New Streams of Religion

There’s an interesting enough, if not wholly agreeable, essay in the latest JAAR. The piece, by Samuel Snyder, is entitled ‘New Streams of Religion: Fly Fishing as a Lived, Religion of Nature’ and explores fly fishing as a religious practice. As a fly fisherman, romantic and theologian (the order is not significant here), it was not difficult to be drawn to this article. In fact, it was one of the more interesting articles I’ve seen in JAAR. The problem was staying with Snyder once I’d arrived at his stream. More Gaia than Gospel, more neo-pagan than neo-orthodox, I found the recorded survey of what is a wide range of sources a completely unconvincing account of the relationship between spirit and materiality. That said, the piece would make a good enough discussion starter in many a context, and that not least with unbelieving fisherman [this is mainly why I want to draw attention to it]. A sample:

Like meditation, fly casting operates as the ritual practice allowing the angler to transcend into the sacred, or to pass from the realm of the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Throughout his essay, Snyder invites us to conceive of nature sacramentally. It seems to me that this is where he most obviously oversteps. To paraphrase what I have written elsewhere, the language of ‘sacramentality’ and nature must be approached with caution. Specifically, it must be approached christologically and christocentrically. For if we seek to understand sacramentality in terms of creation alone, we will inevitably flatten out all sacraments; that is, if everything is sacramental, then nothing is. We may, in the absence of another term, speak of natures’ ‘sacramentality’ whilst affirming that nature can never be a ‘sacrament’ as such. It has, so to speak, a sacramental nature, but it is not a sacrament. It is not a trout stream – or the experience of one – but Jesus Christ, the truth of God, who is the one Mediator between God and humanity, and who speaks the truth of the Father to us. A theology of nature can never usurp this place and is only being idolatrous when it tries. There is one Sacrament, and his name is Jesus Christ.

A final point, this time from Forsyth: ‘Many people escape into cosmic emotions, contemplating the grandeurs of nature, but though this may enlarge the intelligence and calm the mind it cannot satisfy the soul. If your soul is wrong all nature cannot put it right.’

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