“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” —Leo Tolstoy in Essays, Letters, and Miscellanies (Scribner’s, 1929).
I sit outside each early morning on the Gulf Coast just after sunrise and watch lone surf fishermen come like clockwork to the water’s edge with their fishing rods, fishing rod holders, buckets, bait, and folding beach chairs. They are early risers, arriving before the pelicans and sea gulls and dolphins come out of hiding. The members of this all male club mark their territory as they spike two rod holders into the sand as the only signs of human presence. They unfold their chairs, bait their lines, cast them beyond the roaring, white ocean’s surf, and sit and wait between the two holders for the rods to jump and bend.
The nibbles are infrequent, so they spend most of the time sitting and staring out into the Gulf. They peer out as if they can see all the way beyond South America. They do not take out their cell phones or read books. They wait patiently, usually for several hours, presumably with great faith that their efforts will connect them to the gift of unknown food from beneath the sea.
I have become so interested in watching the fishermen that I recognize them by their walk, what they are wearing, whom they talk to, what time they come out, and how long they stay. When I have talked to them, they have taught me much about spirituality and faithfulness and how to surrender to a spiritual practice. Indeed, some of the fishermen refer to their daily routine as a spiritual practice; while others would be appalled at giving their fishing exercise such a name. They all agree that this recreational sport does bring them peace; and most realize that it is not fish that they are after. It is indeed re-creation.
Perhaps this uncertainty girded by faith is also part of our spiritual practices: Centering Prayer, saying the Rosary, walking the labyrinth, praying, fasting, lectio divina, worshiping. The peace comes in the offering of time, a piece of our life, to the practice, rather than always reaching any goal or making or receiving a connection.
My second gift from our fishermen is that in spending time observing them I have stayed grounded, connected to my surroundings, living in the present moment. The fishermen are teaching me about looking out beyond the turbulent water’s edge and having faith that there is something greater than any of us that is constantly trying to connect to us.