The other evening I had one of those small epiphanies that come into my life now and then. It’s not always in the form of a lightning bolt or an angel knocking me off my donkey in the middle-of-the-road, but it does come, and it does make me think. It’s rather a nice thing to have.
The insight that I had as I sat in my rocker with the lap robe over my legs and feet, a cat curled up on my lap, a good book in my hands, a lit Christmas tree, and my fake fireplace giving off not quite realistic flames but close enough for me. As I observed all of this, I suddenly had this feeling of utter contentment. It was something I noted because it so rarely has happened over the last decade or two — just plain total absolute pleasure. I didn’t want to be anywhere else, I didn’t want or need to be with anybody else, and I didn’t need anything else, except maybe a cup of hot tea, to make life better. I’ve tried to recapture that moment, and I’ve almost succeeded. I have allowed myself to feel happy, although it hadn’t reached the point of total contentment that I had previously. Still, it was something that I could retain in my mind and work towards once again.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Some men fish all their lives without knowing it is not really fish they are after.” So many people, including men and women of my acquaintance, enjoy fishing, whether in a freshwater lake, in the mountains, on a beach, from a boat, or even off a pier. Many of them would say, “I fish because I like to catch my dinner and I like the fresh fish.” But a lot of those people are also catch-and-release fisherpeople; they enjoy fishing, but let the fish go back to its natural environment, hopefully, to live another day. There are some that are fly fisherpeople who continually flick their rods and reels to make a fly on the end of the line attractive enough to a fish to get it to jump joyfully upon a pointed barb that pierces its mouth before dragging the poor fish through the water and put in a net. It sounds little brutal, but then, so many things in life are.
A third kind of fisherperson is one who calmly sits either in the boat or on the beach, throws the line out, and sits back to enjoy the gentle lap of the waves against the boat or the pier, and feel the pure enjoyment of just being outside. They may appear to be doing something productive, but mostly they are just letting things go, resting and relaxing. In that case, a fish for dinner is a bonus.
I am one of those third type of fisherpeople. I don’t care if I catch a fish; I am just as happy if I don’t. The important thing is putting the line in the water and patiently waiting for something to happen or not happen. It’s a time to think, to contemplate, to just let the mind go blank, and perhaps even fall asleep. It’s a time of tranquility, a significant component of the state of being content.
I wonder how many of us really can say this was a moment where we felt perfect contentment. The circumstances for someone else would probably be entirely different than what I experienced, but then all of us are different, and it would be rather presumptuous of me to say that my way was the only way.
Good old apostle Paul, once again he has given us some words of wisdom that we might apply to the issue of contentment. “… [Be] content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.’ “ (Hebrews 13:5b). That brings to mind another experience of contentment when I was much younger. I would go to the Revolutionary War monument in my hometown. The column overlooked my river, my favorite sacred place, and one which I enjoyed visiting often. There was a particular pine tree just over the brow of the bluff on which the monument stood, and I used to go and sit underneath that pine tree to watch and listen to the river and feel utter contentment. Sometimes I’d take my Bible along and find myself reading Psalms, which added another dimension to my happiness, but just sitting there with nature all around me and a kind of invisibility to the rest of the world was a place of comfort. Even more than half a century later, I can still return to that place in my mind, l to try and recapture that contentment. There was a knowledge that God was there. It wasn’t that I saw God sitting on next to me or across from me or even under the same tree. I knew God was not a person that would do any of those things, but I knew that God was always present. And I think that’s what added to my contentment at that time.
I think this week I need to try to recapture those moments of contentment and put them in a faith-based context. After all, tomorrow is the first day the first Sunday in Advent, and we must be content with waiting for the Nativity of a small child will change the world. Perhaps the fishing metaphor might be appropriate for people we can help or ideas we can foster during this coming season.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.