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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Fishing and Playing King of the Hill ~






    Generally speaking, children are task oriented when they are fishing. Impatient, they tend to keep checking the line and grow quickly bored if the fish aren't biting. Adults who fish frequently, however, are generally content with long stretches of no action, leisurely watching the water surface and the surroundings, lost in streams of thought more than in streams of water. Should a hooked fish interrupt their serenity, many typically reel it in, throw it back in the water, cast out again, and continue another stretch of contemplative time. The task of these fishermen is not to catch and bring home fish, but to just go fishing. Once in a while, one may observe a child doing the same, usually when he or she has a lot to think over.

    Although many people have their own diversions and contemplative rituals, that of fishing isn't often recognized as such. Many fishermen who are quite satisfied with no catches don't recognize it either. But something almost mystical, at least spiritually metaphorical, is going on.

    The depths below the water surface are mystery. The activity, life forms, and drama of survival and of victories and defeats, of birth and death, are invisible to the fisherman. He can only penetrate them indirectly, through his fishing line. A sensitive finger on the line tension, attentive observations of water ripples and other cues of the natural world, provide some clue of what may be going on in the depths of the water, but they still remain a mystery. That is a part of the thinking that goes on while waiting for a bite, just a small part though. Much of the same can be said of the
hunter who sits motionless for hours in one spot and goes home thankful for a great day even though he encountered no prey.

    When I pass by such fishermen, I am engulfed with the presence of the spiritual realm at work. Yes, there is the soul nourishment of contemplation, if unrecognized. After all, most people today find it far more acceptable to others to announce they are going fishing than they are going contemplating. The first is understood with the response, "Good luck! Bring home some dinner." The second typically raises eyebrows..."You are doing what?" But contemplation alone doesn't hold the fisherman on the banks. The three great powers listed in the thirteenth chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians are also at work: Faith, hope and love.

    In faith, the fisherman baits his hook and casts it. In hope, he quietly waits and waits. And love for this aspect of communing with God's sublime and magnificent creation and its mysteries compels him to the water to practice his faith and hope. But not just faith and hope for fish. They are often not even important. The faith and hope emanating from the greatest of the three powers, love, is vested in having a peaceful, soul nourishing time...or in going home a little more healed of some conflict or distress...or in leaving the water's mystery a little wiser.

    The first symbol of Christian faith was not the cross, but the fish. Jesus began His ministry and the calling of His first disciples with the proclamation to fishermen by trade, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men!" Fishermen of all ages, professional by occupation or recreational, know a lot about the practice of faith and hope. And Jesus used that knowledge to teach about spiritual fishing. After His resurrection, His disciples had been fishing all night without success. The faith and hope that kept them out on the seas were dissipating as dawn approached. Like
He had appeared in the burial grounds and on the Emmaus road, Jesus called out to the despairing men as they were coming in, looking like a stranger. "No luck?" "No!" "Cast your nets on the right side of your boat!" "Why? We've been at it all night with no success! Oh well, let's give it another try, as you suggest." Faith and hope in the mystery of that encouragement and directive and of the unseen world beneath their boat compelled them to cast their nets once more. But this time, the haul of fish was so great the nets were too heavy to haul on board. Recognition! John looked up and exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" For Peter, the fish suddenly became inconsequential, like the fish to a contemplative fisherman. He saw the Manifestation of his true Love coming to him from his faith and hope in something greater than fish, for Jesus weighed so heavily on his heart since the Christ's crucifixion and Peter's denial of ever knowing Him. So Peter couldn't wait to be in Christ's presence and jumped into the depths to swim to Him.

    But in Christ's resurrected state, He continued to be the masterful Teacher using living metaphors that cut to the bone marrow, and the marrow is where blood is made. What was waiting for Peter and the rest on the beach that dawn? Breakfast. Bread, His body. Jesus so often blessed bread, broke it apart, and distributed it to the multitudes in the grassy fields and to His apostles in the intimacy of a private meal. That's what Jesus does...concencrates and shares Himself..."This is my body, broken for you, take and eat of it." And there was also fish baking..."I called you
fishermen to be fishers of men." And no doubt something also struck deeply into Peter's heart. The fire, burning coals of wood. Peter certainly could not have forgotten what he was doing when he denied knowing the Christ soon after His arrest. He had been warming his hands over a fire just outside Pilate's court arena, just as Peter was anxious to do that early morning after being soaked from his swim to Jesus. And the timing was the same...just before dawn, just as the rooster began to crow. Now this is a picture of mixed feelings! As the Gospel according to John documents, Jesus would help Peter work through what the apostle needed to learn and understand about his future and mission.

