Faithful Fishing: in Supermarkets and Lakes

Once I observed a fellow hiker on a church backpack launch his line into a high-country lake…

My wife, loving life partner that she is, does 99.99% of our laundry.

As her self-sacrificing spouse, I shop for groceries. I am so thankful she handles the cold-water-only and take-it-to-the-dry-cleaner decisions. According to a reliable resource, she is equally grateful that I—influenced by primeval hunter-gatherer genes—wander the supermarket for our daily bread.

We each have our tasks.

The other day, my task meant that I spotted a kid, hunkered like a stowaway in a shopping cart with the milk and lettuce, wheeling toward the checkout as his Mom steered the cart. The kid’s orange-stained hand dug inside an open bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers.

Yummy!

And yes, a fish story.

At most four years old, he was seriously fishing. His Mom was grinning. The clerk was making small talk as he scanned items. Like a plane waiting to land, I stood next in line. I understood what was happening. There have been times, say with a cold drink on a hot day, when I handed a grocery clerk an empty bottle. Yep, scan it, let me pay for it, and then, please, recycle the container immediately. Gulping it down was a higher priority than any supermarket etiquette.

The clerk was nearly finished. It was time to scan the cheesy, fish-shaped crackers.

No way.

The kid hunkered deeper into the cart. There was more to eat. No one was gonna get his fish!

How about another fish story? What did Jesus promise near the start of his ministry? “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

He said this to Peter and Andrew, brothers and fellow fishers. He said this to James and John, brothers and fellow fishers. That invitation has been part of Christian tradition ever since. Let’s go fish! For people.

What would have happened if Jesus had first had a meet and greet with Matthew (the tax collector of Matthew 10:3 and not the unknown writer of the Gospel) before Andrew or James? Would he have said, “Follow me and I will reveal to you how tax the people?” Perhaps, with other, different first encounters, “Follow me and I will make you bake the people?” Or, “Follow me and I will teach you how to hammer and nail the people.”

Frankly, I’m glad Jesus met those fine fellows out fishing, rather than shaking hands with a tax collector, bread baker, or (his father Joseph’s profession) a carpenter.

Let’s go fish. For people.

Christians have, rightly and sometimes wrongly, used that image to go forth and proclaim the good news. It’s one of our tasks. I suppose the Crusaders thought they were reclaiming the fishing hole as they journeyed toward the Holy Land. I wish they’d carried fly rods instead of swords.

Still, I much prefer the notion of fishing for understanding faith and my truest tasks in life. Norman Maclean (in his “The River Runs Through It”) said of fishing: “…all good things, trout as well as eternal salvation, come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

In Maclean’s semi-autobiographical story of a Montana family, with a father who was preacher and fly-fisher, the joys and pains of life were revealed. I believe, like Maclean, we are already saved. All of us. Christian and non-Christian. Believer and doubter. Fool and hero. We don’t earn God’s love. God’s grace has blessed us already. And yet to live with, and to live it out for self and others, the grace can be extraordinary difficult. We so often choose greed or fear or complacency.

Henry David Thoreau challenged, “Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” What was Jesus asking? To force people into faith? I hope—believe—not. First, and maybe even last, going fishing needs to be about me. How will I live my life in the midst of others? When I “fish” with and for my faith, am I not seeking to be the best of me more than acquiring the greatest number of “fish?”

Literally speaking, I’m no fisherman. My angling adventures have been few and unremarkable. Sometimes that surprises those who know I’ve spent hundreds of days backpacking. Don’t all people that hike by alpine lakes and snow-fed streams add a rod and reel to their gear list? Not me. But I have watched hiking friends try Maclean’s “art” in pursuit of trout.

Once I observed a fellow hiker on a church backpack launch his line into a high-country lake as the sun’s light faded on the granite ridges encircling the water. It was his last cast of the day. And he hooked a trout. After long minutes, punctuated by his shouts of joy and the silence of concentration, he nursed the trout close to where he stood. Kneeling by the shore, he cradled the fish in the cold water, admiring it, and then he gently removed the hook. He let it go.

Later he said it was the largest fish he’d ever caught. Though we all know jokes about how fish keep getting bigger and bigger as the tales are told, I believed him.

He enjoyed the moment. He let it go.

The kid in the cart eventually let the bag of crackers go.

Catch and release.

The clerk was kind, and promised he’d return the crumpled bag right away. Mom was gracious, patiently helping her son understand he could trust the clerk. As far as I was concerned, we were all fishing. Scottish novelist John Buchan said, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”

I love the moments, the graceful art of faith, when hope is cast, discovered, and shared.

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