CHURCH CORNER: Seeds and salmon: life’s journey goes on

I used to fish for salmon and steelhead with my dad on the Snake River just above the Lower Granite Dam. Some of the salmon we were fishing for were on their way to Redfish Lake, Idaho, which is 900 miles from the ocean and 6,500 feet above sea level. It is a killer trip. Literally.

Before heading up the river, salmon spend about four years in the Pacific Ocean (a.k.a., paradise). Food is plentiful and although orcas and sea lions present a threat, salmon enjoy a relative life of leisure. Then, one day, the salmon embark on an epic journey.

The salmon my dad and I were fishing for swim thousands of miles just to get to the mouth of the Columbia River. Once there, they ascend four fish ladders on the Columbia and four more on the Snake River. When they get above Lower Granite Dam, they somehow manage to successfully swim past my fish hook – the most amazing feat of all. Some of them eventually reach their spawning grounds in Redfish Lake. They do all this without eating a single thing since leaving the ocean.

After they make this epic journey up the river, which has left them battered, exhausted and starving, the last act of their withering lives is to spawn – to make life for more salmon possible. Within a week of spawning, the worn out fish die on the river bed where they began their lives.

Salmon leave the comforts of the ocean to face obstacle, danger, famine and eventually their death. Why?  Why do they do such a foolish thing? Why such utter disregard for their own personal safety and well being?

Instincts drive them upriver and the result of this self sacrificial act is new life for the next generation of salmon. Without the sacrificial death of mature salmon, new life for the next generation of salmon is not possible.

One very influential and revolutionary man once said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  He knew nothing of salmon, but growing up in an agrarian society, he was familiar with what every gardener today knows – the seed has to die to produce.

The revolutionary was talking about his own looming death, a death which would produce new life for all who followed. He went on to say to whoever would hear him, “Whoever serves me must follow me.”  He was to swim upriver to his death, to fall to the ground like a seed, to be lifted up onto the cross. It would be an epic journey which would result in new life for all generations to come. Will you follow?  Lesslie Newbigin, the theologian who gave his life serving the poor in India, captures well the paradox of a life following Jesus; it is “a life which is not guarded and preserved but forever thrown away; yet it is a life constantly received as a fresh gift from the source of all life.”

Peter Little can be reached at

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