It was a prayer a boy might say, not a grown man who knows the Almighty has bigger things to worry about. But up it flew anyway, to pierce the scalloped clouds above a little lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Officially, vacation had started twenty minutes earlier. That’s when our van and trailer had pulled into the gravel parking lot of a no-frills house I’d rented with my brother’s family. Then with food and luggage hastily stowed, I fled down to the lake with my fishing pole.
For the fifteen years we’d stayed here, this had been my ritual. Shuck off the traveling shoes and wade barefoot into the shallows to cast for bass. It was my annual rite of re-entry into the sanctuary of an Up North vacation. Cross that watery threshold and I was all in.
Except this time, I felt almost gravely tired. I doubted that even a week in the north woods could undo the knots of tension and fatigue. What I should’ve had was a pre-vacation to loosen myself up for the real one.
About then it spilled out: a half-embarrassed plea of a sort that the 11-year-old version of me would’ve made.
“You know, Lord, I would really, really, really love to a catch a nice fish right about …”
But before I could say it, the now became flesh. The line zinged taut with a tensile twang. The rod jolted in my hand with feral energy. The hooked fish leaped twice, backlit by a corona of spray and light. After a few wild dashes, I reeled him close and hoisted him from the tea-colored water. Which was as it should be. On a summer evening in the U.P., a man’s hand should smell like fish.
From deliverance to delight, all this had come in a millisecond. From an unfinished prayer no less. It would be unbelievable had it not been so believable. I felt like the disciples in Simon’s boat who filled their nets at Christ’s command from the Sea of Galilee. For the record, I didn’t catch another decent fish for the rest of my vacation.
Such occasions of delight can feel like heaven on earth, or maybe earth as the heaven it was meant to be. Either way, given its intensity, delight need not last long to “achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (isaiah 55:11). Delight gives us a new physical and spiritual appreciation for beauty. It heightens our perception of nature’s genius and fills us with an upswelling of gratitude that ends in spontaneous praise.
But we can’t search for delight as if it were a four-leaf clover. We have to dispose ourselves to it and let delight find us when and where it may. “The world,” said Woody Allen, “is run by people who show up for meetings.” So too with delight. It favors those with quiet, attentive habits that keep creation near at hand. It may come to us on a route we faithfully walk in a park, field, or woods. It may appear unbidden
in a hummingbird’s nest by the driveway, or as we contemplate the ruby alpenglow of a sunrise from a car windshield or kitchen window.
Whenever delight appears, its timing will be impeccable. It will provide what we need to learn from nature—in real or metaphoric terms—at that very moment. And while these experiences are usually personal, I believe we should also share them
as testimonies of nature’s power and grace. Indeed, one of my favorite encounters with delight didn’t happen to me, but to my mother, Dolores Springer.
In March 1966, our family of five lived in a modest, concrete block home in an Eau Gallie, Florida, subdivision. Cape Canaveral was nearby and this was a bedroom community for NASA employees. Our neighbors were engineers, technicians, and scientists (then all men of course). With their slide rules and electron telescopes, they knew about space in ways that my high-school educated mother could not.
That night, however, creation spoke to my mother straight from the cosmos with no technological filter. It was spring, and she’d spent the day on her knees in the flowerbeds. She’d planted and transplanted, weeded and seeded and watered. Then, with her husband and children asleep, she stepped out once more before bedtime to admire her handiwork. Although instead of looking down, she looked up . . . and saw a sight that made her prize bougainvillea seem of puny consequence.
I know this because my mother, who is not a poet, dashed back inside that night to write a poem about it. Decades later, she gave me a copy that she’d written in cursive on a sheaf torn from the lined yellow pad she keeps in her kitchen. If you dislike poems that rhyme, then this one isn’t for you. If you want to see what delight looks like when freshly encountered overhead, then it might be. Here is an excerpt:
I glanced up at the evening sky and caught my breath
How beautiful it is, My God, what wonders you
The sky so dark, the stars so bright—they seemed so
It was so endless and profound I felt a stab of fear.
I felt so insignificant, so humble and so small,
My soul ached with the effort of comprehending all.
Science gives us weighty reasons for the stars and
all the rest,
But I think the answer’s simple and MY reason is
It’s really very plain to see why the stars all shine
God made them for his children to enjoy on
such a night!
I stood enraptured drinking in the beauty of it all,
And then—across the sky a little star began to fall!
I watched it streak across the sky as swiftly as a dart
I think God meant to thank me for admiring his art!
Imagine it. A gift light years in the making, delivered to a tract house doorstep where the burdens of three children, all fed and clothed on a barber’s income, could sorely try a housewife’s faith and patience.
Some fifty years later, this ember of galactic dust still shines. It’s become a spiritual verity, a touchstone memory of faith that has entered the family canon of oft-told stories. For such is the versatile nature of delight: fleeting as a shooting star, but with a tail (fishy or cosmic) that can illumine a lifetime.