Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther

“Eating Up the Lights”: The Challenge I Saw in a Painting

Eating Up the Lights

“Eating Up the Lights” by Gary R. Lucy

The painting featured at the top of this post is entitled “Eating Up the Lights” by artist Gary R. Lucy. The story behind it is remarkable. (Click on the image to get a bit closer look.)

I came across this painting recently when I traveled with my friend, Bill Beattie, to the town of Washington, Missouri, where we were both speaking at a men’s event. We happened to wander into Gary Lucy’s art gallery. It probably would have been a 5 minute distraction, except that Gary happened to be there and we ended up spending the better part of an hour talking to him.

What an interesting man. A large part of Gary’s art captures the history of life on the inland waterways, and also the expeditions of Lewis and Clarke. Some of his work hangs in the Smithsonian.

But to get to this painting in particular, here’s what Gary has to say about it:

“Travel by steamboat at night was very limited and rarely attempted. Hidden snags, shifting sandbars, and dangerous currents were only a few of the ever present obstacles to navigation. At night, all hazards were greatly magnified.

On occasion, pilots would find themselves only a few miles from the next landing after sundown. In order to navigate through any menacing areas, the crew would test and mark the waters using a technique they referred to as ‘EATING UP THE LIGHTS’.

“A crew of men would board one of the steamboat’s skiffs and spearhead the attack on the uncharted waters ahead. The pilot would choose a knowledgeable associate to supervise the activities. He would also need several men with strong backs to provide propulsion, a man to take depth readings, and an individual to manipulate the lighted markers.

“After a clear channel with a safe depth was found, one man would light a candle and affix it to a piece of wood by dripping hot wax on the wood and placing the candle in it. To protect the candle from the wind, a piece of paper would be placed around the candle and adhered to the wood with wax as well. A string with a stone attached to the other end for an anchor would be tied to the wooden float.

“After this procedure was repeated a few times, a long procession of marker lights would highlight the safest path through an otherwise hazardous and unpredictable river. With confidence in his lead crew, the boat’s pilot would gently advance into the darkness toward this path of lights. With fascinated passengers leaning over the rail of the forward boiler deck, the graceful steamer would glide over the floating markers, consuming their light under her bow. Thus she was EATING UP THE LIGHTS.”

Gary told me that I was not the first preacher to be struck by the spiritual application as I looked at his painting. I told him, “That’ll Preach!”

Psalm 119:105 tells us that God’s Word is “a lamp to our path”. However treacherous the road (or waterway) before us, there are markers laid down in the Bible that are designed to guide us safely to our destination. All we need is the desire to ‘eat them up’, that is to eagerly look for and follow the principles of God’s Word.

What further struck me from this painting, however, was the need for people willing to get in the skiff and go set out those lights to be followed. That must have been a difficult job in the dark, on a freezing cold night on the water. Yet it needed to be done, and committed people did it.

I think of the “lighters” in my own life who have set out God’s Word for me to follow:

Parents

It is Christian parents above all who must realize our calling to set out the lights for our children, and for the next generation. Don’t expect anyone to teach your family the Word of God if you neglect to do it. I will be eternally grateful for the legacy my parents laid down for me in this regard.

Preachers

In my case, my father was my preacher. His faithfulness in the pulpit, week after week faithfully teaching the Bible changed my life and the lives of so many others. I’ve also been blessed by the ministry of other faithful pastors and teachers since. In 1 Timothy 5:17 we’re told that we should honor the elders of the church, “especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine.”

Sunday School Teachers

We often think of folks like these in all our lives who have helped teach us the Bible. This would also include small group and youth ministry leaders, and so on.

So let’s not forget to honor those who have rowed ahead and helped to set out the lights of God’s Word before us. And we should also take it as a call to each one of us. Are you a mature Christian? By that, I don’t mean you have to be a theologian, but have you received a deposit of Christian truth that is directing your life? Who can you now pass that on to?

Think of this painting and remember, we simply cannot have too many “lighters”.