The water is cold this morning. And after a night on the boat, a night when we caught nothing, I am hungry and I am ready to give up. I thought it would be a good idea, going back out there. It’s not as if there is anything else to do any more. But he did say that, following him, we would lose everything. And it turns out he was right. Because I can’t even seem to catch fish anymore.
It wasn’t my finest hour that night. Late into the evening we stood there, warming ourselves around that charcoal fire. They’d asked me not once, not twice, but three times. And that question, it echoes now one thousand times in head and heart. Aren’t you one of his?
I was once, of course. But now I’m not so sure. Because I said No that night. No and No and No. Three Nos just like he said I would.
And so now I don’t know. But just moments ago when I stood on the boat I saw him. I wasn’t sure at first. I mean, dead-not-dead men don’t walk on the beach, do they? I know he’s been around in recent days. But what do you do with a man whom you saw die, whom you know went into the tomb, and yet who wasn’t there when you went to look? He’s hardly predictable, is he?
I couldn’t be sure at that distance and in this light. The fish suddenly filling the nets should have been a clue, of course. But it was John who said it to me, got it through to my addled brain. He said, It is the Lord. And before I had a moment to think, I was in the water, thrashing my way to shore.
I can swim. I’ve spent my life around the water. But I have never swum in such an uncoordinated way, my desperation to get to him making me look like one of the children who splash in the shallows. A hundred yards hasn’t ever seemed so far. And then those last strides up the beach to him were stumbles, feet tangling on the pebbles, falling headlong there at the fire.
The fire. The charcoal fire.
And memories of that night fill me. But the hunger for him, for his love, crowds them out. I just have to get to him. I just have to get closer.
And yet I cannot. I find myself there by the fire, face-down. Sprawled before the weightiness of his presence and pressed into the beach by the intensity of my longing for him.
He gets up from his spot on the other side of that fire. Leaves the fish which are sizzling and the bread cooking. He steps around the flames, bends down next to me, lays a hand on my back. I cannot raise my head for the weightiness of it all. And, reminded by this small fire, even so cannot speak the longing that I might dwell with Fire.
But he hears, he must have. For, with hand on my back, he says, I will come with you.
I have been playing again with Ignatian reflection, this time using John 21. For weeks, perhaps even months, I have not got past the frenzied swim to shore, faced only with my own inarticulate desperation to get to him. I’ve seen something of what it will perhaps mean in my own life to throw myself out of this boat, a boat which has a very specific significance for me and to which I will return. I do not cease to be one of these fishermen, one who belongs in that boat, even as my longing for him causes me to rush on ahead. It is my boat and they are my people even as boat cannot be allowed to contain me. Whether I swim through that water, more desperation than grace, or whether I walk on it I will step out of that boat which is place of belonging. I will do so because, when he calls, I cannot but come.