Reverend Jack wasn’t always a man of God, nor was he a man of any religion. In fact, Reverend Jack in his youth believed in a Higher Power as much as trout believe strike indicators are midges. But his enlightenment and transformation, a story he rarely shares, is a truly spectacular and inspiring narrative.

I suppose the upcoming Easter holiday caught Reverend Jack in a particularly introspective mood. He usually sat at The Wulff’s Den table in the corner alone during the day, diligently constructing his sermon as diligently as Father McKenzie, although Jack’s sermons were heard by many in contrast to McKenzie’s no one.

It was during one such session when the shop’s traffic was nonexistent that I approached Reverend Jack during his break. It amazed me the degree to which each man’s exterior was shed during solitude – for Jack, his sarcastic air disintegrated, leaving a core of humility and candidness.

“Another mocha?” I offered Jack.

He looked up from his notes and peered at me through his thin spectacles. A smile quickly came over his face and he replied, “Not right now, Andy, but thanks.”

“Whatcha working on?”

“Oh, my sermon as usual. This one’s gotta be real special for Easter.”

“Gotta do the Lord’s resurrection justice,” I added with a chuckle. I’m no theologian but I know the basics of Christianity at least.

“As if that’s possible. But my flock expects me to be at my best. I expect me to be at my best.”

“If you’re gonna do it, might as well be a pro at it, right?”

“Exactly.”

“You know,” I began as I sat at the table, “I don’t think you’ve ever told me what made you decide to become a preacher in the first place.”

Reverend Jack chuckled lightly and replied, “Well, Andy, that’s a long, long story.”

I smiled. “I’ve got all the time in the world as you can see. If you’re willing to tell it, I’d love to hear it.”

“Of course. Heck, it may help me defeat this writer’s block of mine.” He emptied the remaining contents of his mug into his mouth, swallowed hard, and started his tale:

“In order to fully understand my current status, you must understand my previous one. When I was a youngster, I was narcissistic, arrogant, and completely ego-centric. Even more so than I am now, believe it or not! After graduating from high school, I began working full-time as a fly fishing guide in a small fly shop near Woodland Park. I was a great fly fisherman and a master salesman, but an atrocious human being. My clients were always pleased with their trips with me – they caught a bunch of quality trout and had a blast doing it. But I was always cold toward my clients, and especially cold to everyone else. If money wasn’t being given to me, I wouldn’t even think of helping. Numerous times I was approached by non-profits to teach the less-fortunate how to fish, and every time I rejected the offers whole-heartedly. If there wasn’t extrinsic benefit, I wanted no part of it. And that’s when it happened, in the summer of ’73, God sent a blessing to me in a way that I could not begin to imagine.

“I was up in Eleven Mile Canyon on an early weekday morning. At that time the fishing pressure was very light, particularly in the morning, and the Blue-Winged Olive hatches were always incredibly heavy. I spent a few hours at Blind Curve Run casting to the trout that were slurping flies off the surface of the water by the hundreds. Once the hatch stopped though, I packed my stuff up to return to Woodland Park to pick up the clients for the day. It was in Lake George that I saw this Beggar standing on the corner of Highway 24 and Canyon Road. He didn’t have a pack with him or any clothes, just a cardboard sign that read: The Gate is Narrow and the Road is Hard. I said to myself, ‘That is the fate of a foolish philosopher right there – standing on the street corner begging for his next meal.’ I sped away not considering the Beggar, his message, or my reaction any further.

“When I got to Woodland Park, I had to do a double-take because standing on the corner of 6th and Main was the same Beggar, dressed differently but the same Beggar no less. The only other difference was the message on his sign, this time reading: The Tree is Known by Its Fruit. At this I laughed out loud and yelled from my open window, ‘Brilliant observation, my man!’ I turned the corner, parked at the fly shop and went to work, still not considering the Beggar, his message, or my reaction any further.

“It became an almost daily routine for me – I’d go out with a client and I’d see the Beggar either in Woodland Park or Lake George, always holding his sign with some random message of wisdom printed on it. Each time I saw him, I mocked him and his sign. Most of my clients laughed while others simply ignored my comments. They knew from where the messages came, whereas I clearly did not. This went on for weeks, and then months.

“After the sixth week, I got sick of seeing the Highway 24 Beggar, so sick that I notified Sheriff Hank – a much slimmer Sheriff Hank at that time – and told him to tell the Beggar to get on his way. Hank came back to me each time and said that he didn’t see a beggar and nobody he spoke to knew of a beggar either. Apparently, this was a magical Beggar that only I could see. And I continued to see this Beggar too! Every single day I saw that darn Beggar.

“Finally around the beginning of August, I had enough of this Beggar and was gonna give him a piece of my mind. I drove the length of Highway 24 between Woodland Park and Lake George, but I never saw him. I went into Eleven Mile Canyon and didn’t see him there either. So I went to Blind Curve Run and started fishing instead.

“I was there for no more than an hour when I heard stones and gravel rolling down the embankment behind me. I turned abruptly and saw this clumsy fisherman – clearly a novice – stumbling down the embankment to try his hand at fly fishing. This looked to be the classic guy who heard how much fun fly fishing was, but had no idea as to how complex the sport truly was. I turned my back and continued fishing. This clumsy fellow though walked right up to me and asks in the friendliest voice imaginable, ‘What they bitin’ on?’

