Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105
Roger and I were new at fishing so every attempt was an adventure. We fished from the Davis Island Bridge in hopes of catching the tasty mullet. Mullets are large fish that travel in groups and are plentiful in the Tampa Bay area. Unfortunately, after numerous attempts over as many days, we were finally informed that they don’t bite hooks but instead are caught only in fishing nets. Crabs were our next challenge. While walking on the piers we could see big, blue soft-shell crabs sliding sideways along the floor of the shallow bay. They would grab the baited hooks with their pinchers and nibble at the bait, but would let go as soon as we began to pull them from the water. We could have snatch hooked them, but their natural defense mechanism releases a poison into their systems whenever they are hooked so they are no longer good as food. They were fun to play with though, exciting, but again, of little value to the would-be fisherman.
Many hours, many days, many casts of the rod-and-reel were spent looking for just the right spot to actually catch some fish. Then, after countless fishless days of new fishing spots, soggy bait and empty casts, we decided to admit our defeat and ask advice from the lone fisher who sat endlessly beneath the bridge. Armed only with a long cane pole and a minnow bucket, he had seemingly always been there. When we arrived each morning he was already in place. When we left each dusk he was still sitting motionless in the same spot. Even as we daily ran by he was there beneath the bridge, sitting alone, cane pole in hand, just sitting; sitting and thinking and fishing.
Roger was the oldest, so he was the elected the brave one who finally approached the lone fisherman. “Sir”, he began, "can we fish anywhere along here?” “Sure,” the old fisherman responded slowly, “anywhere ya want; but if ya want to catch anything ya’ll fish here beneath the bridge. This is where the channel is deep and cool, and the fish like to hide under those old pilings.” Then, after what seemed like an unusually long pause, he volunteered, “Ya see, the shrimp boats unload here each Friday and dump their scraps in the water.”
When the boats are out, the fish are hungry and easy to catch. And so it was that Roger and I discovered the secret of the channel and quickly became seasoned, accomplished fisherman. We caught a lot of fish that year, so many, in fact, that our first Christmas dinner in Florida was a fish fry down on the causeway beach.
Looking back, my childhood fishing experience now strangely intermingles with the memories of my search for faith. There, too, I liked the adventure of looking in the net and exciting places. There, too, I spent countless hours and numerous days searching for just the right spot in which to find a faith. There, too, in frustration and futility I finally sought the advice of a seasoned veteran who pointed out for me the deeper channels of faith. They were the often discussed but seldom used study of the scripture I call Holy, meditation that makes them personal, and the application that gives them life. And although I still respond to the lure of newness, challenge and change, when my soul changes, when my soul is truly hungry, I return in quietness and in thought to the old tried and true fishing spots, the channels of my faith.
Prayer: Lend me not to rush by the fort, O Lord, that I mask the deeper channels of faith that have lead others closer to you.