Another Look: A Long[er] Way from the Lake

Note from CM: Here is another take on yesterday’s Gospel text (though Matthew’s version), one I wrote a few years ago. If anything, my vocational path is clearer, but the “reinvention of one’s self” continues. And I certainly feel even older. The journey continues…

• • •

The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew, Tissot
The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew, Tissot

As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net. Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” At once they left their nets and went with him.

He went on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat with their father Zebedee, getting their nets ready. Jesus called them, and at once they left the boat and their father, and went with him.

– Matthew 4:18-22, GNT

I like James Tissot’s painting of this Bible story. Though I think the artist overdid it when it comes to Jesus and his clothing, I find his depictions of young Peter and Andrew delightful.

Tissot made visits to the Holy Land in the 1880’s and saw then that fishermen used their nets in the shallows next to the shoreline to catch fish. Believing that the same method would have enabled Peter and Andrew to hear Jesus calling them from the nearby land, he portrayed them in similar position. He also observed that the fishermen wore nets around their waists in which to put the fish they caught so they could carry them easily, and so he included that in his depiction as well.

What I like most about this painting is the way James Tissot has captured the realistic physiques and body language of the two young disciples. You can see their boyish vigor as well as a bit of their eagerness and awkwardness, and you get a sense of their youthful curiosity about the Stranger calling to them — the One who is on the verge of changing their vocation and setting them on a new course for the rest of their lives.

And now I feel old.

I well remember the season when I splashed to shore as a young man, casting my nets aside for Jesus. At that time (believe it or not) I was trim and fit. I was also eager and awkward, ready without question to try anything, to walk any road. With lots of zeal and a little bit of knowledge, Jesus and a lot of gracious people gave me a chance. They didn’t laugh at my youthful appearance, they put up with my childish mistakes, and they were somehow willing to affirm my vocation as a minister. With feet still wet from the lake and a lot of wet behind the ears, I tromped into the church and into their living rooms and we talked about Jesus.

It all felt just as simple as that.

That was over 35 years ago. There are many days now when I wonder if this “follow me” business is strictly a young person’s game. Whatever eagerness I had then too often feels like “been there, done that” now. The awkwardness I currently exhibit is not that of a young athlete coming into his game, but of a man who increasingly looks for the railing to hold on to when descending the stairs. I’ve got shoes on now and they are dry and comfortable, and I tend to be cautious about someone — anyone — trying to change my life out of the blue.

I’ve been thinking these thoughts lately in a kind of mid-life fog. The kids are grown and out of the house. They have climbed up out of the water and are starting to walk their own paths. A lot of our friends have moved on to other things in other places. Our daily work goes on, and though the work is satisfying and meaningful, I can’t help but feeling there must be more out there for me, for us. Perhaps my recent efforts toward being ordained in a different church tradition will make clear a new path, but for now I wait.

This is turning into an unexpectedly difficult transition. I am finding the reinvention of one’s self that accompanies mid-life much more challenging than I ever thought it would be. It used to be pretty clear to me who I was. I was one of those young men in James Tissot’s painting. I heard the call. I looked up. Eagerly, awkwardly, I splashed to shore and went on an amazing journey.

But we’re a long way from the lake now.

I keep waiting for Jesus to pass by this dry and weary place.

38 thoughts on “Another Look: A Long[er] Way from the Lake

  1. Robert F. really liked that one, falls in with youth is wasted on the young, Roy Clark song Yesterday When I was Young and all the other good thoughts about aging. It just shows that some truisms can be expressed in so many different ways to convey the same message and still be fresh. good use of the language.


  2. Well, I have to acknowledge that I’m not as chary as some here are about Lewis’ words (attributed to a devil, mind you!) regarding worldliness. I kinda like “I’ll Fly Away”, but then I also like Dylan’s “Slow Train.” And I think there’s some truth in Platonism, too.


  3. I guess I just don’t see how Bonhoeffer’s robust embrace of the grim ugliness of his prison cell leads to license for robust embrace of middle-age acquisitiveness.


  4. Actually, I’m aware of both. But I don’t think that they warrant dismissing the theological exploration he was undertaking. If his theological explorations were halting and fragmentary, there was nothing vague or untested in his robust embrace of the world as he found it in the grim ugliness of his prison cell. It is no fault of his that too may radical theologians have extended his thoughts far beyond anything they could possibly warrant.


