Friday, October 3, 2014

Fishing for Life

He said, “They are fishing for life” and...

It felt profound. It had the ring of remarkable. It was the way he said it mixed with the look on his face. He was acquainted with living, we could sense it by the way he did it in front of us.

Our boat had glided across the waters of Lake Baringo pausing to catch glimpses of Kingfishers, Fish Eagles, Hornbills, and rainbow Malachites. We met Susan, the Nile crocodile that would come to his whistle but not linger as a pet would. We left the 6 foot croc as he said, “We'll go buy fish and return to feed her. She'll love it.” We road a distance further on the beautifully wild lake as he explained to us the names and characteristics of the mountain ranges on either side of us. We were riding through the deeper parts of the Great Rift Valley in this part of Kenya. And he said, “Millions of years from now, this great valley will open itself up and separate these mountains from those and the sea will flow through it.” Pointing to the peaks on either side of us. He lived in one of the most spectacular places in the world... and he knew it. We were quiet as he spoke of what he knew so well. Teaching us what we did not know, his eyes glimmered, as he shared pieces of his world with us.

The boat driver slowed our speed as we approached the fishermen sitting on reed grass-beds floating in the deep aqua water. As we drew nearer we could see they sat on partially submerged boat-like floats made from balsa trees. Poles of spongy, lightweight wood lashed together. Their paddles were made from tire treads cut into small, oval shaped pieces they would hold in their hands and use like flippers. All day these fishermen would sit on the floating wood boat with legs dangling in the water. A simple pole made from a long thin stick held the line that held one hook tied to its end. A large African termite met its end on the hook being dipped into the water where the grass-bed was separated a bit. Like Huckleberry Fin on the mighty Mississippi, these fishermen sat patiently dipping their hooks into the water. There was a peace around them. Three men and a young boy, they fished in silence, each movement slow. And it was here, he said, “They are fishing for life.”

For us, we felt the gift of being allowed into their “world”. These fishermen knew the water, the fish, and the flow of life around this lake in the Rift Valley. But they knew nothing of the world we came from... and most likely, they would not have been intrigued by it at all. When you spend your days peacefully asking the lake to surrender “life” to you so you can feed your family and provide for needs, what other world would woo them.
Daily, they fish for LIFE.
It's been their way for decades.
It's been the way on the shores of this lake for centuries.

They would have had much to talk about with Peter and Andrew and James and John. The older man was a 21st century Zebedee, fishing with his son. As we bought 3 fish from them to give to Susan, they returned to their work... fishing for life. They were busy and content. Much could be learned in the solid simpleness around them.

Our guide was their friend. They spoke in a tongue known well to them, but still foreign to us. We couldn't grasp all they were saying to one another, but we could read their gestures and understand their eyes. They knew one another well, and they liked what they knew in each other. The boy caught a tilipia and held it up proudly to show his father, and our guide, and we were blessed by the joy in his face over his success. His father had taught him the work of fishing for life, and he was getting it.
And I wondered to myself... are you one of my Father's treasures... living an obscure life, doing the next right thing, and blessing the world around you in ways that won't show loudly but will run deeply.

Years ago when I first came to this continent, I had been jaded by the cruelness happening to countless women and children. And that warping in my mind had caused me to wrongfully assume most men here were users and abusers. Now after living here, and hearing the many more stories, my eyes see more, and my heart is no longer dark towards them. So many good men work to care for their families in the same place where some men do not. But the good ones always rise to the top. That's one way God works. He conquers evil by growing men who persevere in the ways of Light ---- and some of those men, fish for life.

As we left the fishermen, my husband and I let our minds settle into those words. We spoke quietly to one another realizing the three simple words had gone deep in us both --- “Fishing for life”.
Riding back to feed Susan, the corner of my eye caught the movements of our guide as he quickly, but silently killed each of the 3 fish. He noticed my awareness of his actions and slowly said, “So sorry mom, but it's what I must do for their life to pass to the croc, if I do not they will swim away too quickly and keep it for themselves.” And while it was a bit disturbing to realize the fish were dying beside me, it was another chance for wisdom to teach me a fuller meaning in his words.

“It's what I must do for life to pass... if I do not they will keep it for themselves...”
And in the oddest way, I felt the common ground between the fish and I.
Dying to self is not pleasant. In fact it's an ugly, painful process. To lay down our own life, our plans, our goals, our everything... so that it can become LIFE in other places and for others.
For the fish beside me, their life would pass on to the crocodile.
For me, for you, where is our life passing on to?

