Nearly all my life, I’ve gravitated toward lighthouses. These solitary structures offer themselves for relationship, a relationship with their surroundings. Light moves me to notice, to pay attention and to watch.
When I moved to Southampton, Ont., more than eight years ago, someone told me to make sure I walk down to the lake at least once a week. I have followed that advice. While the waters of Lake Huron have their own beauty and significance, it’s the lighthouse on Chantry Island — about a mile offshore — that has had the greater impact.
During the warmer months, I like to kayak around this small island for a closer look. The Chantry Island lighthouse has brought light to this particular shoreline in western Ontario for over 150 years. Its presence has become a defining characteristic of the town of Southampton. Local folklore is rich with stories of shipwrecks, lighthouse keepers and the storms that have unsettled the waters of Lake Huron. Light has formed this small town and its people. Gazing up at this historic beacon, I think about some of the things it symbolizes.
For one thing, it offers a warning sign. Beware. Be wary of these waters and what lies beneath. Over 50 known shipwrecks offer testimony to the dangers that lurk underwater. The light warns us and tries to protect us. Much occurs below the surface. Keep watch.
Life has shipwrecked me on more than one occasion. The warnings were there. My body showed it. Tightness in my chest. Tension in my gut. Difficulty sleeping. Little patience. Harsh words spoken to those I love the most. The warnings persisted like the rhythmic beam from a lighthouse. Watch out. Take care. Ask for help. I missed nearly all of them. I had set sail and regardless of the waters, the wind, the weather or the rocks, I was going to make it. I had my route and figured I knew the way.
The faithfulness of a few people helped me notice what lay beneath the surface. These people kept shining. They were not afraid of the rough waters. The wind posed little threat to them. Acquainted with what loomed in the depths, these companions stood their ground as I remained adrift.
I remember during one particular shipwreck, someone came into my study with a newspaper clipping. It read, “Lighthouses don’t run around trying to save people; they simply stand there shining.”
A presence emerges in these spaces. I am often unable to recognize it at first. Time and seasons, darkness and light make their way toward revelation. When I pay attention with the eyes of my heart, I come to know something of God. Head knowledge is insufficient; it is a deeper knowing, discovered in an encounter. Something sacred is revealed and stands there shining.
Presence becomes a beacon, shining outward. Do you know people like that? They don’t draw attention to themselves. Like a lighthouse, their lamp is lit and their lens circles around. They cast a light for others, helping us to see, asking us to look beyond ourselves.
Like any sacred sign, a lighthouse points to a reality beyond itself; a Reality that shapes and gives meaning to this journey along the shoreline.
Rev. Keith Reynolds is a minister at Southampton-Mt. Hope (Ont.) Pastoral Charge.
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