Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Please Pardon My Religiosity

Paradise Lost, or Gained?

With the best part of 84 years now under my belt (and even a smidgen flopping over it if I am to be truly specific) and realizing that probably the age of miracles is definitely over as far as I am concerned, it is natural to give a passing thought to my personal great or inconsequential hereafter.

Though I do hold great regard for the natural world, however it came into its puzzling existence, I find that Christ, Allah, Buddha, Krishna and all those other legions of variously exalted phantoms, all considered by their followers to be the universe’s one and only true clerk-of-the-works, well, speaking as an ardent though fastidious angler, they are just not my kettle of fish.

Unlike Izaak Walton, 1593 - 1683 (Wow! Look at that — fourscore and ten), the revered English author and a fellow angler, who was greatly given to repeating saintly and churchly teachings to his pupil as he took him from fishing hole to fishing hole, and writing books on holy men, I am probably not religious in the normal, formal way.

On the other hand a lowly tin of sardines — awash in good olive oil and freshly opened to display its sacred tidiness — evokes a pungent holiness for me. Like tasty edible incense without entailing empty devotion to any mystical deception.

And in fairness to old Izaak I must say I positively applaud his readiness when out angling, to retire to an inn to quaff tankards of the landlords best ale while he ordered a meal to be prepared. And I also fully approve his enjoyment of dallying with pretty milkmaids to exchange poetry and song amid secluded meadows lush with butter-cups. After all, angling aside, there are other lesser enjoyments in this life — some maybe only marginally lesser — which should certainly not be left totally unsavoured.

By far my deepest and most reverent moments in life have been when, down on my knees on a sweet-smelling pebbled bank or some secluded stream side, lake or seacoast, I have done homage to a perfectly shaped and gloriously coloured trout or char glistening in my landing net. In those precious vital moments, before gently returning the fish into the mysterious mantle of a deep pool’s glide, I have been at prayer. At prayer as surely, or even more truly, as some dolled-up cardinal practising his public performances in a gloomy basilica.

Also my type of near worship doesn’t call for such questionable acts as the growing of curly hair bits, losing personal oddments of god-given flesh, nodding like a rocking horse and muttering unutterables to a stone wall or other inanimate object, wearing funny hats, sprinkling stagnant water about, having the forehead daubed with ashes or prostrating oneself in unison with hosts of other doubled-up ratings.

No, I prefer to pray instinctively in a natural cathedral bounded by cold blue ocean waters, green thickets of spruce and within hearing of the melodic sound of a not too distant inland waterfall fed by melted snow. And I prefer to pray not to some icon of ancient imagination, but to a tangible living object worthy of practical adoration. In fact, so tangible an object of veneration that one can in moderation oftentimes take it in ultimate holy and flavoursome practical communion — by making it the centrepiece of a wonderful breakfast.

So like many of our forebears in the mists of years gone by, I am a worshipper of fish. Tens of thousands of years ago, long before the arrogant modern fad for stilted, pious, none-too merciful and mostly boring super-entities as objects of worship, most of our pragmatic ancestors venerated more sensible things. They gave respect to the sun, the moon, the planets, the mighty elk, turtles, alligators and asps. All these things are fine but as for myself, I’m a fish follower. Steadfast and devout.

In fact, if I should prove to be wrong about all those other conventional religions yet still manage to wriggle my way into any of the communal heavens proposed by all our jostling persuasions, the first person I will look forward to meeting, apart of course from the top banana, His or Her Nibs Him or Herself, and perhaps Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, will be Izaak Walton — the Compleat Angler author of 1653, who I think must be the all-time number one high priest, pope, super-rabbi, and ultimate prophet of we faithful more lowly fish followers.

Admittedly, Jesus leant favourably towards us fish people. Walking about on the surfaces of lakes — what an enviable talent that would be for an angler —always telling his boys to let down their nets, feeding multitudes with unlimited supplies of little minnows. I guess he was truly one of we fish fellows at heart. Especially as his father was reputed to have actually created all the fishes. Though not of course in his own image, I suppose, as he is reputed to have done that only with we conceited human mortals.

This last bit of folk lore, so beloved of our approved mystics, is somewhat hard to digest when peering into one’s shaving mirror in the early morning. As unlikely a theory of creative likeness as might ever be believed. It’s so unlikely a fantasy of likeness in fact, that it is finally losing its credence in even the highest echelons of official dogmatic piety. A fresh perspective probably derived from realizing that if such a doctrine were to be true, God must be charged with responsibility for producing (we should hope on what must have been at a late hour on one of His off-days during His creation period) such specimens as Yasser Arafat, Wallis Simpson, Mao Tse Tung and Emperor Hirohito as well as so many of us other physiognomically - challenged unfortunates. Surely, if this in-His-or-Her-own-image thing had any truth to it one would expect to see more Marilyn Monroes, Charlton Hestons, Karen Kains, Gary Coopers and Spice Girls thronging our metropolisii.

And I wonder what manner of stuff was that manna which Jesus’s old-testament father let fall down from heaven on that crowd of Jews adrift in the desert somewhere. It may well have been exalted fish sticks prepared from the best Dover sole. Reportedly it tasted divinely, as well it should have considering from whence it came, and I consider Dover sole could honestly be so described. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised as to the truth of this biblical surmise considering the earliest symbol of Christianity was a stylized glyph depicting the classical generic fish shape. Whatever. There is at least one thing we have to deeply revere early Christianity for: the applaudable dogmatic tradition of eating fish on Fridays, an edict known at times to have been enforced by the death penalty. Without it the fish and chip industry, especially of Great Britain, might never have flourished so wonderfully. There may have been much less fishy aromatic manna for the honest proletarian masses issuing from the deep-fryers of the civilized world.

Well, that’s my piece on religion.

Now, as old Izaak Walton may have often said: to our muttons.

Or in my case — to our fishes.

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