The Waterman’s Service
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Every now and then I attend the Waterman’s Service. You don’t have be a member of any particular church to attend. You don’t have to subscribe to any special creed or dogma. You don’t need a prayer book, you don’t need to send in any money, cook breakfast for the mens-only club in church, buy peanuts for the holiday fundraiser, or even run the bingo game every Friday night.
Best of all, everyone is welcome. Everyone and everything . . . human, animal, plant, even the rocks and shells embedded along the shore . . . male or female, black or white and all shades in between, tall or short, fat or thin, rich or poor, young or old, and yes, even the hearty non-conformers in society . . . everyone and everything, are welcome.
The service starts just before sunup as the sun moves across planet Earth breaking over horizons all over the world. In Middlesex, the service starts as area watermen make their way out of creeks and harbors for the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay. Their dark silhouettes move slowly as they glide across grey waters to attend their crab pots and fish nets and we can already hear the low hum of motors of their boats. The sky is slate but now glows with faint light as the sun nears the horizon while the sea is calm and shimmers in wee early morning light. We stand and silently, breathlessly, await.
Hark, here she comes! The light of the coming sun cracks over the horizon and spills out across the sky. It spreads sparks of golden glory outward and I gasp at the sight. Oh, alleluia! Dusk gives way to dawn, darkness to light, and death to life! Hate to love! Revenge to forgiveness! Oh, let the Waterman’s Service begin!
I stand on the shore with my dog and we are rapt with this eternal morning miracle. There are no non-believers in this church; we are devout, deeply religious, we who stand by each morning for the coming of the light.
Oh, watch now, as the sky turns a heavenly pink, then brightens magically to rich shades of orange, rose and red! Oh, see the light spread across the sky, like paints spilled from God’s pallet and into the sea!
There are no boundaries, no barriers, and no fences on this ethereal scene. See how the river returns to the sky its breathless reflection. There are no shadows or dark fears in this light! The night stars, still visible and twinkling to the human eye, reflect all the silvery fish in this earthly sea.
Lo! The choir has assembled, but with fluttering wing rather than rustle of robe. It sends its heavenly melody upward. It is not human, this choir, but holy. It is a chorus of birdsong that requires no hymnals, no priest to turn a page, nor organist to play the prelude.
Music fills the air with a sound so lovely one cannot believe its chords. It is more beautiful than Vivaldi and all his strings. It is more uplifting than Bach and all his fugues or Mozart and all his fluttering genius. God’s music, it is composed of notes no human can ever replicate.
Now, breathe in the air. It is filled with fragrance, but not with incense, nor musty walls, nor moth-encased woolens unfolded from winter’s chest, nor melting candle wax. It is honeysuckle that captures our breath and takes us away, as pure as the scent of orange blossom and roses growing wild against the fence. I breathe in the fragrance with the passion of angels and it sates and synthesizes my soul. Such heady perfume casts all under the spell of such sweet earth.
The pine trees stand erect along the shore as if to pay respect. The willows bow their limbs in deep reverence from the hillside. The iris and daffodil stand in utter awe from their flower beds. We see, we feel, we hear, we touch the new morning.
This good church meets every morning and the light is free to all who can see. The power is given to all who will seek. There is no rank, no vain glory, no foolishness, no division of denomination or sect, and no incessant squabble over which interpretation is right or wrong.
Oh, look for the Waterman’s Service! On the morrow, something fine awaits us all—the new day with all its golden opportunities; this mystery, this great blessing of life.
Give thanks for the earth! Give thanks for life! Give thanks for the sun, sky and sea! Give thanks for the eternal light! Give thanks for the waterman’s service!
(Excerpts taken from Mary Wakefield Buxton’s first book, “Rappahannock River Journeys,” Rappahannock Press, 1988)