As a hospital chaplain, I often wander from room to room introducing myself and quizzing the spiritual needs of patients.
One of the questions I often ask is: “Tell me about your spiritual traditions.”
Most of the time, this question brings expected answers having something to do with churches, mosques or synagogues. But other times, people express a spirituality that comes by finding a place far from any sort of assembly, a place where they can touch the Earth, inhale solitude and expel a foggy breath.
Some people find that space while fishing. And while I’m not much of a fisherman, I love to watch my son fish. Recently he turned 16, and I’m not sure there was ever a boy born who can throw so much hope into each cast as does my son.
Even before I can set my parking brake, he runs to the water’s edge and squats, eyeing the water’s surface from a duck’s view. Then opening his tackle box, he ponders its extravagant offerings. His nimble fingers dip into a sea of tangled hooks, and he brings one close to his nose, crossing his eyes and examining it for who-knows-what.
He rigs his tackle, attaching a string of accouterments, and ties to each hook with the precision of a surgeon tying off a blood vessel. Then he’s set.
He shuffles nonchalantly to his “spot” and eyes a place where he’d earlier set a mental marker, a place he’s seen trout leaping for food. Raising half of his mouth into a twisted smile, he throws the line across the water with the determination of a college quarterback tossing the season-ending Hail Mary pass.
Then, he waits. And he waits one more time.
But puberty was never blessed with patience, so after 30 minutes in one place, he reopens his tackle box and extends the trays toward the water as if he’s a waiter displaying a dessert tray. He palms a few lures and cases the bank, looking for a place to deposit his investment. He wanders and wonders: Where are the fish?
By late afternoon, it’s time to go home. And even as we load the truck, he’s already planning his next purchase of bait and eyeing the city map for a yet undiscovered fishing hole.
Fishing is a funny thing. Its beauty is definitely in the eye, or I should say the nose, of the beholder. There are some who would fashion a pew from their aluminum and nylon-weave chair and swear that in the early morning reflection of the water, they see the most pristine cathedral where they could easily plunge their soul.
My chaplain friend Tamara Chin likes to say, “Mark the places where you find God and go there often.”
She says fishing holes like this one are “God spots — tiny in a geographic space, yet they span across time, allowing a person to re-enter that moment anytime, anywhere, just by thinking about it again.”
Sighting spirituality down the long end of a fishing pole is a rather nontraditional approach. Yet it’s likely you know someone with a similar approach, someone who does not see faith in the same hymn-singing way you do, someone who answers your faith quiz in an unexpected way.
When faith doesn’t look like us, it’s easy to dismiss it as something unspiritual. Yet the truth is that people like my angler son are very spiritual. True, there are times when it’s hard to trust unconventional spirituality in light of my own traditional spiritual ways. But at the end of the day, my prayer will always be that I will be able to see the young man God has created and God most assuredly loves.