A River Runs Through it

Deep Cove Crier August 1993 
For the last year, I have been receiving rave reviews from my friends and relatives about the movie A River Runs Through It. Itís hard to find a really good movie that the whole family can watch together, without exploitive sexuality and violence. I have gone several times to the video stores recently only to discover that once again the River Runs Through It video was already booked out. The last lime I tried to rent it, the person behind me broke into spontaneous praise about the "Riverí video. Once I finally was able to rent a copy, I too joined the ranks of the enthusiastic "River" boosters. The movie is directed by Robert Redford and the star of the movie "Norman" looks remarkably like a junior Robert Redford. It is set in the Midwestern United States of the 1920ís. Its breathtaking scenic shots are reason enough as to why this movie was an Academy Award winner in 1992.

No Clear Line
The movie begins by having the elderly Norman recall his fatherís words: "Someday when you are ready, you might tell our family story. Only then will you understand what happened and why." An intriguing feature of this movie is that all the meaningful statements are deliberately understated in a way that provokes curiosity. For example, Norman commented: "in our family there was no clear line between fly fishing and religion." Norman doesnít really explain what he means, Instead he just teases your imagination, and then moves on. The symbol of life at its best was "the river running through." Again and again, as tragedy and setbacks hit the Maclean family, they seemed to find solace and refreshment by returning to their family river, the big Blackfoot. As the movie put it, "Beneath the (river) rocks are the words of God. Listen ... and if Paul and I listened very carefully all our lives, we might hear those words."

A Common Love
Normanís father was a rigid, but well meaning Presbyterian minister. There were times in the fatherís life where his rigidity seemed to totally alienate his sons. Yet again and again their common love for the river would bring them back together as a family. As Norman put it, "In the afternoon we would walk with him while he unwound between services and he almost always chose the path along the Blackfoot, which we considered our family river, and it was there that he found his soul restored and his imagination stirred." Norman, of course, is making a clear allusion to the well known Psalm 23: "He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul."

The Rhythms of Life
In contrast to the modem tendency to "pigeonhole" religion into a small private slot, Normanís father saw religion as a totally normal part of everyday life. Faith was as normal for him as breathing or fly fishing. Flyfishing for the Macleans was a symbol of an integrated and healthy spirituality pervading all of life. As Norman put it, "... Paul and I probably received as many hours of instruction in fly fishing as we did in all other spiritual matters." Normanís father saw fly fishing as symbolic of the rhythms of life that we all need to discover. Norman comments: "As a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a damn mess, and that only by picking up Godís rhythms could we regain power and beauty. To (Normanís father), all good things come by grace, and grace comes by art, and art does not come easy." Normanís father trained his two sons to cast "Presbyterian style", on a four count rhythm between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. One of the most significant moments in the movie was the first time that Paul the younger brother broke free of his fatherís instruction, into a shadow casting rhythm all his own. All of us, at some point, need to break free of our fathersí spiritual instruction, to find a relationship with God that we can call our own Secondhand spirituality can only take us so far.

Return to the River
Paul stayed at home for college, unwilling to "leave the fish he had not yet caught. Norman went east for college, and entirely abandoned fly fishing, When Norman returned home, he felt embarrassed and awkward down at the river, because he had lost touch with the rhythms of life while at college. Yet as the elderly Norman looked back on his life, he confessed that he was "haunted by waters". Despite all the tragedy and horror of life, Normanís returning to the river replenished him again and again. As Norman put it, "... when I am alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and my memories, and the sounds of the big Blackfoot River, and the four count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise." A Jewish Rabbi said 2,000 years ago: "Whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within him."

My prayer for those reading this article is that streams of  living water may flow through the middle of our lives, bringing a peace that passes all understanding.

          The Reverend Ed Hird
          Rector, St. Simonís Anglican Church

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