Dreams: The Lightship and My Father

There are a few times in my life that I have had a dream that I have suspected were more than a dream; experiences that were with riddled with meaning and were not just the result of an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. Often these dreams leave me with undeniable symbolism, wonder, and meaning. This blog series is not about explaining these experiences, it is just about journaling those dreams that have been unforgettably vivid and meaningful. This dream about a lightship and my father happened September 19, 2018.

Dreams: The Lightship and My Father
The dream started alongside the bayside in Ocean City, MD. My father and I were enjoying a sightseeing ship ride with some strangers on the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague Island. The ship  left from close to the inlet, on a set of docks that I know fairly well, and these docks are known for their fishing and cruising excursions. 

The ship’s deck was fairly large and flat, and almost it was almost barge or ferry like, though there was a small place for the captain to sit and pilot the ship. The cruise ship was meant for sightseeing, but it was certainly not built for open water and our cruise was never scheduled to reach open ocean water. 

Though the Assawoman, Isle of Wight, and the Sinepuxent Bays are more open water than many bays, they are safe and calm for the most part and I knew that the only rough water this ship would experience was when we crossed over the inlet – which connects the bays to the Atlantic Ocean. 

From the ship’s deck we cruised the calm water and we watched the sunrise over the bay, its reflections were vivid and bright, and we enjoyed the sights of the water and land. The golden rays of the rising sun shot across the water in glorious ways and the shadows of Assateague Island and the buildings of Ocean City were glowing with the sun’s warmth. I remember a deep sense of peace and I remember being able to feel the mist on my face. As we rose over the waves, I felt the salt-infused breeze through my beard, but even more I could feel the warmth of the sun and it tightened my skin. 

After what seemed like hours, the cruise started to come to an end, and we began to return to the docks we had left early that morning.  I took note that my father and I were sharing some similarities as we stood on the deck. We were not only standing similarly, we didn’t want the tour to end. I might say that it was obvious that Father was like the son. There was something in both of us that wanted the cruise to continue, we had an unmet desire for something more, and we stood on the deck looking outward and towards the inlet and open ocean. We did not want to depart from the ship or the feeling of being on the water. We stood as the other people took their exit, we were still feeling the slight rise of the waves, as it carefully rocked the ship against the docks in which we were tied. There was part of me that felt like I could "resign" and have the bay cruise be enough for me. Inside, I felt that I could possibly depart the ship somewhat satisfied, but I noticed something in my father that had me curious and that curiosity kept me on the ship a little longer. He continued to look out, with his hands behind his back, as my father often does, almost at attention – still allowing the sun and mist to blow into his face. I slowly approached him, realizing he was in a holy moment, wondering if he would soon turn and take his leave, resigning that the cruise was long enough and then make his exit too. I stood behind him, waiting and wondering what was all going on through his mind.

Suddenly, the atmosphere began to change. It was obvious that this cruise ship was being readied for another purpose. The crew busied making the ship ready for the open sea. The crew was so fast I could barely see them, to be fair at this point I am not sure how visible the crew was to me, but I saw the evidence of their work. 

Suddenly, with my Father and I still standing on the deck, the captain made his departure call and untied us from the dock. I braced and steaded my feet as I realized we were now on a new journey and with great speed. The captain guided the ship at fast speeds, unlike for the sunrise cruise, and he piloted us from the safety of the bay. There we were, still on this ship, with some new strangers, and the captain took us straight out the inlet as he bounced the ship over some significant waves. We created wake as we raced along the concrete and stone jetties between Ocean City and Assateague Island. I took note that both adventure and anxiety were beginning to form in me, because as I looked out towards the end of the inlet, I noticed a dark and tremendous storm rolling in. This ship, that we could have gotten off, was now heading deep into a dark abyss. My father, who still stood a few feet in front of me, was unphased. He stood looking towards the ocean, with the mist and wind blowing in his face. He was calm and confident. 

The approaching storm had begun to pound the shoreline and it made the waves of the inlet crash high over the concrete and rock jetties. The ship was tossed and rocked, and the return wake off the jetties felt like the ship was leaning and might even turn over. The Captain made an announcement on the deck. He was in a tall cabin that I had not noticed before. This ship had definitely been transformed into something new. It went from an open barge to a seafaring vessel, with decks and cabins. In his announcement, the Captain warned of the onslaught of dangerous weather, but good fishing. That crew that was busy transforming the ship erupted into a cheer. Around us that cheer went up from some people, new strangers, on the ship who were carrying fishing gear; as they walked around preparing the ship and trying to stand the weather. There was my Father, he had not moved, he continued to look out.

I began to wrestle with my own comfort level of being on such a stormy sea. I did not share in the cheer of the now energized deckhands. As I watched the crew for a while and looked at the storm, I remember glancing back at my father who was standing on the deck of the ship with his head into the mist with bravery. In that glimpse, he looked like an "Old Salt Sailor" salt shaker we had as kids. I believe he may have even been dressed in a yellow fisherman’s rain gear and hat. It was at that moment that I had realized where my sense of adventure comes from, and it energized me, even as the raging sea and wind now beat across his face – and mine.

I glanced and once again I found myself watching the stone jetties literally disappear under the rising and stormy waves. As I was now balancing a sense of fear and excitement, we hit the open water of the Atlantic Ocean. Now, the safety of the bay, the inlet, and the jetties were long gone. Yet, I noted that I strangely felt at home.

Moving closer to my father, I made it known that I was trying to think of what to say. My father must have noticed the contrast of anxiety and excitement at tension within me. He pointed out with a calm smile that we were not only any ship, but that we were in fact on the now legendary Lightship Chesapeake. He assured me this story is what ships like this were built and made for. His knowledge and experience were reassuring. I remember looking behind and around me, glancing at the ship and suddenly realizing it was not in any way the cruise ship I was on. The ship was so different that I thought it was a different ship, except for the fact that I knew that we never departed! The adventure sense overwhelmed me as I grew excited to be on a lightship. I knew they were built for such stormy weather. We took to the open sea to make it to a place in which we would anchor and we didn’t slow down at all, despite the raging seas. I woke up standing like my father on the deck, with our hands behind our back, looking into the storm and enjoying the rising and falling of the ship.

If you aren't familiar with the Lightship Chesapeake, it is a museum ship now owned by the National Park Service and is anchored in Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland. As I understand it, lightships were used on the mouth of bays and inlets, along rocky shoals, much like lighthouses. They lit the way to harbor and calmer waters. From what I have read, a crew of sixteen members would live and breathe on these ships for months on end. In storms, they would anchor themselves and actively lead people to safety.

These Lightships had many redundant systems in order to maintain their position through even the craziest storms. They have stories of the anchors breaking off these ships, from storms, and how their motors could still hold them in position. They also carried a powerful main light. In World War II, though many of these ships were apparently pulled back for security reasons, some of these ships were outfitted with defensive cannons and served as the first line of defense and warning.

When I woke up, the dream was still vivid and excitement remained. At the time of the dream, it had been many months since I had seen the Ocean. The second reflections were on how vivid it remained in me. The dream stood with me, even as I took the girls to school, and I realized how often the sea was not only a place in which I felt close to God, but it was through ship imagery and the such that I have often received prophetic words and images from God and others. At first glimpses and reflections, I found the ship representing the Church and my father and the Captain, perhaps even the storm, representing parts of the Godhead.

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