Last month I wrote about preparing for a trip to the Boundary Waters with a group from the churches I'm serving as intern here in southwest Minnesota. It was a great adventure and trek into wilderness so beautiful it clearly could only be of God's imagination.
I'd seen many eagles before, but I'd never heard two young males chatter in the top of a jack pine while I took photo after photo from the waters below. The youth in our group - and even the adults - were upbeat and community-minded as we navigated our way through preparing meals in downpours, canoeing to the middle of the lake to filter water several times a day, the joys of open air latrines and the odd but somehow satisfying sensation of filling up on previously dehydrated foodstuffs. I turned 50 in a place that made me thankful to be created in God's image - strong, resourceful and persistent. My husband only dumped me out of the canoe once. Our two groups went their separate ways on Monday and came back together on Friday afternoon thankful for showers, hot food, storytelling and laughter.
But the highlight of the trip for me was remembering how much I love to fish. In the end I didn't catch anything except a pretty little small mouth bass we threw back so it could get bigger and tastier for another fisherperson on another day perhaps. But I realized how much I enjoyed fishing and that this wasn't a new thing for me, just something I'd forgotten over years of busyness.
And I remembered my grandfather, Leo Ellis Gonyea. He died when I was only about six years old. For years I've told people I have only two memories of this man and I treasure them because how I really know him is through the stories of others - how he was so charismatic, how he filled up a room and was loved by so many back in our Chicago neighborhoods. It was similar to how we know Jesus through the stories of others, like the community of the 1 John text we were using for our devotions while in the Boundary Waters, as I wrote about last month.
My first memory of Grandpa is from Mother's Day when I was five. I was running up the sidewalk to their porch and tripped. I split my forehead open on this corner of the concrete steps. But the only thing I recall is Grandpa leaning over me wearing this wide-brimmed hat and scooping me up into his arms. My other memory is when he sat me on his lap one day and told me he wanted me to promise him two things: don't smoke and don't be a Cubs fan. Well Grandpa, I am a nonsmoker.
But my fishing experiences in the Boundary Waters brought another memory forward. He taught me to fish. I had forgotten. But baiting the hook, remember how to feel the little movements in the line, seeing fish break the surface of the water and smelling my hands after getting fish off the hook while we were in the Boundary Waters brought it all back.
"We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." (1 John 1:3-4).
My fishing experience and recalled memory of Grandpa expanded the idea of this fellowship even more. That fellowship we have with those who experienced Jesus' ministry first-hand and those who passed it on to us our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. They don't just introduce us to this Jesus-centered way of life, but they help us to remember who we are. Sometimes I think we forget. We get caught up in our day-to-day busyness. We conform to the expectations and rules of a world that is centered more on individual and less on community; more on greed and power, less on generosity and being servants to one another. We forget that it is more than just words when we say "We are Christians," and that it changes the way we see and hear and feel the world around us. It changes the way we act, the choices we make when we feel that tug on the line and remember that we are freed and can choose to live boldly, confident in our salvation.
Editor's note: Ann Gonyea is a member of Bethany Lutheran Church in Ishpeming. She is attending seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and working toward a Masters in Divinity degree and ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This year she is doing her pastoral internship at Winds of the Prairie Ministries in southwest Minnesota.