Munising is a town on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Lighthouses are a very familiar sight in the neighborhood, and those great beacons have some enlightening lessons to teach.
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The State of Michigan is proud of its 3,200 miles of shoreline and the towering “lakeshore sentinels” that guide and guard those who sail its waterways.
About two months ago, I shared a story of a Great Lakes lighthouse in Cleveland that inspired the hymn, “Let the Lower Lights be Burning.” I was delighted to receive an email a few days later from the Rev. Ted Halsted.
Ted served in the Detroit Conference of The United Methodist Church from 1956 until his retirement in 1992. His last appointment was as Superintendent of the Marquette District. During those six years, he put many miles on his car travelling across the U.P.
This is what Ted told me, “The meaning of the song became illuminated for me one night when I was driving along the shore of Lake Superior on my way to Marquette and was passing, on my right, ‘the light along the shore’ in Munising. I noticed on the left of the highway, a second light. It was a revelatory moment! I realized that a boat coming into the Munising harbor needed to line up those two lights to avoid crashing into the rocks. That lower light had to be ‘burning.’ What a call to faithfulness to all who follow Jesus; to be ‘lower lights’ that illuminate the way for others!”
I, too, had a Munising-area lighthouse story, and I shared it with Ted. I now share it with you.
My husband, Lynn, and I collect things. Too many things, actually, as our children would attest. However, our “lighthouse collection” takes up little room, and we don’t have to dust it. Whenever we sight a lighthouse, we take a photo of it and that’s loaded into our electronic picture frame device.
As we planned our trip from Muskegon to the Keweenaw Peninsula, we took note of the lighthouses along the route. There would be many to add to our collection. We were excited, with camera at the ready. As we drove down Highway 28, past Munising and headed toward Christmas, Michigan, we looked for the lighthouse called the Rear West Channel Light. Like the set of lighthouses Ted mentioned in his email, this lighthouse was designed to function with a Front West Light, though neither are used for navigation today.
We arrived in the parking lot of the convenience store in Christmas without having spotted the lighthouse. So, we turned around and drove back east with Lynn’s eyes on the road and my eyes glued on the shore. No lighthouse. Back again to the west, even more watchful than before. Same result. No lighthouse in sight.
This time, we got out of the car and went into the convenience store for a drink AND directions to the Rear West Channel light. “Can’t miss it!” said the clerk. “Yeah, right!” said the DeMosses. The clerk said more. Then came our AHA moment.
We jumped back into the car. Drove east and saw the lighthouse that was right there where it had stood since 1868 on the south side of Highway 28. We had passed the lighthouse, all 64 feet tall of it, three times without seeing it, even though it towered just 50 feet off the road.
How can it be that the lighthouse was hidden in plain sight? Simple. Lynn and I had focused our attention, totally, on the water’s edge of Highway 28. Where else would a lighthouse be but at the water’s edge? The Rear West lighthouse, however, stands on the land side of Highway 28, where it could perfectly align with its partner, the Front West light, to guide those navigating the Lake Superior shore.
As it is with lighthouses, so it is with other aspects of life and faith. Sometimes our expectations and assumptions are too rigid. “A lighthouse HAS to be on the waterside of the street.” Sometimes we want things to line up our way instead of God’s way. Had the lighthouse been where we thought it “should be,” it would not have functioned with its twin to fulfill the purpose for which it was designed.
Saul had his Damascus Road experience. The Samaritan encountered the injured man on the Jericho Road. Jesus appeared to his disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Important things happen along the roads we travel. Highway 28 on the northern-most edge of Michigan will forever be one of those roads for me. On Highway 28, I learned a lesson about vision; to always take a 360-degree view of what’s going on around me. For you never know from what angle God will come, with something God wants you to see or hear or do.
Thank you, Ted Halsted, for sparking that memory and important life lesson.