The storms of the Great Lakes are legendary. It is not that they cause greater waves and winds than the great oceans of the world. Instead, the direction and strength of the wind coupled with the shape of the big lakes themselves can cause very rapid and violent changes in the behavior of the lakes. One hour they can be relatively flat and safe. The next hour, before boats can get to the safety of the harbor, the lakes can become wild and dangerous with pounding surf and gale force winds.
Lake Michigan, the focus of our discussions, is long and narrow. It is three hundred miles long from north to south. Its width is one hundred eighteen miles at its widest point, from east to west. The surface area is twenty two thousand three hundred square miles, equal to the combined areas of Maryland, Massachusetts and Delaware. The greatest depth is nine hundred twenty three feet deep. It is the third largest of the Great Lakes in surface area. I’m sure you can appreciate that this is a very large body of water.
When the wind blows from the north or northwest, as it often does in this part of the country, it can cause incredible wave action. The winds can literally stack water on the south end of the lake. This is called a storm surge. On top of the surge huge waves pound the shore.
There are several times that I have been on the shore during these storms. When the waves hit obstructions in the water, like breakwaters around harbors, they burst into foaming monsters, thirty to forty feet into the air. As a result of these storms there have been very many shipwrecks over the last two centuries. Scuba diving clubs have plenty of wrecks to study. Even today, with modern technology, small boats can get into serious trouble, and even founder. Every year there are lives lost by being swept off piers and breakwaters.
This danger is the reason why the United States Coast Guard has built dozens of lighthouses on the shores, islands and harbors of Lake Michigan. They surround the lake from top to bottom. These beacons of hope indicate by their rotating lights and low sounding foghorns that there is safety from the storms at sea.
The sailors could tell by the color and shape of the lighthouse as well as the timing sequence of the light exactly which light and therefore which port they were near. Also, because the lighthouses are built on a high elevation and have very powerful lenses, many of them could be seen by the sailors twelve to fifteen miles out from the shore. The lights originally burned oil. The light was amplified through beautiful lenses called “fresnel” lenses. One of the jobs of the keeper was to polish the lens on a regular basis. I have had the opportunity to see and admire two of these lenses. Now the lighthouses are automated with electricity.
We can only imagine the hope and encouragement of the confused and storm tossed boatmen when they saw the beacons of hope shining during the storm.
I had the rare privilege of touring the Dutch style lighthouse on the breakwater of the harbor in Holland, Michigan. Since it was painted red in the middle of the last century it has been named affectionately “Big Red” by the locals. I was able to feel the heavy steel plates that were hand riveted together nearly a hundred years ago. It’s surface was rough from the many coats of paint it has received through the years to protect it from the weather. I climbed steep flights of steps to the top of the tower where the fresnel lens had brilliantly reflected the oil flame. I stood in the rooms where the keeper had lived and kept vigil during the storms. Much of the old furniture was still there, never removed after the light was electrified. The ceilings still had the beautiful tin patterns in place. I paused to contemplate how difficult and often melancholy job-no, calling-this must have been. Though this was not as remote of an outpost as some, it was still a lonesome and difficult task.
No wonder the figure of the lighthouse and the storm are often used to picture the spiritual danger and hope of mankind. Christ, the Light of Life, gives us hope when the storms of life are raging. He gives us guidance when we are lost on the waves of trials and troubles that threaten to overwhelm us. And yet, so much more than the earthly example, He actually saves and delivers us. He not only points the way to safety, He sovereignly and efficaciously draws us out of the power of darkness and brings us into the harbor of salvation. He moors us unbreakably with ropes of love to the quay of life. There we find hope. There we find rest and peace. There we find safety in time and eternity. Look to The Lighthouse, The Lord Jesus Christ!
Light of Hope
When on life’s seas we venture,
At first our ship seems strong.
The sails with wind are measured.
Hoping to arrive in port ere long.
Soon the storms of life beset us,
Dashing all our hopes and dreams.
The winds blow in tremendous gusts.
Our boat soon breaks at the seams.
But, the lighthouse stands a sentinel strong,
Though battered by wind and wave.
It stands as a beacon to those that long,
For refuge from the storms that rage.
Ships that sail in peril of storm,
See her light through the foaming seas,
Threatening to send them battered and torn,
Against the shoals where the pounding wave leaps.
Her fresnel lens, hand wrought with care,
Brightens and reflects the lamp within.
It pierces the darkness of night that is there.
A light of direction and hope again.
The keeper dwells nearly alone there,
Making the tending of the lamp his care.
With gentle touch the lens he makes clean,
That neither spot nor grime weaken the beam.
In her port the ships do lie,
Anchored row by row they sleep.
Closely bound, rail to rail they’re tied.
Moored, they rest against the quay.
May the keepers continue to fuel the flame.
So the light in the darkness may burn so bright.
Loved by those led home again,
For whom the light dispelled the night.
May she stand firm in the years to come.
Her beacon, so bright, guiding the way.
A ray of hope to the wandering ones,
Who desperately for deliverance pray.