Without even turning, I replied, ‘The end of my line of course.’

He laughed nervously, clearing missing the girth of my joke. ‘You fish here often?’ he asked.

I replied sarcastically, ‘No, never.’ I just wanted him to leave me alone, but it seemed the last thing this guy wanted to do was fish. Apparently he thought Eleven Mile Canyon was a social club and I was his new best friend. He stood behind me awkwardly until I finally said rudely, ‘Wanna jump in my waders with me? If not, find your own fishing hole.’ Even a social reject like this guy could get the hint with that, and he trudged downstream to the next hole.

“What’s the only thing worse than a novice fly fisherman, Andy?” Jack inquired.

“I don’t know,” I replied, confused.

“A novice fly fisherman who catches more fish than you, that’s what. This guy, whose cast resembled my grandfather’s rendition of Saturday Night Fever, started slaying them! His fly wouldn’t be in the water for more than a few seconds and he’d have a trout tugging on the other end of his line. It was like he’d discovered some new technique that was simply irresistible to the tastes of trout. To me, his technique was everything but irresistible. In fact, it was downright excruciating! Almost like listening to a singer whose voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard? That terrible.

“After ten minutes of this guy pulling trout after trout out of the river – all the while I not catching a thing – my curiosity got the best of me and I asked him what he was catching them on. He replied, ‘A gracious touch and a fearful heart.’

“I immediately thought this guy was a fruit loop! Gracious touch and a fearful heart? What did that even mean? ‘No!’ I yelled. ‘What fly are you catching them on?’ To which he replied, ‘Whatever fly He wills.’

“Again, I looked at the novice like he was a lunatic. ‘He who?’ I replied angrily.

‘He who is called I Am,’ the novice replied. At that, I tossed my hands in the air and stormed up the embankment out of frustration.

“I ended up driving down the road a few miles and fished a few holes. I was so frustrated by the novice, though, that I could hardly even cast properly no less fish effectively. My presentation was horrible, the sun was too high, and I was way too ticked off to even have a chance of catching a trout.

“I stormed back to my vehicle, packed my things, and drove away. Just as I was leaving though, I saw the novice in my rearview mirror, sprinting towards my vehicle and waving his arms like a madman. Don’t ask me why I even stopped because I honestly don’t know. But I did, thank God.

‘Pardon me,’ he said, ‘but my car broke down up the road and I was wondering if I could hitch a ride with you into town?’ I was ticked but I wasn’t gonna leave a fellow fly fisherman up the creek without a paddle, so I agreed to take him into town. He was quiet for the first few minutes, but the silence eventually got to him and he started blabbering like a teenage girl. ‘I’m new to fly fishing and heard this was the place to come. Great fishing up here. I still can’t believe I did as well as I did today.’

‘Yeah,’ I replied, ‘hard to believe how easy you made it look.’

‘Like I said,’ he added, ‘just the grace of Him’.

‘What do you mean by that? You said that back there. Who is he?’

The novice laughed – no, erupted into laughter like he was watching Seinfeld or something. He replied matter-of-factly, ‘God of course.’

Equally as matter-of-factly I replied, ‘Don’t believe in Him.’

To my surprise, the novice didn’t seem offended, but said, ‘That’s too bad because He’s chosen you as one of His servants.’

I laughed, ‘What are you talking about?’

‘God,’ he said, ‘He chose you as one of His servants.’

‘And why would He do that?’ I asked.

When the novice replied this time, his voice seemed to carry the tune of a canary, yet he was not singing. His words warbled from his mouth, though he wasn’t whistling. He spoke as a man and an immortal, all at the same time. ‘You are a lamb among wolves, Jack, a lamb that gazes at its reflection in the river and sees a wolf. You are not a wolf though, Jack. You are a lamb. You’ve spent your preceding days living in fulfillment of your body, your own self. This, you will do no more.’ The novice paused and placed his hand on mine on the steering wheel. I wanted to protest, but my body and mind felt paralyzed – inaccessible. The novice continued, ‘Within your body, the lamp has been lit. As His servant, your job is to reveal this light to others and to kindle the flame within them. Your job, Jack, is to become one of the Seventy, to protect the lambs from the wolves. Be the lamb that is the shepherd.’ A flash like a bolt of lightning filled the car, and when my vision was restored, I no longer was in the vehicle with the novice, but was sitting in a shallow pool of the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon. I stood slowly, the strength of my limbs restored and missing in a palpable contradiction. I gazed up the ridge at the road, and it was there that I saw the Beggar standing near the edge, his sign in hand and reading clear as daylight: Your Faith Has Saved You.

He walked down the road and disappeared around the bend.

“Is there any wonder that I love the South Platte as much as I do?” Jack rhetorically asked me. “Of course not. It’s the location of my baptism. It’s funny though, I’ve never seen the Beggar or the novice since that day.”

Reverend Jack leaned back in his chair with a pleasantness on his face that I’ve yet to feel personally or see on another’s face.

Timidly I asked, “Was the novice Jesus?”

Jack was silent with thought for a few moments. He replied, “He was but a lamb, Andy, a lamb amongst wolves.”

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