“KEEPER OF THE LIGHT”
December 14, 2007
With his broad-brimmed rain hat tied under his chin and the collar of his rain coat turned up, the lonely figure clutches the railing, leans into the wind and struggles through the darkness. Step by step, hand over hand, through hurricane force winds and stinging rain, he descends into the night. Where could he be headed at this hour, in this weather? He is making his way toward a lighthouse, 302 steps below his meager, yet comfortable dwelling. On either side of the crude stairway, carved out of the rocks of the seaside cliff, a perilous, 200 foot drop into almost certain death awaits any misstep. Why take such a threatening journey in the middle of the night, in the midst of the storm? He does it simply because he is the keeper of the light.
Like most 19th century lighthouses the mechanical rotation of the light is achieved through a system of clocklike gears kept in motion by a weight. Similar to a grandfather clock, when the weight reaches the bottom of the chain it has to be wound up again, in this case every two hours. So with precise regularity, every two hours, all night long, no matter what the weather, no matter how he feels, the light keeper emerges from his comfortable cabin atop the cliff and descends the 302 steps through the darkness to wind up the clock and make sure the light is shining.
For decades these faithful servants endured the loneliness, the isolation, the lousy pay, the extreme dangers, one of the harshest environments on the planet, and the ingratitude from a public who took them for granted. You can learn about these heroic light keepers by visiting the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse on the northern California coast. Point Reyes is a jagged promontory which juts far out into the Pacific Ocean and has proven to be an extreme hazard to ships that would veer too close to land as they searched for the safe, calm waters of the San Francisco Bay. Today a powerful, electric rotating lamp and a haunting, repetitive foghorn warn ships to stay away. But the old lighthouse still stands, ready to come to life in the event of a power failure.
If your legs are still young and your nerves are steady, weather permitting, you can trace the amazing pathway these brave souls traveled and descend the same 302 steps they journeyed several times each night (of course, you also eventually have to ascend the same stairs). Walking in their footsteps will make you marvel at their courage. If you are fortunate enough to time your visit while the lighthouse is open for viewing, you will be in for a special treat. In the lower floor of the cylindrical chamber you can read about its history from excerpts of journals and letters written by the light keepers. They tell of the loneliness and isolation, being so far removed from civilization. They complain about the monotonous drudgery of their duties. But mostly they curse the wind, the cold, and the incessant fog.
On a recent visit as I read their accounts of life at the lighthouse, I couldn’t help but wonder; if the conditions were so bad, why did they bother? It’s not like this was a major shipping lane. In years past, several days could go by without a single ship passing this way. Who would know if they let the light die out one night during a particularly violent storm?
The only answer I could come up with was their dedication to faithfully carry out the responsibility given to them. Lives depended on their light even though they didn’t know who, if anyone, was watching for it. And when the storm was the most fierce, the fog the most dense, and the night the most dark, their light was the most needed.
What a great testimony this is to us, for we, too, are keepers of the light, called to faithfully carry out the responsibilities given to us. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5: 14-16.
How tempting it is to let our lights grow dim, to allow the weight to reach the bottom of the chain and then fail to rewind the gears. There is a weariness that can overtake us in any ministry (including church planting), a repetitive drudgery that can make the comfort and warmth inside our homes and churches wondrously tempting and truly difficult to leave. Why not just gather with those who dearly love our Lord and bask in the warmth of their fellowship? Together we can read inspirational stories of light keepers from the past and discuss how to emulate their lives. Together we can pray against the darkness asking God to raise up courageous light keepers who will venture out into the night. Together we can help keep each other safe and warm and protected from the evil world which surrounds us. After all, who knows if there are any lost souls nearby foundering in troubled waters? If there are any, can’t they see the light filtering through our windows? Can’t they look up our address in the phone book, or give us a call, or visit our web-site? Why should we be the ones to lay our lives on the line for those who may be perishing? Who knows if our small light will even make a difference in such oppressive darkness?
Why should we take such a perilous journey into the surrounding darkness in the midst of the storm? We do so simply because we are the keepers of the light. We do so because we serve a God who first invaded the darkness with His light at the dawn of creation. Then His light pierced the darkness once again embodied by His Son, Emmanuel, the Lamb of God. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” – John 1:4. We do so because we worship a Savior who said of Himself, “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. “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” – John 12:46. And we do so because we follow a Lord who commissioned us by saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” – John 20:21. Then we have the Apostle Paul urging us with these words. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” – 2Corinthians 4:6.
As keepers of the light, we have been given an enormous responsibility. Don’t expect any bountiful paychecks, accolades from fellow believers, or warm, comfortable nights in which to shine. When the darkness of this evil world grows even more intense, when the fog of doubt clouds our vision, when the storms of adversity howl around us, it takes a tremendous amount of faith and courage to step outside. But we are told not to hide our lights under a bowl (or inside our churches). This means we are called to step out into the midst of the storm (no matter how many steps it takes) and “wind up our lights,” even though we don’t know who, if anyone, is watching. Souls are depending on our light; the “Father of lights” is counting on us to shine. And when the storm is the most fierce, the fog the most dense, the darkness the most intense, our light is the most needed.
Excuse me, but I think it’s time to rewind my light!
Bill, a child of God and keeper of the light