Living near the coast of Maine and worshiping in a small fishing village, I’ve spent some idyllic moments on the deck of a friend’s lobster boat and marveled at the treasures (the beautiful and the ugly) that come tumbling out of a lobster trap. I’ve skirted the perimeter of a secluded island with four little boys, admired its tumbled stones, listened to its pounding surf, and wondered at its stalwart gale-beaten evergreens. And always, always . . . in the back of my mind was the small voice of worry: “We’re 20 miles from the mainland. What if something goes wrong? What if someone gets hurt?”
Leslie Leyland Fields is no visitor or tourist to maritime culture. The frigid coast of Alaska has been her home and her workplace for 38 years, and she has lived through many of the what-ifs that teased the fringes of my imagination on my island visits. In Crossing the Waters, her tenth book, she has woven with elegance the story of her life as an Alaskan commercial fishing woman alongside meditations on the wet and wild New Testament tales of wind-whipped waves and a sleeping savior, of bulging nets and faithless followers. Leslie tightens the narrative weave with a third strand: accounts of her journey to Israel, home of the Biblical fishing grounds where the Son of God cast His net wide and found Himself often in the company of a band of fishermen.
Hiking in the autumn heat along the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River with Leslie, I was invited to ponder with her the meaning of baptism, the significance of leaving our nets behind to follow Jesus, and the faith that receives a fish from the hand of Jesus without secretly wondering whether it might be a snake.
From the “gathering of the waters” at the Red Sea, through the washing and purifying that became part of their worship, and then into the New Testament splashing of baptized and believing fishermen, the People of the Book have also been a people who have come through the water; and although Jesus’ disciples were called away from the water for the three years of His public ministry, Leslie and her family have lived the fierce call to remain on the water.
Memoir runs seamlessly from past to present, from Alaska to Israel, and glorious truth landed like spray on the bow of my boat:
The following life can be a leaving behind of what is dear, but it may also be a staying put while others leave. Those of us whose nests are emptying out before our incredulous eyes know the bittersweet of the proud goodbye and the gritty faithfulness of “I will follow Christ right here where I’ve been put.”
New Testament images of fishermen blithely walking away from their nets, and Peter scrabbling over the side of a boat onto a stormy sea jump clean off the flannel board and into real life with the reality that no fisherman in his right mind would abandon his boat — or his nets — without very good reason. Since Leslie has had the experience of standing aghast in a boat full of salmon (calculating extra mortgage payments and tuition money as she surveyed the bumper crop) she takes an educated guess at Jesus’ motives for calling Peter, James, and John away from their nets to fish for souls after His miraculous provision of the catch of their lives:
“Enjoy it. Count the fish. Now, come. I have something greater for you.”
The abundance of the following life comes in unexpected ways — and maybe when we least expect it.
The Fields fish and the Morins mow, so it was helpful to read about another family that is working its way through the tensions of life in a family business and that knows the ache of a work-related argument or the constant need for productivity that presses hard against the desire to be a sympathetic mum. Leslie’s metaphor of mending nets by pulling shredded fibers back together into something durable and reliable is an apt (and poignant) picture of the work of forgiveness that preserves family unity.
Visiting Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, Leslie longed to see a real storm as a reminder of the “peace be still” that banished the gale, but that also brought tangible fear right into the boat instead.
Join the wide-eyed disciples in asking the question: What kind of Savior is this? Then read the conclusion that comes from the experience of crossing the waters with Jesus: that He is a Savior who allows the storm to come with all its howling winds, but then who sits beside us in our boat, calling us to do our part to fill the hungry in this world full of danger and fear.
This book was provided by NavPress in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”