Throughout A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean emphasizes the relationship between nature, art, and faith. The concise, simple sentence with which he chooses to open his story captures the essence of all one hundred pages: in his family, 'there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing' (1). Reverend Maclean believes that both fly fishing and spiritual belief are 'exact arts,' if such a term can exist without paradox. The Reverend holds the firm conviction that 'all good things ' trout as well as eternal salvation ' come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy' (4). This belief system obviously espouses a view of the world as meticulous and well-ordered: nature is an intricate example of perfection, painstakingly created by God over half a billion years; art, including the art of fly fishing, is best taught with scrupulous attention to form and detail; faith is best deepened through study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, regular church attendance, and carefully written and revised sermons.
Yet the Reverend also uses the word 'beautiful' and appreciates the wonders of the natural world. Certainly, a sense of something beyond the pragmatic permeates Maclean?s story. This ?something? is incarnated in Paul, who obviously does not conform to a narrowly-defined description of a ?good Christian.? He is a rabblerouser adrift in the world, a sophisticated ladies? man and gambler who squanders what is seemingly ample journalistic talent. Paul, however, is also effortlessly artistic, able to break free of his father?s strict fishing instructions to create his own poetry with a rod. Surely, something holy must reside in the sheer, effortless beaut...
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... reflects the original logos while also maintaining a separate identity, so too must faith be both reflective and inventive. It should strive toward perfection like Reverend Maclean devouring Norman?s papers with a red pen, with the intention of reflecting God?s already established likeness. Yet it must also be careful not to close off unexpected, new avenues, for as Paul demonstrates through his fishing, the most arbitrary human actions can accrue religious resonance. Essentially, human faith faces the ultimate balancing act: it must strive to understand and believe and love all of God and His creation, while at the same time realizing that such complete knowledge is impossible, and that humanity is called to ?love completely without complete understanding? (103).
MacLean, Norman. A River Runs Through It. University of Chicago Press, 1989.
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