February 6th, 2006

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

My Home Church
By Edward Foster, NE

There is a place, deep in the Colorado mountains that I call my "home church." It isn't a building, in fact the closest building is miles away. You can't drive your car to my home church. Indeed, if you don't want to hike there then you will have to ride a horse (motorcycles have been banished from the trail). The only gold there is the gold of the aspen leaves, but this sanctuary is adorned with jewels, the deep blue lakes that shine like sapphires in the morning sun. Its incense is the vanilla perfume of the Douglas fir, and the smoke from a dying campfire. But it is a sanctuary. It is a place of worship and a house of God. It is the place where I feel touched by the hand of my creator.

My home church, my sanctuary is a pair of high mountain lakes perched below snow-capped peaks, and above the verdant Wet Mountain Valley. They are small alpine lakes, just barely below timberline. So high they are, that they barely sustain the tiny native trout that years ago were airlifted into them. Some year in the future, when the water level is low, and the temperature especially frigid, they will freeze out and the fish will have to be stocked again.

But of all the places on earth, be it cathedral, church, stream or river, this place above all others brings me into the company of the Almighty. I expect that many fly-fisher people have a similar home church, a place where the sights and sounds, the smells and all of their other senses are caressed in such a way that a connection with the transcendent is experienced. You see, I believe that fly-fishing is a spiritual discipline. Sure there are other activities that people find bring them closer to God, many pursuits that comfort the soul, expand the consciousness, quiet the mind and open the heart, but for those who pursue fish with a fly I think many, even those who know God in no other way, find their hearts strangely warmed.

Certainly the beauty of the places we fish is often an integral part of the experience. Betty Hiner I believe points out that "Trouts don't live in ugly places." And certainly almost all of the places where we pursue fish, be it a trout stream, a farm pond, the great and mighty ocean, or my alpine lakes, they are places of distinct and profound beauty. Of course I think it is also true that the existence of catchable (or should I say fishable) fish and the act of fly-fishing for them also helps us to see the beauty of a place what we might otherwise miss. I have fished behind the 7-11 on Fountain Creek in downtown Colorado Springs, and in my local flood control diversion channel here in Omaha, both places most would not call pretty, and found the peace of God there too.

There is something about fly-fishing, maybe not apart from other kinds of fishing and outdoor activities, but maybe greater than these, that makes it more amenable to a spiritual experience. The connection to the land and the water, the forced cadence of the cast, the increased attention to every part of your environment that it requires, all of these seem to draw us in closer to God.

For me, a part of what makes fly-fishing a spiritual experience, is that little life on the other end of the line. Before the advent of C&R, this very much was a life and death encounter. People fished for sustenance, and that nourishment came at the expense of the fish. But even, now when I release almost all of my catch, the understanding that this little life is in my hands, to be respected, to be honored, to be cared for, whether it becomes dinner or not, is a powerful and moving reminder of my place in the universe. Just as that little trout, or blue gill or sucker is created by God with such gentle and tender care, so am I. I find it AWEsome that God gives such responsibility to me.

Fly-fishing is a spiritual activity. For many, I truly believe, the trout stream, or the flats or the farm pond is their church, and fishing is their sacrament. For those of us who believe in a revealed God, this will never take the place of our other forms of worship, though I dare say it often can become an essential part of our spiritual life.

This so rarely discussed aspect of our common fishing experience goes a long way, I think, to explaining just why we all too often become so dogmatic about our fishing. How dare those bait fishermen defile our church with their worm tubs, and salmon egg jars! Real fly-fishermen only fish with (take your pick of fly and method). How dare anyone kill one of these beautiful fish? How dare anyone deny me the right to take one of these beautiful gifts from God? Just like Lutherans and Baptists, just like Christians and Jews and Muslims, we fly-fisher people invest ourselves heart and soul in our pursuit. How could it not, we meet God in our fishing. Thankfully, most of us recognize the sanctity of one another's fishing experience, and as annoying and disruptive as the occasional "sinner" is, fly-fishing also tends to bring out a forgiveness and generosity of spirit, that allows us to share our "church" with others, even if this is most often a solitary form of worship.

Fly-fishing is a spiritual activity, I think. As we ply the waters with our imitations of things that the fish might want to eat, as we attend to such things as water temperature and air temperature, the breeze in the trees and the position of the sun, as we listen to the song birds sing and smell the blooming flowers while looking for bugs in the water and in the air, as we set ourselves into a casting rhythm determined by the rod, the wind and the fish themselves, I believe we open ourselves also up to God. The noise of the world fades away, and maybe the voice of God can finally be heard.

I don't know, of course, what message God might speak to others, but I often become intensely aware of my real place in the universe. I am so very very small, one creature amongst all of this vast creation. How is it that the creator of all this, should care enough for me to put me here? It is hard to be arrogant, with 14,000 foot peaks looming overhead, and an eight-inch cutthroat in my hand. I sense more than understand the cycle of life, at once both violent and terrible, and at the same time gentle and nurturing, and that seems to put the rest of my life into perspective. I could after all be the rabbit being chased down by the wolf, or the baby eagle depending entirely upon the care of its parents. My petty little annoyances don't seem to much matter any more.

To be sure, my belief in a particular God, rooted in history, with a book full of revelation, shapes and forms and alters my understanding of my encounters with God. But I am convinced that the God I experience in nature, who whispers in the wind, and trusts me with his/her creation, is the same God I preach every Sunday, whom I am trusting with my salvation.

See you all in church. ~ Ed Foster (pastored)


Archive of Readers Casts

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ]

FlyAnglersOnline.com © Notice