A red boat with flower wreaths next to it

The Lightship Overfalls

I’m sharing the Invocation that I offered at Maritime Day 2023 in Lewes, Delaware. The Overfalls is a historic lightship lovingly restored by a large crew of volunteers, that has become a celebrated Delaware landmark. Lightships were like floating lighthouses that kept other ships safe by use of lights, horns and eventually radar. Read more about the amazing history here.

Here’s my invocation:

The creation story of Genesis begins in a state of chaos: “Darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.”

This Hebrew word for “the deep,” Tehom, is used many times throughout the Hebrew Bible to represent the depths of the Sea, as well as the primeval forces of chaos hovering at the edges of human civilization. Tehom can also represents the great and awesome mysteries of existence beyond our knowledge or control.

Much of the time our lives are like a stroll on the beach, concerned with the things of everyday, like the seashells that catch our eye or the ephemeral sandcastles we built as children. But every now and then we look out in awe and sense the vastness of the ocean just beyond, recognizing all along that we have been dwelling on the edge of a powerful mystery.

To walk the coast, to venture out onto the water or to dive beneath its surface nurtures our spirituality because it puts us in touch with that sense of awe, reminding us that the world is so much bigger than us and yet we are blessed to be a tiny part of it. Spirituality occurs when we sense the deeper dimension that is always there on the edge of our existence. Some people tend to be spiritual in nature because they embrace that mystery, they even seek to enter it.

But if spirituality is like that love and awe of the sea, faith is something else again. Faith is more like a lightship. We who are here today have different beliefs, but faith is not just identical with belief.

The Hebrew word for faith, Emunah, is basically synonymous with faithfulness. The lightships were humble vessels built to faithfully serve others. The restoration of The Overfalls by committed volunteers was itself an amazing example of faithful action. A life of faith, like service on the light ships, requires commitment, dedication, and even a willingness for self-sacrifice for the greater good.

The crews of the Overfalls and the other lightships represent a life that few of us could attain, one that we can only honor today. Yet we in our daily lives have the opportunity to be lightships out in the world, serving as a beacon for those lost in the fog of confusion or caught in a storm of life. We have the sacred opportunity to be present, to offer guidance, and to accompany others when their encounters with the Tehom of life have threatened to overpower them.

As in the words of Psalm 42:

“When deep (Tehom) calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls–I’m going to venture my own translation here –the roar of your Overfalls…when all Your breakers and billows have swept over us,”

When those challenging times arise, faith is the lightship. Faith is staying the course and knowing what keeps you anchored in a storm. Whether you place your faith in God, in your heritage, in humanity – you can make the choice to be a lightship, to illuminate a path for others, to see them back to the harbor, back to home.

In the words of Psalm 107:

Those who go down to the sea in ships,
ply their trade in the mighty waters;

they have seen the works of the Eternal
and God’s wonders in the deep.

A Prayer:

Source of Life, Author of all creation: your voice is above the thunder of ocean waters but also speaks to us from the still small voice within. May we be blessed to find wonder and spirituality in the mystery of the Sea. May we derive inspiration from those who served on this ship and many others like it, who dedicated their lives to keeping others safe from harm. And may all of us, in stormy and challenging times, find our own faithful way to be the lightship that sees one another home. And let us say, Amen.