Part of the time ashore at college during my training as a Merchant Navy cadet was spent at the college Seamanship Centre, which was down in the docks adjoining the River Tyne. Some Saturdays we went sailing in old clinker-built lifeboats, which we launched from davits at the Seamanship Centre, just as we would if we ever needed to use the lifeboats on a ship.
The River Tyne is not quite the open sea, and due to its tides provides certain challenges for seafarers. One of these is a reef known locally as the Black Middens. We knew about the Black Middens because our instructors had warned us. The advice was somewhat basic; “When you see a seagull standing on the water, come about, otherwise you will go aground!” Given this advice we were somewhat surprised one Saturday morning to hear and feel the sickening crunch of timber on rock as we became wedged on the Black Middens. Then, in amidst the expletives emerging from our instructor, there came a voice from the bow: “I can see a seagull standing on the water, Sir!” Fortunately the tide was coming in and we soon refloated, with little damage sustained. They built those old boats well!
The seagull standing on the water was a sign that our lookout missed. To be fair it is easy to become swamped by signs, especially when we walk around our world, and even more so when we drive. But in all we are seeing we need to ask what are we missing? How do we stop our eyes from glazing over and how do we begin to see as we should? Remember the rainbow? God’s promise painted in the sky. I once sailed through a tunnel of rainbows in mist off the coast of Newfoundland. It was as if God was reminding me over and over and over again of His love for me. My garden is full of signs too. From birds feeding to new life emerging from the ground, and from the trees and bushes as winter is replaced by spring. Soon my garden will be swamped with colour, and later in the year it will feed our family with apples and redcurrants.
What do the signs tell me? They don’t just speak to me, but they shout out God’s name. They declare the glory of God. They show me the love of God defined in creation. But, to understand creation we have to know the Creator, really know the Creator. If we miss the signs He has put in our paths then there is a chance that we may end up hard aground. Or perhaps just hardened against everything? A hard heart is a tragedy indeed. As tragic as a boat running aground when the rocks could have been avoided. Have you seen a seagull standing on the water recently?
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Psalm 19:1-6 NIV)