Sunday, January 18, 2015

New Use for Nets

Immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus. So we hear in this week's reading from Mark's gospel (1:14-20, Epiphany 3B). Jesus' pitch for the new job spoke to who they were and to what they knew - in other words, Jesus knew how to bait a hook. Had his invitation been, "Come, follow me, and I will make you traveling theologians" they might have had second thoughts. But he said, "Instead of fishing for fish, let's fish for people." Apparently they understood his message and the figure of speech. We can imagine that Andrew and Peter's colleagues, and a few steps later Zebedee the father of James and John just sat there, nets unmended and abandoned, as the four former fishermen walked off with Jesus.
Fishing equipment. Shapinsay, Orkney, United Kingdom.

Jesus would, indeed, teach them to cast a new kind of net - a net of love and compassion, a net of teaching and healing, a net of salvation - over the people they met. But it never would have happened if they hadn't left their fishing nets. 

In the 1990s artist Janet Echelman picked up fishing nets. In Mahabalipuram, India, to be precise. Spending a Fulbright year in India, Echelman had shipped her painting supplies ahead of her arrival. But they never arrived. Struck by the art and design qualities of the local fishing nets, she began to formulate what would be a new sculptural language by suspending and coloring the nets.

Her fishing net sculptures are cast over multiple city blocks. They can be a big as a building - hundreds of feet long, hundreds of feet wide and hundreds of feet tall. They register every breath of wind and move and change in appearance depending on the weather, the time of day and the position of the viewer. The fluidity of the materials contrasts with the rigid buildings that often surround Echelman's urban work.

People stand under these nets while they have picnic lunches, while they wonder, while they marvel at these nets. From such intricate laciness  - flimsy, one might think - comes a massive thing that attracts the attention of and speaks to national and even international audiences yet retains an ethereal quality. All from people who understand fishing nets. Who could have imagined.
Upper photo: Her Secret is Patience. 2006. Phoenix, AZ.
Lower photos: Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks. 2014. Vancouver, BC, Canada.
See more of Janet Echelman's work at

Check this week's Art&Faith Matters post on Facebook for thoughts about fishing in Jesus' time. It's not cane poles and crickets for bait.

For thoughts on the Epiphany 3B reading from Hebrew scripture,  Jonah 3:1-10, click here



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