We have, on my family’s small sailboat, electronic charts, multiple GPS, and a digital depth sounder. We also have a tall, metal mast—a built in lightning rod. If we were struck by lightning, very likely every piece of electronics aboard would cease to function. So in case of emergency, we also carry paper charts, a sextant for celestial navigation, and a lead line for measuring depth.
And more than just lightning could take out our depth sounder. Underwater sensors get obscured by marine growth or debris; wiring corrodes and solar-fed batteries fail when the sun doesn’t shine.
So we keep our lead line tucked away in a handy locker. This age-old tool doesn’t look like much. A thin length of line with a pendant of lead at the end. There is a dimple at the bottom of the weight, as if the smelter had tested the cooling metal with a curious fingertip. Into this indentation, we can smear a thimbleful of grease, just sticky enough to pull up the substance from the ocean floor. Untouched grease means rocky bottom, a bad anchorage. Sand or gravel or mud mean good holding ground—a good night’s rest for the weary crew.
Some lead lines have markings every fathom. Ours have long since worn away. But we can measure by reach; the captain’s wingspan is 6 feet exactly.
As we near safe anchorage, I take the helm, steering where I think will prove best. I watch the captain on the bow toss the line, let it settle, mark and measure. He calls back directions, I edge in a few more boat lengths, and he tosses again. The line proves true and we find our way.
This is the truest thing I know: that God is love. Suspended by this gravity that pulls you true, may you brave the dark, take its measure, and always find your rest in the love of God, the source and substance at the center of it all.