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by Michael M. Dewitt, Jr. | Sep 24, 2020 | FISHING, FRESHWATER
Worshiping at the Freshwater Temple

I was worshiping at my favorite freshwater temple when my 8-year-old fishing disciple hooked an epiphany and landed one of the secrets to the Kingdom of Heaven. Well, sort of.

Author’s Note: Just before sunrise on Monday, April 13, 2020, a historic, record-breaking EF4 tornado swept through the South Carolina Lowcountry. The monster storm skirted our family farm, damaging outbuildings and sheds, before destroying our neighbors. We were the lucky ones.

All told, millions in damages and five lives lost in our county alone – almost all within five miles of where my children sleep. For days, as we struggled to regain electrical power and a sense of security in an uncertain world, we drove by the annihilated homes of our neighbors. My sons witnessed images they will ever forget: a makeshift roadside memorial where two people perished, children’s toys and teddy bears strewn and left hanging from tree limbs amid concertina wire from a federal prison miles away, entire homes scattered across corn fields and pine woods as if a warhead had reduced them to roadside litter.

We talked to our children often in the days and weeks of the aftermath – about life and death and hope and faith – and we talked about God.

I was worshiping at my favorite freshwater temple when my 8-year-old fishing disciple hooked an epiphany and landed one of the secrets to the Kingdom of Heaven. Well, sort of.

“Daddy, what’s the difference between God and Jesus?” the boy asked, tossing out a baited hook with his new Zebco and reeling it right back in like it was on water skis. The kid had no patience. I was still trying to master my new baitcaster and the fine art of backlashing. I had no patience, either.

“Who do I pray to? I need to pray to somebody so I can catch a big bass instead of all these tiny bream. Do you pray to God or do you pray to Jesus?”

“Son, that’s not how fishing works. And I’m pretty sure that’s not how prayer works, either,” I responded, tossing out a Brush Hog plastic bass lure and then untangling the ensuing bird nest from my baitcasting reel, while the little bream kept chasing the kid’s water-ski worms.

These aren’t unusual questions for a child of that age, but this line of questioning isn’t exactly something a dad is prepared to answer quickly on the spot, especially while threading reds onto a hook in search of bluegills. We had been talking a lot about God and heaven lately, and yet I was at a loss for the right answer that morning. But before the wisdom of the elders could come pouring from my aged and learned lips, the child had an answer of his own.

“Daddy, I think I figured it out: God created fish, but Jesus invented fishing.”

And there it was: perhaps the wisest, most inspired and spiritual thing I have ever heard a person say. Words I will never forget. On that beautiful April morning, my youngest child arrived at this great truth. From the mouths of babes: God created fish, but Jesus invented fishing. In a simplistic sense, that sums up all an outdoorsman needs to know of Heaven and Earth, if you think about.

An Uncertain World

Like most men who seek salvation in the outdoors, I know a little something of Heaven here on Earth. The Great Beyond? Not so much. I don’t pretend to be enlightened, and I can’t part the Red Sea with my Quantum graphite staff. Just as my children have questions about the spiritual world and what’s out there beyond this mortal life, so do I.

A baby crib sits atop the debris left by a devastating tornado in the South Carolina Lowcountry earlier this year.

When hard pressed, I must truthfully admit that I strive to be more spiritual than religious. I’m no fan of organized religion, and you’ll never catch me in a mega-church. I think a person’s spirituality should be a personal thing – it’s up to each of us to find our own connection with The Great Creator. I do not denounce my native Christianity, but I also aspire to a set of spiritual beliefs more akin to the peacefulness of Zen Buddhism, more aligned with our pagan ancestors who worshiped and loved Mother Earth. I am a hybrid cross between conservative Southern Baptist and nature-worshiping Wiccan. Thus, my beliefs are something I share with very few people, because they would not understand or would pass judgment.

The kids have had a lot of questions about God and faith recently, considering everything that is happening in our world, and even in our own backyard. Like many children in the world right now, my child is afraid. With no school and no friends around, huddled in our dark home without electricity in the aftermath of a tornado, the future of their world, our world, looks bleak and uncertain. From plague to politics, from storms to social unrest, our world seems to be spiraling into the depths of despair and destruction, and perhaps both God and Jesus seem busy right now, and Mother Earth seems angry.

No, my child, I don’t know the answers to all of life’s deep spiritual questions. I don’t know what the future will hold. But the next time I take you fishing, and this conversation arises, I know exactly what I will tell you.

Seek Solace at The Temple

When times are hard, and the world seems dark with death, worry and fear, I come to worship at places like this Freshwater Temple. It is close to home – only a few hundred yards through woods, fields and feedlots – and our family has owned this place for almost two hundred years. Hugging a cove along its north bank is the pond house and a restored old farm house, where my family gathers for reunions and holidays. A few steps off its east bank lay Live Oak Cemetery, where my grandparents and my people lie resting in peace, waiting for me to join them.

Here, I can commune with both nature and my ancestors. God and Mother Earth live here, as do the spirits of elders long gone. This place speaks to me. The wind sings hymns and Psalms to me, my scripture is written in the ripples of the waves, as I commune with the sun and the water and soil beneath my often-bare feet. My offerings are my heart, my time and attention; my sacrifices are these crickets and red worms, and for a little while the answers to the questions of life and the afterlife are in my tackle box, or stored in the life-giving waters of my live well. There are so many of life’s metaphors and lessons here, from the disciplines in troubled waters and Moses parting the Red Sea, to the feeding of the multitudes with the loaves and fishes. With each trip I am treated to a new and inspiring sermon, and the troubled waters of my soul are calmed.

Here I am The Deacon of the Lake, taking attendance of God’s creatures and passing the offering plate. I can’t walk on water, but I always come away with peace and a bit of salvation in my spirit; renewed, refreshed and ready to resist the evils of the world for another day.

This is my Holy Land, my Temple, and you probably have one of your own. Be it freshwater or salt, turkey country or whitetail habitat, upland quail or high mountain rams, many of us have found these places to commune with nature, the spiritual world, and thus our own souls. If not, I suggest you find one soon.

The Great Creator gave us fish, but fishing was “invented” to feed our earthly bodies, take our minds off of things we cannot control and to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven and the Mother Earth He created for us.

There will always be questions about a Father and a Son in a place called Heaven, and I truly do not know the answers. But I do know there are a father and a son here at this Freshwater Temple, and if salvation does not lie in the fish beneath its waters, it can always be found in the time spent with your children and loved ones, teaching them to find their own way and their own salvation.

And if I know one other thing for certain, it is this: Jesus may have invented fishing, but the Devil himself invented baitcasting reels and backlash. Amen.
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