Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works
The tiny boat slowly drifted in the heat of the afternoon. A hot dry day when any gust of wind would have been a welcome friend to Monsieur Philippe who sat whittling under the brim of his faded hat. His was the only boat out on the sea; for that matter, he had been the only fisherman out on the lonely waters for many weeks now.
For centuries the sea that bumped up against the coast had been speckled with the handmade boats of the humble villagers. The very livelihood of the local men and women depended on this time-honored marriage of man to sea. And if you had asked them just a year ago, not one of them would have suspected that the day would come when Monsieur Philippe would be the last of the sacred fishermen.
It had happened gradually. Deserting the sea was a serious business. For months the men had struggled with the grave decision to relinquish their beloved trade. One by one, boat by boat, the men had turned to other means of survival. Seven months without a single catch in the village, and now Philippe was the only one among his relatives and neighbors who held any faith that the fish would return.
“Surely you’re not going out today. Not in this heat.” Philippe’s wife had been careful not to dissuade her husband from his commitment to the sea. Even when the other wives flippantly wagged their tongues and questioned her man’s sanity, she refused to engage in the negative speculation. But today she did venture to express her concern for his well-being. After all, it was only six in the morning and their little cottage was already sweltering from the oppressive summer temperature.
“Naturally, my cherie,” the fisherman had said as he planted a soft kiss on Anna’s flour-dusted cheek. Reaching around her, he snatched up one of the hot croissants that she had just removed from the oven.
“Ah, you grow more stubborn in your old age,” she informed him as he skillfully avoided her playful smack.
“I don’t see any old men around here,” he had replied and gathered his supplies for the day. His wife had watched him through the window and dared to wonder if today might be the day when her husband would return home with a basket brimming with the slippery fish she regarded with a new sense of appreciation.
As Philippe walked the short path to the sea, he had passed various villagers who nodded at him with a look that he could only describe as pity. There goes foolish old Philippe. Poor Anna. When will he face facts? These whispered sentiments were intended to mask the fear that had begun to slink into their own hearts. A people who had spent a lifetime relying on the sea to supply food for their supper tables were now full of scorn.
“Going out today?” his oldest friend called out to him. The man’s name was Halbert, and after much perseverance, even he had resigned himself to the reality that the fish had given up on them. Per the incessant prodding from his family, Halbert had retired his nets and begun roaming the countryside, desperately looking for any work that could be had. At his age, however, it was a burden to find a new profession.
“Care to join me?” Philippe asked even though he knew what the answer would be.
“You’re a better man than I,” his friend responded. “Too hot for my sensibilities.”
With a nod of understanding, Philippe continued on to the shoreline where his boat sat waiting. Pushing off, he felt the burn of the wood that was already hot to the touch, and as the hours passed, Philippe had to acknowledge that the day was proving to be the hottest of the year. Without any wind, the sea was so still that it had never looked more like glass.
No one knew why the fish had departed from the coastal village. In the beginning the community had investigated all of the practical reasons. Water contamination, abnormal changes in the current, predators…All of these had been ruled out, and still no fish. At first it had seemed a phenomenon that was sure to be short-lived. The fish were the village. But as the days and weeks and months crawled by, the permanency of the watery famine became clear to everyone. Everyone but Philippe.
“How did it go?” Philippe’s wife asked when he returned home that evening. She always asked him with as much hope she could muster up; maybe this would be the night when he came in, grinning with pride as he held up one of the silver-scaled creatures.
“Finished the bear,” he said and held out the wooden carving that had occupied most of the day. His wife took it with a smile and set it alongside the dozens of other figurines that Philippe had managed to carve over the quiet months.
Maybe we could sell them at market. Peasant novelties that might attract the eye of those who had money to spend on such things. Anna had silently comforted herself as their pantry supply diminished with each day that her husband came home empty-handed.
“Maybe tomorrow I’ll catch something,” Philippe told her, ever steadfast.
For the next month the sun continued to grow hotter, and all the while Philippe continued his faithful relationship with the turquoise sea that held so much potential. Day after day, his fishing net dangled over the side, ready to receive. All the while, the village people increased their whisperings. Poor old Philippe, his empty nets affirming the wisdom in their decision to divorce themselves from the sea. With the disapproving voices of his own people ringing loudly in his ears, he continued to cast off in the boat that had been passed down from his father.
In spite of his commitment, the fisherman had to admit that he was tired. Lately it took all of his energy just to stay awake. All alone on the boiling sea, the glare of the sun nearly blinding him as the tender lapping of the water played its mournful lullaby.
On the last day of August, it seemed to Philippe that he had closed his eyes but for a brief instant when he felt the subtle vibration. His net, rustling slightly, caused him to pop his head up and wonder if he had slipped into some kind of slumber.
When he rubbed his eyes and peered down into the water, it seemed that there certainly was something wriggling about in the net that had been dormant for so many months. The piece of wood he had been crafting into the form of a gnarled tree clattered to the floorboards as Philippe lunged forward with the energy of one of the village children. In mere seconds, his hands were drenched as he reached over the side and pulled the squirming net up over the side of the boat. As he toiled, a deep laugh began to rise up from the bellows of the fisherman. A laugh that grew in volume and exuberance. Its sound resonated across the crystal water, bringing a melody far sweeter than any the sea had ever sung.
With the care of a meticulous surgeon, he pulled aside the fibers of the net to reveal the shiny scales of a lone fish. Not small, not large, but big enough for him and his beloved to feast on that night. For a moment, Philippe held his breath, respectfully waiting as life departed from the fish; then lifting it into his sun-weathered hands he stared wide-eyed, as if he was peering into the face of a unicorn or a centaur or some other such creature from ancient legends. In the small world of his boat, this simple fish was, to be sure, the most miraculous sight the fisherman had ever beheld.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13 (ESV)
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
Questions to Ponder: What are you waiting for? What gives you hope?
Song Recommendation: Wait on the Lord by Enter the Worship Circle (available on Itunes)
Written by Heidi Sadler, Inspired by Psalm 13 & Romans 5. © 2016, Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.
The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.