Drop the anchor, furl the sail …
So part of my holiday weekend involved sailing on the Chesepeake Bay, which was both the first time I’d been out on that particular body of water as well as my first time sailing. It was one of those large vessels that you rent with thirty or so of your closest friends whom you meet for the first time standing in line on the dock to board.
Anyway, it was a delightful experience, not least of all because it brought to life some of the antique imagery in so many old gospel tunes that remain dead metaphors for many of us, who don’t literally bring in the sheaves anymore, or leave the fold to find one little lost lamb or, in this case, get on board an old ship … is that the old ship of Zion I see … which I was singing (mostly to myself) on and off much of the time I was on the water.
The excursion I was on involved heading out an hour or so into the bay, coming around and heading back to the Annapolis marina. When the sails were fully unfurled and the boat gaining speed, I had no trouble understanding how songwriters from the days when sailing was a common part of everyday life would find in the experience a sense of majesty and power to be mobilized in lyrical imagery. Having only ever spent time on the water in fully motored crafts (save for canoes), I thought I had prepared myself for riding the waves in comparative silence. But of course intellection and experience are entirely different forms of knowledge, and it was thrilling the way the schooner cut through and shot across the water with quiet, astonishing power.
The weather was glorious (it was a few days before the crushing heat arrived), but when we came back into the marina, I thought of an old nineteenth-century song about piloting the ship of the soul safely home amidst the storms of life. I discovered it in researching the book, and had, conveniently enough, just picked out a few bars of it on the piano before I left for holiday. And so as we glided into port with the Maryland hills rising up before us, I hummed the first verse lightly to myself:
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Land ahead! Its fruits are waving
O’er the hills of fadeless green;
And the living waters laving
Shores where heav’nly forms are seen.
Rocks and storms I’ll fear no more,
When on that eternal shore;
Drop the anchor! Furl the sail!
I am safe within the vail!