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The year 2016 was about as tumultuous a year as most of us care to endure. Not only was it a political year, it was also a year of drought. Our brooks and streams were bone dry and river temperatures soared. For the most part, we were denied the opportunity for a day on the water as a pleasant diversion. And now the shortest day of the year, OUCH!
At this dark time of year, it is small wonder that early humans would worry: “Is the end at hand?” They could not even Google it. The question was always answered by providence, as the great celestial clock reset itself again upon the winter solstice. Mercifully, the days will begin to lengthen with the promise of hope and renewal for the godly and the unwashed alike. How comforting to know that we will be granted another opportunity to plant and to cast our nets upon the sea.
Certainly Norman Maclean’s opening in “A River Runs Through It” resonates at this time of year. “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and flyfishing.” The Old and New Testament alike have passages for those of us inclined to fish. In Jeremiah, the Lord said, “I will send many fishermen to draw all nations out of the slavery of sin and into the promise of God’s Kingdom.” These were words that foreshadowed Jesus himself instructing his apostles where to catch a large number of fish (John 21). Peter hauled in 153 fish, the same number that Greek zoologists had identified as the number of different fish species (over 25,000 are recognized by modern science).
Then, of course, there is the familiar passage from Matthew 4:19, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Later in Matthew 5:13-16 the idea of using bait to attract people to the gospel was introduced.
The fish has always been interlaced in Christian symbolism. Most scholars attribute this to the similarity of the Greek word for “fish” (ICHTHUS) in Latin with the acrostic I = Jesus, CH = Christ, TH =God’s, U = Son, S = Savior (ICHTHUS).
For several hundred years after the death of Christ, it was the fish, not the crucifix, that was the symbol of the church. I most like the attribution of a fish symbol to the earliest days of Christianity when such worship was harshly punished by authorities. You had to be careful with whom you spoke.
So if you came upon a stranger and were uncertain if the stranger was friend or foe, the practice was to create a single arc in the sand with your foot. It was a gesture that had meaning only to a kindred spirit. If the other person was a Christian, he or she would complete the drawing with a second arc crossing the first thus creating a fish. You then knew you were safe and could talk freely. I kind of like that version.
I find it entirely appropriate that fishing images have always been prominent in religious literature. Fishing puts us in the environments where the handiwork of God is evident everywhere once we open our senses to those gifts.
All this being said, I do look forward to the coming year if only to renew myself in waters. I look to turn not only in introspection to be the kind of person I aspire to be, but also to look outward at the gifts not found on electronic screens, but on nature’s own remarkable canvas.
It is with optimism and hope that we can look forward to the coming year. I look back with gratitude to those who have joined in reading my columns. I make no pretense to be a student of the Bible, but surely the persistent reference to “my rod and my staff” must relate in some small way at least to the fisher’s quest. I’d be more sure, if it said “my Winston rod and my Folstaf wading staff,” but still, it is close enough.
So I sign off for 2016 with the seasonal greeting that embraces “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah” and “Joyous Kwanzaa.” I refer, of course, to that greeting which originated many thousands of years ago: “G’luck and tightlines to all, and to all a good night.” I sure hope I have not offended any non-fishers.