WISDOM AND WONDER

THE CATCH OF FISH


by Bruno Barnhart, OSB Cam

The beginning of Christian wisdom is wonder. This is everywhere in the gospel, where the newness appears: where Jesus is present and speaking or acting, where someone encounters him for the first time, or for the first time the light breaks forth from within him. An example is in Luke's story of Jesus bringing about the great catch of fish. (Lk 5:1-11)

I feel a stirring of wonder in Luke's words, when he tells us how Jesus got into Simon's boat and asked him to 'put out a little from the land.' At this point, with this merest suggestion of a movement into some kind of depth, the imagination quickens; the scene begins to form, strangely engaging us. We have read the story a dozen times already, but this time the mind is held, like the people on the shore who are unable to leave until this man has finished speaking. There must have been many people, if he needed to pull away like that to speak to them. Luke tells us, 'the people pressed on him to hear the word of God.'

Jesus sits down in the boat, a little way from the land, and teaches the people from the boat. He must have had a strong voice, to reach them all. Imagine him standing in the boat, and then sitting down and beginning to speak, as if he were before them in the synagogue on the sabbath. Imagine the boat bobbing and shifting a little on the water. Simon, standing and listening, steadies the boat with an oar, as if he would hush the restless waters to listen too, as this man speaks.

This is the one who goes a little out from the land, and sits upon the waters. The one who speaks from the waters. The one who moves upon the surface of the waters. Scenes from the Bible awaken, one after another. The creation comes to mind, with the Spirit hovering over the tossing chaos, and God speaking that word, 'Let there be light!' And the light came to be, there upon the waters.

As an hour passes, a strange sleepiness comes over the people; they are caught and held as if entranced, and yet wide awake; every word falls through their minds into a deeper place within them. A sleepiness comes over Simon, as he stands in the boat and then sits for awhile to rest; he will experience that sleepiness more than once in Jesus' company, he will be sleepy again on the mountain. And there is only Jesus, who continues speaking from the waters, speaking the word of God to the people. The words that they hear merge with what they see before them, this one who sits upon the waters.

These waters are all waters, their moving is the moving of all the waters. And the one who sits upon the waters is the one who speaks the words of the Source. He sits upon the waters and speaks of the Source, speaks from the Source, and the people listen.

Jesus, sitting upon the waters, speaking of the Father, speaking of the Source, teaching the people. The waters move and part, the waters mass and shift and gleam, and they hold him up, hold him in the little boat that sits upon them. The waters quiet and listen to his voice, listen to him speaking to the people. He sits upon the waters, speaking of the Source. He brings them to the Source, and they do not know it.

But they begin to know it, something begins to dawn within their hearts while they linger there, standing and sitting upon the shore. Something is rising inside them, and their attention is strangely distracted, a little absent from that which they see before them. Something without words, something bright and rising within them as they listen.

Waters inside them are moving, shifting, gleaming. Waters within them shine and move gently as he sits and speaks to them, sits upon the waters speaking. The waters move slowly, gleaming, within them.

What is it that is rising, dawning, opening within them as he speaks to them, tells them of the Father? Their hearts begin to open before him like blossoms before the rising sun; they remain there, listening, understanding and not understanding, their hearts slowly opening wide their petals to this strange speaking sun who is just a human being, one like themselves.

He speaks to them of the Father, of the Source. It is the Beginning, that which he tells them about, as on that first day, that dawn of dawns upon the waters. The Beginning, the Source: like the waters, it is silent, a depth, it is everywhere beneath; both waters and ground, it is bottomless and silent.

He speaks and the people are like a field of grain beneath the noonday sun, moving gently in the breeze. They are silent and their silence is palpable, is like a single silent soul beneath the sun. He speaks and speaks, and they listen, and time and the sun and the day stand still, stand and listen in a simple wondering, an eternal stillness of his words, of his sitting and speaking there.

And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we have toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish...

Jesus ceases speaking to the crowd and turns to Simon. 'We have toiled all night and took nothing.' 'They have no wine.' 'This woman has been bent over for eighteen years.' 'Why was this man born blind?' The world is old, the people are poor and ill, hope has withered and died.

And from the waters they take a great number of fish, so that their nets are breaking. They call to the other boat to come, and both boats are full and nearly sinking.

Jesus spoke to the people from the waters, spoke of the Source, and then he spoke a word to Simon, and at his word Simon put out into the depths and put down his nets. And from the waters, from the depths, come a great number of fish, more than they can handle.

From the Source comes forth abundance. From the Beginning comes forth newness. From the place where Jesus stands, where he dwells, comes the fullness of life; not only the light that is in his words, but the life that is in himself.

The veil that covers the universe is broken for a moment, and from the depths a light without beginning and then an inexhaustible abundance appears. The order of the world that we are accustomed to is questioned, then torn open to reveal another order, another world, beneath: a world that is like the deep sense and yearning of our heart.

Bright water runs back down the net-cords and drips from the knots. Something totally other has become manifest here alongside the brightly painted boats, the excited and shouting fishermen. Something new and unheard of has emerged in the sagging weight of these massed fish, in these wide open eyes, here in the broad daylight. The world, like these waters, ripples in widening rings from this moment.