"I was not a fisherman when Jesus first found me, but this life on these shores has bent me low and strong."
–Leslie Leyland Fields, in Crossing the Waters
The latest book from Leslie Leyland Fields, Crossing the Waters, is her tenth. For those of you who don't know Leslie, she is a masterful writer, a woman of profound faith, a speaker and teacher, a mother of six, and an Alaskan fisherman. Yes, an Alaskan fisherman. She was also on the original faculty of Seattle Pacific University's MFA program and was my creative nonfiction mentor during my first year of the program. I've written other posts about her and her books here, here, and here.
Although Crossing the Waters is her latest book, it interestingly returns to the place of her first few books, including the memoir, Surviving the Island of Grace. The book is grounded in the family island that they return to every summer to fish Alaskan waters as a commercial fishing crew. This is not a situation where they direct the efforts of an "other" hired team. This is a situation instead where they operate the skiffs, lay out and pull in the nets, navigate the waves, feel the challenge and the exhaustion – and fear. In this book she writes about one recent summer on the fishing island. It's a life I can only imagine.
But Leslie goes a step further in this book. Nearly six thousand miles further. She travels to Israel, to the sea of Galilee, and walks around it over the course of a couple weeks, weaving into the book what she sees and learns there to grow her understanding of Jesus, living as he did around the sea, calling as he did so many disciples that were fishermen, traveling as he so often did in fishing boats across dangerous waters.
She offers all this up on the pages of this book to help us – to help herself as well – see the story lines of grace.
There's a lot to love about this book, but this is what I love most. After being a Christian and married and a parent and a writer and teacher and fisherman for decades, Leslie doesn't claim to have everything figured out or offer herself as an example of someone living a perfect life that you too can achieve if you follow her ten action steps. She doesn't write from the posture of arrival. She is with us on the path. I'll say that again, she is with us on the path, offering herself as a travel companion. She knows who she is following, and she's feisty and strong, possessing a wisdom honed by years of staying on the path (and on the waves). She is increasingly unafraid. It's a blessing to walk these pages, and this life, with such a companion and guide.
After I finished reading Crossing the Waters, I came across a verse in the Psalms that resonated with what I had just read. The verse asks: who is wise and will keep these things and will understand the mercies of the Lord?
p.s. I just learned that Crossing the Waters was awarded Christianity Today's Book Award in the category of Christian Living/Discipleship. Hooray!