In the tradition of MacLean’s A River Runs Through It and Dodson's Faithful Travelers, the book Healing the Fisher King: A Fly Fisher’s Grail Quest by G. Scott Sparrow, is the story of one man’s fly fishing quest in 1997 to the familiar waters of his childhood –– to the South Texas, primitive coastal estuary known as the Lower Laguna Madre.
Lured by a desire to catch a giant speckled trout on his fly rod –– but directed by a luminous dream that points to the Laguna Madre as the setting for healing and transformation –– Sparrow takes his boat and his eight-year-old son on a journey from Virginia to South Texas that proves more difficult and more meaningful than he imagines. He soon discovers that the unresolved pain in his life –– stemming, in part, from his parents’ divorce and now his own –– is also alive in his son, who feels deeply wounded and angry at his father for leaving him. As they spend the first ten days fishing together, Sparrow and his son spiral into a dark place that is, at first, confusing and disturbing. The author draws upon the legend of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail, Jungian psychology, and his family’s past in order to arrive at a way to address his son’s needs, as well as his own. Their time on the water culminates in a powerfully moving exchange that opens the way for a more trusting relationship between father and son.
As the author begins his concerted fly fishing search for the fish so aptly named named cynoscion nebulosus (i.e. starry nebulae), his experiences soon reveal the spiritual dimensions of the quest, in which the search for a great fish mirrors his lifelong yearning for communion with God. Making his way slowly toward the great fish and the wholeness that he seeks, he must, however, confront his own “shadow” before he can proceed any further toward the goal. He is led throughout by radiant dreams, mystical encounters, his knowledge of spiritual traditions, and a willingness to face his own past with ruthless honesty.
Sparrow then confronts a new initiation brought on by the appearance in his dreams a feminine presence, who seems intent on bringing him to an awareness of what he has done all his life –– recoiling from his feelings, breaking promises, and denying his deeper needs. He relives earlier experiences in which he remained aloof from his heart, including an encounter with a prostitute when he was 15, the loss of a beautiful hawk through his negligence, and his failure to catch the fish of a lifetime in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Against a backdrop of rich, but largely failed fly fishing experiences, Sparrow considers how his parents fell short of their own dreams, and realizes that he has to follow his own path, rather than to live out a pattern of denying his soul’s sincere desire. While he makes progress toward understanding his lifelong resistance and how it affects his fly fishing efforts, Sparrow nonetheless sets the stage –– by breaking a promise that he makes with God –– for an eventual encounter with death through the agency of a stingray’s painful wound. Becoming infected with Vibrio vulnificus, a deadly bacteria in the cholera family, he eventually realizes that he has a choice –– to live fully, or to die.
The resolution of this crisis parallels the author’s consideration of the importance of the body on the spiritual journey. Drawing on his own past, his mother’s search for meaning, and examples from Tibetan Buddhism and Medieval Christianity, Sparrow becomes aware of the grief he holds concerning his mother and the debt he owes her for giving him life. With the help of his mentor and Jungian therapist Chas Matthews –– to whom the book is dedicated –– Sparrow experiences a powerful encounter with his mother’s memory that paves the way for his emotional rebirth.
In the end, he invites Kathy –– the woman whose love he spurned at the beginning of the journey –– to join him for the end of his retreat. With Kathy by his side, Sparrow meets new tests that spring up around his relationship with his brother. Meanwhile, Scott and Kathy find themselves being drawn inexorably into the natural realm –– to the point where a sense of oneness is experienced through dreams and remarkable encounters with the animals that inhabit the Laguna Madre. In the end, Sparrow experiences the beginning of a new life that awaits him.
Sparrow’s extraordinarily intimate relationship with Spirit and his candor about his own struggles puts the reader in touch with ageless spiritual truths grounded in the immediacy of human contact.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gregory Scott Sparrow, Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas-Pan American, where he teaches in the graduate counseling program, and a charter faculty member at Atlantic University in Virginia Beach. He is also a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia, a writer, and a fly fishing guide and casting instructor. Sparrow has also written Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light (ARE, 1976), I Am with You Always: True Stories of Encounters with Jesus (Bantam, 1995), Blessed Among Women: Encounters with Mary and Her Message (Harmony, 1997), Sacred Encounters with Mary (Ave Maria, 2002), Sacred Encounters with Jesus (Ave Maria, 2003), and Andrew's Quest for the Perfect Christmas Gift (WPB, 2005). He and his wife, Kathy founded Kingfisher Inn, a saltwater fly fishing lodge on the Lower Laguna Madre of deep South Texas.