I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Thirteen years before I watched the eight grass carp slip out from the plastic bags from the fish farm and slide into the lake. Since than I had not seen them. I had heard their splashes growing louder over the years, and glimpsed an occasional fin. Some visitors spoke of the Lake Holy Ground Monster. A few saw one feeding close to shore.
Now I stood on the shore enthralled. With no rain for weeks the lake was as clear as glass. From the shore west of the hermitage I could see through greenish yellow water to the bottom. An old lawn chair sat half submerged in the shallows. A few mossy sticks lay in the soft mud.
Then a movement caught my eye, something slowly waving. First one, then another and another – six huge grass carp swam lazily into my view. Some were over four feet in length. Moving slowly in a wide circle, their bodies shimmered with iridescent diamond scales, silver dappled in the sun.
Lifting the curve of their open pink mouths like soup ladles, they gulped the willow seeds and cottonwood fluff floating on the surface. Skimming off the white fuzz, the giants wove in and out in a dance of mesmerizing beauty. A large open mouth would break the surface and scoop the fluff. Then the mouth, water running from its corners like an overflowing pitcher, would close and sink into the lake. The fish scooped and sank, swimming silently, smooth and easy like the hawks riding the wind currents above us.
Later when I got home I cherished the memory of those fish swimming so self contained, whole in themselves, flowing through the water like cream in coffee before it is stirred. For days after I would close my eyes and see them swimming, a secret vision of grace. Here was beauty free for the seeing. And somehow the best gift was their creatureliness – that they knew nothing of me, or a world beyond the lake, that what I did or did not do mattered not to them.
I practiced floating that summer. I learned how my breath increases my buoyancy in the water and to relax the muscles in my neck and shoulders. I learned that water will hold my weight when I resist the least.
Marshall McLuhan said, “We do not know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” Could we overcome our ignorance of the very substance in which we live and move and find our being? Could we float in grace and swim in love, dipping our jaws and opening our throats to taste salvation? I hope so.
A priest observed a peasant man coming daily to the church where he knelt and remained in prayer for some time. One day the priest approached the man and asked, “What do you say to our Lord on your daily visits?”
“Oh, I don’t say anything,” the man replied. “I look at him and he looks at me.”
Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get home. ~St. Francis
A lot about the spiritual life has to do with where you look, what it is you pay attention to and see. The prayer of the peasant man is sometimes called the prayer of the simple gaze or simple regard. In our time of incessant naming, describing, evaluating, where a daily deluge of words pours over us from radio, television, internet, mail and highway billboards, a prayer without words can be sweet refreshment to a word numbed soul. The wordless communion of the gaze is a potent and underrated form of prayer.
Go find something that fills you with wonder and look upon it with love for a while. Go swimming in beauty. It is your natural home, you know. Then wring out the light and pour it over the world.
Poem by St. Francis from Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky