The opening lines in the application that we submitted to the Lilly Endowments for this Sabbatical experience were these:
When the Lord of Life began to re-shape humanity by means of the Gospel, he put himself in the company of fishermen. Not your Robert Redford A River Runs Through It trophy-hunting sportsmen, but rather strong, honest men who contended with the uncertainty of the waters for their daily bread. In building a community that heralded the Kingdom, Jesus called those who had spent years reading the surface of the waters, trusting each other in the cooperative nature of net-working, and appreciating a nourishing meal at day’s end.
Pastor Dave Carver is a fisher of fish. If he has a chance to spend a few hours alongside the creek or the lake, it’s a good day. If you are there to fish with him, then it’s a better day. And if you and a few friends agree to sit on the deck and share not only the freshly-grilled catch of the day but also the contents of your hearts and minds, then it’s about the best of all days.
And, you see, that’s who I see myself, most days. That’s who I’d like to be. But when I get in the middle of things, sometimes my priorities and expectations get a bit skewed. Take fishing at Raystown Lake, for instance. In my “cover” materials, I say that I want to fish for “real” fish; I want to be able to feed my family and friends, and that the trophy doesn’t matter. Of course, when I show up at Raystown, I decide to go ahead and hire a guide who just happens to have the PA State Record when it comes to fishing for Raystown’s “signature species”, the striped bass.
As you may have noticed, there are no photos of me holding giant fish. But yesterday was the best day of fishing I’ve ever had at Raystown Lake. Why? Because I got back to basics.
On Tuesday morning, I was joined for almost 24 hours by my good friend and fishing/birding partner, Tim. When he arrived, we enjoyed a delicious meal of fried catfish and corn. Then we went fishing, and while we brought in a few nice bass, the real treat was watching the pros – a trio of Osprey put on a fishing clinic for us. More about that in a future post.
Wednesday we got up early and didn’t do so well in terms of putting fish on the stringer…OK, we struck out in that department. But we saw a mink, a pair of bald eagles, a snake, some turtles, and about eight species of birds. As I bid farewell to Tim, it occurred to me that it was the second anniversary of my dad’s death – the man who taught me to love fishing and to care for the earth. As I cruised around the lake, I gave thanks for the life of the man who so enriched the first half of my life.
When it got to be evening, I thought I’d troll around the deep end of the lake. “Who needs a guide to get stripers?” I thought. You could hear them jumping in the night. Every now and then, one would jump clear out of the water. “I can do this,” I thought.
Well, not yet I can’t. No stripers. No problem. Ariel’s friend Mina had come through with some chicken livers for her friend Dave, and so I sat on the back of the houseboat with a few lines in the water. I was looking for a couple of really nice channel catfish – make a few steaks for the freezer and set myself for winter.
What happened, of course, was that there were no channel cats. But let me tell you something marvelous: whereas I was watching the lines hoping for a giant strike followed by a huge battle ending with me one-arming the net laden with a giant fish into the boat, what I saw was a series of subtle bumps and twitches. At first, I didn’t see anything when I reeled my line in. But then a small bullhead took the bait, and I saw what I was dealing with. I lightened the weights on my line, put on smaller hooks, and went to town with these small catfish. I probably pulled in twenty or so.
When we were kids, my brother and I would go with my dad to a lake in southern Delaware that has a real name, I’m sure. We just called it “Catfish”, because every time we went there, we wound up with a mess of bullheads. They are not particularly difficult to catch, and they are a royal pain to clean. But they taste great. And today, they will taste sweeter as I remember that I continually need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing, and to take what the Lord offers. It was a great evening to remember my dad; it was a wonderful time to acknowledge the fact that my happiness so often depends on my expectations and my ability to be flexible and to deal with the things that are actually here, rather than my hopes or fears.
Maybe I’m the only one who needs a reminder, every now and then, that it’s ok to switch the tackle and adapt to the situation that I have, rather than doggedly pursuing the situation that I wish existed. Maybe I’m the only one who needs to remember that sometimes the gifts of God come with a bump and a twitch, and not a giant splash. Maybe I’m the only one who wanders away from where I say I want to be and in doing so lose my focus and my ability to be God’s man in this time and this place.
But if you’re still reading this, then I bet that I’m not the only one. I hope your day is blessed with a couple of little nibbles and a few prizes that bring you joy.