Cape Hatteras during stormy sea

The Necessity Of The Lighthouse

My dad and stepmom retired from their family-owned business when they were in their late fifties. They had always had the dream of selling everything, picking up roots, and traveling all over the country. Over the next twenty years that is exactly what they did. They viewed Niagra Falls from two different sides. They spent a season in Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal, Missouri. They marveled at how tall the giant sequoia trees were in northern California. They sold Christmas trees one winter in southern Florida. And they were enamored with lighthouses, which took them to more than a dozen of America’s most historic coastal locations. I could go on and on with the list of all the places they wandered over those two decades.

Cape Hatteras

Suffice it to say, their favorite place in the entire country was Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. They always seemed to make their way back to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to revisit their favorite lighthouse. Having never lived on either coast, I love to learn from my folks about Cape Hatteras. They became experts in every way. The told me about the treacherous waters off the coast of the Outer Banks, known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, where over 600 ships wrecked as victims of shallow shoals, storms, and war. Diamond Shoals, a bank of sand hidden beneath the turbulent sea off Cape Hatteras, became the nemesis of countless ships who dared enter that space.

American folklore

I’ll always remember a funny story my dad told me that had to do with lighthouses. A guy buy the name Frank Koch, a journalist for th U.S. Naval Institute, is credited with this, but it seems no in is for sure.

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell.

The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.””

“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”

Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”

The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.”

“I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”

By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.

“Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

I reflect on the quiet power of a lighthouse. Steady. Unchanging. Bright. Well-grounded. Peaceful. The characteristics of the lighthouse have become the nature of Jesus in my life.. Trusting Him more than I trust my own ability to captain my own ship..

Characteristics of THE lighthouse

Built on bedrock

A lighthouse is built on an immovable foundation. In my reading about lighthouses, I found that many – including Cape Hatteras – is built on bedrock as far as twelve feet below ground. This foundation makes it virtually immovable.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8 ESV

Protects and guides

From its vantage point, the lighthouse sees what ships in the ocean cannot. It warns mariners of hazards, establishes their position, and guides them to their destinations. It protects them from running ashore, navigating too close to underwater sand, or colliding with other vessels.

“The Lord will keep you from all harm- he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 121:7-8

Has distinctive character

From the sea a lighthouse may be identified by the distinctive shape or color of its structure, by the color or flash pattern of its light, or by the coded pattern of its radio signal. It makes it absolutely distinctive from all other structures and vessels.

“There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

1 Samuel 2:2 ESV

Lights the way

With the evolution of navigational technology, the bright lights of the lighthouse have become less of a necessity. However, there is still a significant need for what are referred to as “minor lights,” such as lighted buouys and land markers. These are necessary to guide the navigator through busy and often tortuous coastal waters as they approach the harbor.  

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 NIV

Simple and reliable

Among mariners there is still a natural preference for the reassurance of traditional, visual navigation. As opposed to the high-tech instruments used for navigation today. it seems that seasoned mariners feel the most safe with the simplicity, reliability, and certainty of more traditional methods.

“This is all that I have learned: God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.”

Ecclesiastes 7:29 GNT


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