July 12, 2010...11:32 pm

Prayer and the Stream

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I’ve spent my life loving the mountains. Growing up, if the Boyetts took a vacation, it was to New Mexico or Colorado for a camping trip. And if my brothers were fishing, I usually flocked behind them, clutching my fly rod as best I could. I’ve always been terrible at fly-fishing, never really learning how to tie a fly onto my leader, pathetically holding out my rod to my dad so he would do it for me. But I have all the gear: waders, polaroid glasses, a little clipper that hangs from my vest, and, of course, a zipper pocket in that same fishing vest that’s big enough to fit a book in, so I could secretly sit down by the stream and read, which always ended up being my favorite part of the fishing process.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m an “outdoorsy” girl in the broad sense of the term, meaning: I like the outdoors. (Not meaning: my wardrobe is made up of Columbia fleece and Chacos.) But I do love being outside, especially in the mountains, where the quiet feels holy.

So, yesterday, our last day of a big family trip to Colorado, I joined my brother Brooks and my dad for a couple of hours on the river. Lamely, I watched Brooks tie on the fly to my line. Then my dad took me out for an “it’s been four years since you’ve fished” tutorial in the stream. I needed it. My cast was terrible. I was pulling my rod back far past where it should have been. The line was crumpling into a knotty mess in the water, scaring off the hungry trout. And after about 10 casts, my arm already ached.

It took a few minutes, but once I realized what I was doing wrong with that cast, it was incredibly easy. My arm wasn’t aching. The line was elegant as it unfolded over the water, landed with a splat and slid downstream.

As I stood shin deep in the South Platte, overlooking prairie that eventually collides into mountain, I felt the sigh that usually arrives for me near the river. It has nothing to do with catching fish. (I can assure you, I never do.) It has more to do with the rhythm. The cast, the fly’s meander downstream, my control as I pull it back over my head and place it again in the water.  There is a certain silence, filled up only by birds, the sound of the line slapping the water, and uncertain squish of my boots on the rocks.

And today, in that rhythm, I had two thoughts. One, fly-fishing is like praying the rosary: slowly moving through each bead, being led into prayer by a physical act. It’s the repetition, the sameness of coming to God with simple words (or no words at all) that opens my chest to God, especially in those moments when I’m closed off.

Two, casting correctly is a lot easier than doing it incorrectly. And I know it sounds like a cheesy sermon illustration, but I’ll say it anyway. I felt like God was reminding me that prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Over and over, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again.

So, no, I won’t be getting my smiley face on next year’s Fly Fisherwomen of America Calendar. But it’s Thankful Tuesday and I’m grateful for prayer: silent and wordless. Because that’s the kind of prayer that occurs least in my life.

What are you thankful for?

1 Comment

  • I feel exactly the same way about being outdoors in the mountains — “the quiet feels holy.” I went camping this past weekend in Northern Michigan and I woke up about an hour earlier than my friends, crawled out of the tent and went on walks to photograph wildflowers and then spent time by the slowly crackling campfire, reading and whispering Wendell Berry’s poetry out loud and making the first batch of coffee for the morning.

    My father is a fly-fisherman and I know that for him, the river is where he meets God . (Though I’m sure you know, “A River Runs Through It” by Norman McLean discusses that in detail.)

    From one “broad-sense outdoorsy girl” to another, there is no better place to meet God than in the beautiful silence of His works.

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