Raised by a Presbyterian minister, Norman is steeped in the Christian tradition, and is particularly familiar with the Bible thanks to years of catechism and religious study. His father often reads the New Testament, and seems to continue to wrestle with what it says even after a lifetime devoted to its meaning. Scripture comes to represent, more broadly, the meaning-making act of narration, of setting down words on the page. It is Norman’s father who suggests that Norman write stories so as to understand his past and those he loves. For Norman, even his beloved rivers are a kind of narrative: under a river’s rocks, he says, are words. As particular words that (the Macleans believe) reach us from an all-powerful God, Scripture connects words to truth and meaning. “In the beginning was the Word,” Norman’s father quotes from the New Testament: Norman’s desire to use narrative in order to describe and attempt to understand his brother is anchored in a specifically religious intellectual heritage.
Scripture Quotes in A River Runs Through It
Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as “our brothers’ keepers,” possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting of instincts. It will not let us go.
“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.”
“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.”
Then he told me, “In the part I was reading it says the Word was in the beginning, and that’s right. I used to think water was first, but if you listen carefully you will hear that the words are underneath the water.”
“That’s because you are a preacher first and then a fisherman,” I told him. “If you ask Paul, he will tell you that the words are formed out of water.”
“No,” my father said, “you are not listening carefully. The water runs over the words. Paul will tell you the same thing.”
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.