Living on Maine’s coast for most of my life, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m no sailor. And the last time I caught a fish, I was 10. But I am a reader and an occasional doubter. So I was intrigued to read, “Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas,” by Alaskan author and fisherwoman Leslie Leyland Fields (2016 NAVPRESS).
Fields and her family live on Harvester Island, a rugged, beautiful place full of adventure, deep isolation, and danger. Throughout the fishing season, they cross the waters in boats, casting nets in hope that what they catch will sustain them. They bail rotting jellyfish from skiffs, mend nets, slice and clean salmon, survive accidents, and weather turbulent storms while working together.
Interspersed with this story, Fields, in her late 50s, travels to the Holy Land on a solo, two-week trek around the Sea of Galilee in search of the real Jesus – the one who called his fishermen followers to leave their nets, who calmed storms, and who walked on water. This challenging and beautiful memoir reveals hard-won truth, such as a lesson learned during the terror of being lost alone in a skiff with a dead engine during a winter snowstorm. Fields interweaves her story with that of Christ, fishing on Galilee with his disciples, asleep in the boat, when a storm arises.
Don’t you care? Fields recalls the disciples, a weathered group of fishermen, asking.
“That moment came for me as well,” Fields writes. “I did not believe that I would drown, but I did not know how I would survive that day. I wondered if God knew, if he saw, if he truly loved me after all. I had oars, but I had nowhere to go. Where I had come, motoring slowly and carefully, there were only cliffs, not a single beach to safely land my skiff on.
“Standing in the falling snow, with oars in my hand and nowhere to go, I had nothing left. I did what they finally did: ‘Lord! Where are you? Don’t you care? Help me!’”
Those who have climbed in the boat with Jesus, who have trusted him to sustain them as they navigate the troubled waters of life, will understand Field’s despair. Does God care when the sea turns violent? That harrowing day on the water, as soon as Fields prayed the clouds parted, and she saw a distant beach. After landing, she set up a small camp, praying that the bears would stay away while she waited to be rescued.
“But it’s not really over,” she writes. “I live in a place (don’t we all?) where storms come on the heels of another, and Jesus doesn’t rescue everyone from the raging gales.” This is the Jesus Field invites us to trust: the one who not only calms the storms, but who is the storm. The journey is well worth the trip.
Meadow Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her everyday life from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. Her memoir, “Redeeming Ruth,” releases in May 2017.