Christ did it first.
He gave up His life and passed Life on to those who will receive it.
And in the holy process, He then calls us to lay our lives down (even while we are still breathing), so that Life can flow through us to others.
It's the way of the One who spoke of being born twice.
Two births, two deaths, the Holy rhythm of truly having LIVED.
But, we people, we work so desperately to keep our lives for ourselves don't we? Just as the fish lying in the boat bottom on Baringo. It flopped frantically trying to find a way to get back to its business of swimming. It would have kept its life for itself and swam away at the first chance offered. But the one who held it knew, the only way life could pass on was for the fish to lay its own life down.
The fish did not willingly do this.
It had no choice.
But we...
We are given the choice by the One who holds us.
We can keep it all for ourselves, or...
we can choose to lay down our life, even as we live, so that the One who knows best can freely flow true Life through us to a dying world.

Beside the dying fish, the Word was whispering.
“seek, and you will find...”

Later, we returned to the shores and plans were made for our guide to take us on a hike at the base of the escarpment not far from our campsite. The time was set for 4 in the afternoon, when the heat of the day would begin to pass. Two hours of walking was the plan. He overflowed with passionate words talking of scorpions, snakes, bugs, and small animals living in the crevices of the desert terrain. “I began watching birds when I was nine years old and have now become an ornithologist. I am most at home with what lives in the wild and especially with what lives on the wing.” While scorpions and snakes had not been on our list for the day, the enthusiasm in our guide drew us, and we were eager for what he wanted to share. After completing the plans for our evening hike, my husband shook hands with our guide, with a tip of gratitude passing from his hand to the one who had blessed us. He could have pocketed that 500 shillings with no one knowing the exchange had taken place. But instead, he immediately turned and handed the tip he had received to the young man who had driven the boat. He received... he passed it on. And there was a brotherly love in their eyes towards one another. It's what happens when we freely give what we have freely received. Love flows.
We looked forward to walking in the wild with this good man.

But sadly, that walk never took place.

Our guide had taken another couple out for a tour shortly after our return. They had wanted to explore another section of the lake where great cliffs hung over the shore. Was it planned or impulse that caused him to offer to climb and dive from the cliff to the waters? We'll never know. But, while diving from a cliff, something he had likely done hundreds of times since his childhood, the one who had spoken just hours earlier of “fishing for life”, dove in, never to surface again.

His name, was Cliff.
And it was from a cliff he breathed his last.

We don't know details of his life, we were only privy to the way he lived beside us for 60 minutes.

He left a family behind when he left this world. We were told his fishermen friends stopped fishing and his fellow guides shut down their businesses for the day. It hit the lake community hard when they learned of the loss of their friend. That night as we slept in our tent on the shores of the lake, with hippos passing nearby eating the grass to fill their massive stomachs, drums beat through the darkness. It was a mourning coming from the village where he had been born and had lived. The beating of the drum went long into the night. And then it stopped... just has the beating of the heart had that day.

To know we had been with him when he bought his last fish from his life-long friends and shared his last portion of life with Susan, it's not something to view lightly. There's a respect that is right when the lasts are witnessed. There will be no more “fishing for life” for our guide on the lake. It was harsh and sobering to realize a man so full of life had breathed some of his last air with us just hours before.
But, it was a defining moment for us, to realize, this man was speaking words of a life-giving legacy when he shared his life-giving words at the beginning of the day that would be his last.
“they are fishing for life...”

Life will end.
One day we will all wake up, and not know, that day will be our last.
And will we be found living and speaking and acting in a way, that when we take in that last lung-full of air, those who came near us will breathe in better ways because of the way we lived beside them.
Are we purposeful in the ways we “fish for life”?
Do we each realize we are fishing for something?
Without a pole in our hands, each and every day, we will catch something and we will pass something on to others.
Will it be LIFE?
Or will it be “death” that's been seasoned with negativity and sarcasm or selfishness or greed?
Or are we likened to a fish that's found it's way back out of the boat, flopping under protest until we finally found the waters again. And swimming away as quickly as we could, have we refused to “die to ourselves so that others might live.”?
There's no hook in these words. Just a sharing of the right questions that rolled through my mind as wisdom whispered on the shores that day.

The men on lake Baringo are literally fishing for fish. But even in that common task, they view it differently. They are not simply looking for a fish at the end of their lines. They are more accurately looking for life.

The thing they “catch” will give “life”.
And what of us...?

©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

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