Follow Me

I tend to accumulate scraps of paper with notes to myself, some of which I actually look at again, although I confess that sometimes I can’t actually remember what the note means (and sometimes can’t even read the scribbles).

Cleaning out some excess papers from the folder containing things relating to my book talks, I came across one that said “Roland Flint follow.”

Roland Flint was a member of the English department at the time I was an undergraduate at Georgetown. He was both a wonderful teacher and an extraordinary poet.

When I saw the note, I remembered a woman coming up to me at one of my talks and talking to me about him. Since I wasn’t sure about the “follow” part of the note, I did what I’m guessing most of us in this internet age would do: I put “Roland Flint follow” into Google. And what I discovered was this poem, titled Follow, written by Flint:

Now here is this man mending his nets
after a long day, his fingers
nicked, here and there, by ropes and hooks,
pain like tomorrow in the small of his back,
his feet blue with his name, stinking of baits,
his mind on a pint and supper – nothing else –
a man who describes the settled shape
of his life every time his hands
make and snug a perfect knot.

I want to understand, if only for the story,
how a man like this,
a man like my father in harvest,
like Bunk MacVane in the stench of lobstering,
or a teamster, a steelworker,
how an ordinary working stiff,
even a high tempered one,
could just be called away.

It’s only in one account
he first brings in a netful –
in all the others, he just calls,
they return the look or stare and then
they “straightaway” leave their nets to follow.
That’s all there is. You have to figure
what was in that call, that look.

(And I wouldn’t try it on a tired working man
unless I was God’s son –
he’d kick your ass right off the pier.)

If they had been vagrants,
poets or minstrels, I’d understand that,
men who would follow a different dog.
But how does a man whose movement,
day after day after day,
absolutely trusts the shape it fills
put everything down and walk away?

I’d pass up all the fancy stunting
with Lazarus and the lepers
to see that one.

I know nothing about Flint’s theology or his relationship to God or Christ. So I have no idea if what the poem captures is his own feeling.

What I do know is that the poem captures a question that can only be satisfactorily answered by experiencing Christ. What made those men drop everything is not something that can be explained intellectually, in a manner satisfactory to someone who has not had a personal encounter. (And if you’ve had the personal encounter, you know what it is that made them put everything down and walk away.)

The only answer is the one Jesus gave to the disciples of John when they first inquired about who he was: “Come, and you will see.”

This week, our invitation is to continue to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. And the same thing that caused those fisherman to drop their nets and follow Jesus is what allows us to stay with him all this week.