Many years ago I visited the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks here in Seattle to watch the salmon returning from the sea to their spawning grounds. They were eagerly going home to die for the sake of future generations. As I watched them struggling against the current, swimming upstream with great effort, I cried at the beauty of it. I learned that their dissolving corpses served as nourishment for the new life they had created just before they died. I made no connection to Jesus at the time as I was defiantly unchurched. Christianity wasn’t even on my radar.
About 10 years ago I cautiously approached the idea of institutional Christianity and took the sacramental bread and wine for the first time in maybe 30 years. I heard the stories about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and remembered the salmon. Soon I came to understand those stories as representing the same process revealed in the salmon life cycle. Jesus sacrificed his life as all living things do so that others may live. But, by dying, we become immortal. It’s part of the nature of things. Dead flowers and leaves become humus out of which new life emerges. We eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood to symbolically nourish us as we journey through our lives toward union with God.
Concerned that my equating Jesus with salmon might be considered irreverent or even heretical, I did not speak of this until attending a retreat on Celtic Christianity where I learned that the salmon is a symbol for Jesus among the Celts. I now proclaim that as embodied beings, Nature is where we encounter God.
Nancy Finley is a long time member of St. Paul’s and is currently a graduate student at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry studying to be a spiritual director. She also is on the faculty at North Seattle Community College and teaches lifespan developmental psychology online. Her course website is: here.