Monday, June 9, 2008

A Magic Fly Fishing Wand

There is a magic wand sitting on a bookshelf in my house. It was a gift from one of my wife’s co-workers. The wand is a little over a foot long, and very thin. The handle is decorated with a swirl of rainbow colors. At the end of the wand is a sphere, formed out of an artistic weaving of copper wire. Sadly, my wife’s magic wand is only decorative. I tried waving it once and asking for a million dollars, but my hand remained empty.

Picture: The magic wand on my bookshelf

The idea of the magic wand has long captured the imagination. In the Cinderella story, the fairy godmother uses a magic wand to help Cinderella. A wave of the wand turns a pumpkin into a stage-coach and mice into horses. In the classic Wizard of Oz movie from 1939, Glinda the good witch carries a white magic wand that she uses to help Dorothy.

When we go to a magic show, a magician takes out his black wand with white ribbon on either end. He waves it back and forth and says “abracadabra.” Then he pulls a rabbit from a hat or makes a person disappear from the stage. The word abracadabra has Jewish roots. Abracadabra comes from Aramaic, the language used by Jews beginning over 2000 years ago, and it means “I will create as I speak.”

In some sense, every fly fisher is a magician with a magic wand. We stand in freezing cold water, waving a magic rod about nine feet long made out of fiberglass or bamboo back and forth in the air for hours. We are hoping to make an amazing mythical creature, a trout, appear out of the flowing river. The magician has it much easier than we do; he or she already has the rabbit or dove poised to appear. On the river, we can wave our magic rods for three hours and never see a single brown or rainbow trout.

Even if we do not catch a fish, there is something magical about spending the afternoon casting. When we wave our fly fishing rods perfectly, the line loops backwards and forwards in rhythm. The dry fly drops ever so softly on the other side of the river, in front of a large pool filled with trout. A great cast can be magical and artistic, creating beautiful loops and twists of line in the air.

In Judaism, the power of a magic wand comes from its ability to perform miracles. Moses had a magic wand, the staff that he carried with him. Moses went before Pharoah and said: “Let my people go.” Then Moses's brother Aaron threw his staff on the floor and it turned into a snake. The Pharoah's advisors performed the same trick, but then Aaron's snake swallowed all of the other serpents.

Later on in the Bible, that same magic staff would perform another miracle. When the Jews were stuck between Pharoah’s army and the Red Sea, God told Moses to lift his staff in the air. God split the Red Sea in half, and the Israelites walked through it on dry land. Today when we want to cross a fast moving stream, we could try to wave our fly fishing rod in the air like Moses, but it might be more effective to use another type of pole, a wading staff.

We may not be able to perform miracles with a fly fishing rod like Moses did with his staff. But the time we spend waving a fly fishing rod in the air can be magical, if we take an opportunity to notice the small miracles all around us. When we listen to the stream flowing, or take a moment to notice the sky or the deep green of the leaves, we are witnessing the most profound of miracles, our beautiful world that has its source in the Divine.

I recently took my congregation on a deep sea fishing trip. A few people asked me if I could bless their fishing rods, hoping that I could turn a normal pole into a magic wand that would catch fish. I told them that sadly I don’t have that kind of influence.

As the trip ended and we got off the boat, many of my congregants told me what a great time they had. They spoke about the relaxation they felt from being on the ocean. They described how special it was to watch their sons and daughters exclaim in wonder at the sight of a sea crab, or a red robin bass, or a sea-gull catching a piece of bait in mid-air.

As I thought back on the fishing trip, I realized what I should have said to my congregants who wanted me to bless their fishing rods. I did not need to speak words of Hebrew or say abracadabra. Instead, I could have reminded them that a fishing pole can become a magic wand, when we remember to appreciate the time spent on the ocean or stream with family and friends.


Rick said...


Fishing is a spiritual practice for me. I am an "extrovert" by birth, whose sense of adventure has only dimished slightly over the years . . . thanks mostly to arthritis and being more "out-of-shape" than usual.

Casting a fly, or using a rod and reel to cast a lure . . . listening to the sounds of nature and water as a river flows, or as the surf strikes the shore (Gulf Coast of Texas) . . . there is a natural, soothing, healing rhythm to it all . . . a rhythm which invites me to calm down, a rhythm which invites me into the natural rhythm of God and His creation.

It is a rhythm that heals me, and helps make me whole. As a protestant clergyman, fishing is often a sabbath time of rest within God's presence.

I take part in various spiritual practices; I find if they are redemptive in practice, and help me draw closer to God, they are worth consideration. Fishing, for me, meets those pre-requisites.

I apprecite you.

Kenov said...

I sometimes find myself humming a warrior song that I learned as an ethnographer. Ultimately, though, I think that all of the magic on stream belongs to the trout, and to the Being who created them.

Sure enjoyed having you in Gettysburg. I look forward to further meetings.