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............."Oh, the gallant fisher's life, It is the best of any 'Tis full of pleasure, void of strife, And 'tis beloved of many." ..........[Piscator's Song, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaak Walton] "The fishers also shall mourn,and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish." [Isaiah XIX:8]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A River Runs Through It

A River Runs Through It--what is it about the movie that captures our attention and imagination? The artistry of fly fishing? The beauty of Montana? The aspirations and recollections of youth? The love story? The tragic life? Or the mystery of a river that runs through it?

I love rivers. I also love fly-fishing, even though I am not particularly good at it. But the book and the movie are about more than just fly-fishing.

Sixteen years before the movie had been produced, I had read a quote in a fishing magazine, not even realizing at the time that it was from the book A River Runs Through It. It was a fly-fishing columnist picking up on the humorous impression that a particular fly-fishing, Presbyterian minister had left upon his sons.

Listen to the author Norman Maclean:
"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman."
The quote in the magazine ended there; but the book, I would discover years later, goes further.
"It is true that one day a week was given over wholly to religion. On Sunday mornings my brother, Paul, and I went to Sunday school and then to "morning services" to hear our father preach and then in the evening to Christian Endeavor and afterwards to "evening services" to hear our father preach again. In between on Sunday afternoons we had to study The Westminster Shorter Catechism for an hour and then recite before we could walk the hills with him while he unwound between services. But he never asked us more than the first question in the catechism, "What is the chief end of man?" And we answered together so one of us could carry on if the other forgot, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." This always seemed to satisfy him, as indeed such a beautiful answer should have, and besides he was anxious to be on the hills where he could restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon. His chief way of recharging himself was to recite to us from the sermon that was coming, enriched here and there with selections from the most successful passages of his morning sermon.
“Even so, in a typical week of our childhood Paul and I probably received as many hours of instruction in fly fishing as we did in all other spiritual matters."
But wait! Is fly fishing a spiritual matter? Is that just a clever turn of phrase? Or does it mean we give ourselves to things of this world with religion-like fervor? Or is fly fishing or writing a book or producing a film a spiritual matter? Is going to school or the office or the factory or raising the children a spiritual matter? What is not a spiritual matter? Or to put it another way, is there one cubic inch in the universe that does not belong to God? Does not even a river tell us something about the God who made it? Hear Maclean also in his concluding lines:

"Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now I course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

"Eventually, all thing merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

"I am haunted by waters."

Beautiful! The longing for the transcendent. Did you know there is a river that runs through the Scriptures that appears in the beginning, flows through the pages of history, and reaches out to eternity? Here are three texts to consider, one from the beginning, one from the middle, and one from the end of the Bible:

Genesis 2:10 "Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers."

Psalm 46:4
"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,The holy dwelling places of the Most High."

Revelation 22:1-2 "Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street (On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

In the beginning God provided refreshment to the Garden He had made. His word speaks of the life and blessing He offers as refreshment to His people. It is no accident that the revelation of God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, speaks of Himself as the "living water." It is He who gives life and refreshment in a dry and thirsty land. It is He who waters the garden; it is He who makes glad the city of God; it is who He brings healing to the nations. The river precedes time, He appears in history; He goes somewhere; He has an end, a destination. So do we have an end, a destination, in Him--"to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."


  1. Good post. Very interesting. I believe that God reveals himself in the rippling stream, the color of the fish, and the breeze that move the grass. If I never catch a fish it is still a spititual experience.


  2. Dear mikebazzo.com,

    Thanks for visiting the Web Log. Yes, on the day of the Triumphal Entry, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for allowing the little children to declare His praise. His answer, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

    God is revealed in all that He has made "For since the creation of the world [God's] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (See Romans 1:20.).