Lessons from the Boat

Lessons from the Boat are essays that are written by The Rev. George W. Schulenberg, a retired Episcopal priest and former Rector of St. James.  Fr. Schulenberg’s ministry and profession is that of an Episcopal priest, but his avocation is that of a walleye fisherman.

Another Lesson from the Boat
“Of Life and Hope”
By The Rev. George W. Schulenberg

“The whole community of the sons of Israel moved from their camp in the wilderness of Sin at the Lord’s command, to travel the further stages; and they pitched camp at Rephidim where there was not water for the people to drink. So they grumbled against Moses. ‘Give us water to drink’ they said. Moses answered them. ‘Why do you grumble against me? Why do you put the Lord to the test? But tormented by thirst, the people complained against Moses. ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt?’ they said. ‘Was it so that I should die of thirst, my children, too, and my cattle?’ Moses appealed to the Lord. ‘How am I to deal with this people?’ he said. ‘A little more and they will stone me!’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take with you some of the elders of Israel and move on to the forefront of the people; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the river, and go. I shall be standing before you on the rock, at Horeb. You must strike the rock and water will flow from it for the people to drink.’ This is what Moses did in the sight of the elders of Israel. The place was named Massah and Meriibah because of the grumbling of the sons of Israel and because they put the Lord to the test by saying, ‘Is the Lord with us, or not?’” ~Exodus 17:1-7

One of the deep-seated joys of fishing in the more remote waters of west central Ontario is the opportunity for contemplation. Our fishing boat slowly drifts along rocky shorelines on calmer days, and the sights and sounds of the water and wildlife seem to come into sharper focus. The hustle and bustle of daily life have been left behind, and one has time and opportunity to see and hear things at leisure. Just one of the more intriguing sights is that of trees and shrubs seeming to grow out of the craggy rocks that form the shoreline. Many of them are truly majestic fir trees that grow to truly lofty heights, and they wear a stunning crown of dark green branches. A special treat is to spot a bald eagle’s large nest snuggled in among the branches at the very top of these magnificent giants.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about these trees, however, is that their roots spread out on top of the rocky surfaces on which they stand. There is no depth of soil on the rocky islands on which these trees grow, and so their roots have to find an anchor and nourishment and water from shallow depressions in the rocky surface, or from cracks and crannies in the massive stone. In the hostile environment in which these trees grow, the roots are shallow, but broad. Yet, in spite of their shallow root systems, many of them grow to be truly majestic giants. They stand there day in and day out, they grow straight and tall and strong, seemingly in spite of the paucity of the environment in which they struggle to take root and to find nourishment. On some of these rocky islands, the trees have been able to grow in groves. The floors of these groves are often covered with hundreds of years of fallen fir tree needles which provide a kind of soft and smooth carpet beneath the towering trees. It is a very special treat to have a shore lunch of freshly caught and filleted walleye in one of these so very quiet and peaceful sanctuaries.

Seeing the abundance of flora taking root and living and growing in such harsh circumstances is a powerful natural reminder of the drive to live, and of the tenaciousness of life. I am reminded by what I am seeing on these rocky islands so lushly covered in shrubs and trees, that God is not only the Creator of all that I am seeing, but that the fundamental dynamic of God’s creation is life, and not death (read again Genesis 1 and 2). Year in and year out, these islands have been ravaged by powerful storms, by fires, by freezing cold winters and by hot summers, and yet, in spite of it all, life not only survives, but thrives. What I am seeing shouts out to me that in God’s creation life triumphs over death, and that life is divinely tenacious and will ultimately prevail, no matter how fierce and terrible the forces that oppose it.

Moreover, what I am seeing is still another reminder of the fundamental joy and hope of the Christian faith! The Good News of the Christian faith is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has embraced all of the forces of death and destruction not only of the human family, but of our whole world and every world, and has triumphed! Our trust in Jesus Christ leads us to proclaim that death does not have the last word, pain and suffering do not have the last word, rot and decay do not have the last word. The first verse of a wonderful Easter hymn entitled “He Is Risen” puts it this way:

“He is risen, he is risen, tell it out with joyful voice: he has burst his three days’ prison; let the whole wide earth rejoice: death is conquered, we are free, Christ has won the victory.”

So much of human life can seem to confirm the ultimate power of death and destruction. Human history is strewn with war and calamity, with pain and suffering, with unspeakable horrors. Each day’s news cycle, brings unceasing accounts of death and dying and defeat. In the face of so much suffering and death, it is all too easy to become cynical, to become deeply depressed, to give up hope that existence can ever amount to anything more, and to fatalistically accept the proposition that the inevitable end of all things is annihilation.

For all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the powerful refutation of all of the human tragedy we see around us is an empty tomb, a large tomb stone rolled back, embalming cloths cast aside, and the Resurrected Jesus inviting doubting Thomas to touch the wounds and be assured of the reality of new LIFE in Him!! In one of his teachings, Jesus says this…”I am come that they might have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). I suppose you could say that the tall and majestic fir trees standing straight and firm on the barren rocks of a remote northern lake are just still more outward and visible signs of a loving Creator God’s sovereignty over all that exists, and of His desire to give His created world not just life, but life in abundance. They remind us of a deep and abiding faith and hope that are so well articulated in still another Easter hymn: “Now the iron bars are broken, Christ from death to life is born, glorious life and life immortal, on his resurrection morn. Christ has triumphed, and we conquer by his mighty enterprise: we with him to life eternal by his resurrection rise.” (From “Alleluia, Alleluia”)

And so, those stately and lovely trees, seeming to grow right out of the granite rocks on the shoreline of an Ontario lake, provide us with still another “lesson from the boat”.

“See nature, and through her, God.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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