    "Fishers of men" (and of women and children, of course, as we forgive the cultural expressions of two thousand years ago) is a marvelous depiction of the Gospel's calling. It teaches us much about the manner in which the calling is best exercised: Always in faith and hope, motivated only by love...Not stalking the prey like a SCUBA diver or a whaling boat armed with spear guns...Approaching the mysterious depths of the human spirit with contemplative respect and patience...Not fully aware of the invisible drama of life in those depths while waiting for it to respond to what you
decide to place into those depths as a lure to the "hook". But like all metaphors, this one has its limits. The contemplative fisherman throws his fish back in the water. Otherwise, in this physical world, the fish would die. But the spiritual fisherman's hook is not one of death for the fish. Since it is born out of love, "the greatest of these," it is a symbol of a pulling from out of the depths into rebirth in a realm of Light and Air..."I am the Light of the world"...and the Holy Spirit is that Wind, the Ruach, the very Breath of the Creator. Jesus taught we must die through the baptism of the water into that of the Spirit into a world where "Behold! Look, I make all things new!" I am a fish out of water, still dying to the old life in the water and being recreated in the new life of Light and Breath. I got "hooked" and I never want to be thrown back.

    This brings us to the universal game of King of the Hill or, as we called it as kids, King of the Mountain. Adults and children both play it with great zeal, but adults disguise it well. It isn't a game for adults, but "serious" stuff and the foundation of our politics and institutions.

    There are archetypes, ritual games and mythologies common to all people of all times and particularly evident in the activities and culture of childhood. For example, regardless of language, culture or nationality, all children know and use the mocking singsong of "Nah na na na na ya" to celebrate the misfortune of another's defeat or humiliation and to proclaim their superiority. And in geographical regions where there are hills and mountains, children also play "King of the Hill." The call is uttered, "Let's play King of the Hill!" "Yeah!" Everyone runs to the top of the hill or
some mound, pulling each other down, first by alliances, then, as the kids near the top grow fewer in number, one to one, until one claims control of the hill. New alliances are formed by those below the top, teaming to bring the king down. Everyone, of course, wants to replace the king with himself, not with the most deserving or capable person. Brute power and ambition is the only deciding factor in who becomes king. The unwritten and unspoken rules allow for the defeated kids to team up and take the king off the mountain, but then the team members need to fight among themselves for the top position. You most likely played some version of this when you were a child, especially if you are male.

    We still play it, male and female alike. Our national politics, economies, corporate and civil institutions, and even our churches and religious organizations are driven by the adult counterpart of this childish game. We make alliances and agree to put "our person" on the top of the mountain. The alliances hold until its members see an opportunity to replace the king (or queen). Someone else reaches the top and new alliances are formed under the pretext of nationalism, the "mandate of the people," moral stances, justice, service, or truth. But money and power are the venues of the
climb, not the facade of morality, justice, truth or popular mandates of what is right and noble for the good of all. The task of everyone else below the top is to pull or push the top guy off. This dynamic is at play within the smallest of organizations to the global megagiants of international institutions. Adults haven't grown up. We, as a group, pretend we have. Furthermore, our adult institutions mock the notion that "the meek (not the weak) shall inherit the earth (and the mountain)." Lost, or never understood, are the universal principles that "the lowest shall be exalted," "the first shall be last," "the least shall be the greatest," "my weakness is my strength." These cannot ever be understood by a world that continually, age after age,
plays "King of the Hill."

    Playing "King of the Hill" cannot be done by fishers of men. They are diametrically opposed and incompatible. He who sets himself up as king of the hill is saying, "I will subject all to me." He who is truly King of the mountain said, "When I am raised up [on the cross] I will draw all unto Me." The former is of the spirit of the antichrist. The latter is of Christ. Fishers of men are humble, hard working, self denying and deeply respectful of life and the mysteries of the depths. Kings of the hill are not. Though they may proclaim to be at the top and above us, we do not look up to them nor
strive to be like them.

    "This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.' ...He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord...The eyes of the
arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day...In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth. Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?" (from the prophet Isaiah 2:1-3a, 4-5, 11, 20-22, NIV).

    Indeed, the King of the mountain is our God and how self destructive is the folly of any human effort to pull Him off and strive to replace Him with our egos. The fishers of men keep long vigils on the banks of the water, waiting, hoping, faithfully and lovingly attentive to any nibble on the taste of truth. We may grow weary into the night. But the Christ appears just before the dawn and calls out to us, "Cast your nets on the right side!" We already know the end of that story. The haul will be too big for our boat. And, like Peter, we will again move our attention away from the miraculous abundance and refocus on the Love of our life and even jump back in with the fish if it means getting to Jesus a little faster.
 

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
www.prayergear.com

Weekly Reflections © June 14, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
 
 

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