided him an excellent opportunity for reflection.

"How do we renew ourselves when we are on an expedition," he asked. "For me, part of it is just taking time for some silence and to reflect, then writing down what I've experienced. The takeaways from my various paddle pilgrimages is to take time each day for some quiet. Silence can be kind of a scary thing, it takes practice to silence those voices. But when you get on this exhibition, the silence becomes no longer an enemy."

Once the solitude and silence is embraced, meaningful reflection can begin. "During my adventures, I've discovered river angels," he said. "Angels are thought of as winged cherubs, but if you take the Greek word 'ángeloi,' it means messenger. Each of us can be a messenger. As I paddled in various places, river angels appeared."

One he encountered in the Deep South. "I came around the bend and there was a guy fishing. He was a huge redneck guy with his shotgun in his truck. I started talking with him and told him what town I was headed to, and he told me, 'Oh, the river moved. It's eight miles away now." And I told him how I had been looking forward to a good dinner, and he told me, 'I'll drive you to town.' He got me to town, I had a nice meal. The next day I got back in my kayak, and later he called me and said, 'If you need anything, I'll take care of you.' So think about the people you've met who have been an angel to you."

Ellingson related a similar experience, when a stranger approached his tent and asked him to join him in his house for coffee. From there, he showed Ellingson around town. During this tour, Ellingson told his new acquaintance that he was so tired that he wasn't going to finish the paddling journey. "And he said, 'Oh, you've got to get back in your boat. You'll be so disappointed if you don't.' So he walked me down to my boat, got me in, handed me a pastry and said, 'When you get discouraged, eat this.' Well, there's a river angel."

Ellingson added that this is a common occurrence to be on either side of: "I could tell story after story of these people who appear in our lives, or who we have the opportunity to care for, and it's often in surprising places."