  5. Progs prefer their misinterpretation of Bonhoeffer’s vague religionless Christianity without realizing he opposed democratic populism and favored a true aristocracy…


  6. But to be honest, I’m not completely convinced that there isn’t a little real truth in “I’m just passing through” theology. I’ll never be able to shake it completely out of my system, and not sure I want to anymore.


  7. WoL, Bonhoeffer wrote somewhere that, until one loves the world so much that one cannot imagine or tolerate the idea of it passing away, one cannot really believe in or hope for the resurrection to new life. I think that was the basis for his ideas about religionless Christianity: Christian existence residing primarily at the boundaries and in boundary situations, in places of weakness, but in the very heart of the vital, strong, living world. That idea is not boujee; rather, it overlaps with what is best in pagan understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and the earthly.


  8. Yes. Lewis’ instincts are essentially correct here, but I think, being somewhat ensnared in the captivity of traditional Christian theology to Platonism, he was also mixing it with more than a touch of “I’m just passing through” theology.


  9. I think Lewis was interested in keeping a robust faith from decaying into either despair or complacency. Both are real dangers.


  10. My understanding is that contemporary scholars believe itinerant preachers with follower/disciples were not all that unusual in first century Palestine. In fact, they were a regulars feature of the apocalyptic Judaism of that time.


  11. However, when Lewis writes;

    “Prosperity knits a man to the World.”

    I think that Lewis is not speaking of this planet, rather “World” as in the underlying logos that is at odds with the Logos of the Kingdom. As Heraclitus asserted, violence is what makes the World go ’round…


  12. What “bad theology”? Like what’s expressed in an old hymn I was raised on;

    This world is not my home,
    I’m just passing through.
    My treasures are laid up,
    somewhere beyond the blue.
    The angels beckon me
    from heaven’s open door.
    And I can’t feel at home
    in this world anymore.


  13. Hmm…I look at Lewis’ blurbs as a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” take on middle-aged-ness. On the one hand, you’ve got Screwtape saying that the apathy and despair that stems from being middle-aged is good for wearing out a soul by attrition, then adding that even if a person is living their middle-aged years in the joy and comfort of prosperity, “don’t worry in that case, either, ’cause we’ve got them there, too.”


  14. Agree. I see the point he is making, but this gets very close to Happiness-Is-Bad-Don’t-Love-Things-“Of-This-World”. To which my response is: whatever.


  15. Like i pointed out yesterday, the parallel passage in Luke shows Jesus making a demonstration of His power to them just before He called them. But yes, they probably all knew each other beforehand too – Dorothy Sayers uses that very cleverly in her radio play/book The Man Born to be King.


  16. Spring Morning

    Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
    Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
    Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
    Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

    Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
    Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
    Where am I going? The shadows pass,
    Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

    If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
    You’d sail on water as blue as air,
    And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
    “Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

    Where am I going? The high rooks call:
    “It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
    Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
    “We do have beautiful things to do.”

    If you were a bird, and lived on high,
    You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
    You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
    “That’s where I wanted to go today!”

    Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
    What does it matter where people go?
    Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
    Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

    -A.A. Milne


  17. I love Screwtape.


    If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger! Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want.

    That’s just Lewis responding to some bad, bad theology.


  18. On the flip-side, that same importance on family makes the story all the more surprising. While it doesn’t say anything about the family fishing business in Simon and Andrew’s blurb, in James and John’s case they left their boat AND THEIR FATHER just to follow a carpenter’s son! I’m wondering if there wasn’t a bit of a feeling on their father’s part that they’d just walked away from the family business.

    If there’s any reason to believe Jesus knew these guys beforehand, I don’t get that sense in any of the accounts. Luke 5 in particular makes them seem a bit like strangers, or at best distant acquaintances.


  19. Screwtape knew how to take advantage of the lake’s receding…

    The long, dull monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it—all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.

    If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger! Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want.


  20. CM, I love how you’ve tied the Biblical story and some of its spiritual elements to the painting. Reminds me a lot of Henri Nouwen’s spiritual take on Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” in his book of the same title.


  21. Carpenter’s son drops by a couple of guys fishing and says, “Come follow me.” Not sure that can’t be described as anything but a bit out of the norm.


  22. Christ must have known about the Zebedee and sons seafood enterprise all his life. I think that early Church tradition states that Zebedee was part of St Joseph’s extended family, but at any rate, I don;t think Christ’s call came as a surprise to Peter, Andrew, James, or John, as if He signalled them out at a Walmart.


  23. Old Zebedee was none too pleased that his labor foce had just abandoned him to follow a preacher I would imagine. Perhaps as well he wondered why he hadn’t been invited. It wasn’t only John and James’ worlds that changed in that moment.


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