"I do not exist," we faithfully insist
sailing in our separate ships,
and in each tiny caravel -
tiring of trying, there's a necessary dying
like the horseshoe crab in its proper season sheds its shell
such distance from our friends,
like a scratch across a lens,
made everything look wrong from anywhere we stood
and our paper blew away before we'd left the bay
so half-blind we wrote these songs on sheets of salty wood

you caught me making eyes at the other boatmen's wives
and heard me laughing louder at the jokes told by their daughters
I'd set my course for land,
but you well understand
it takes a steady hand to navigate adulterous waters
the propeller's spinning blades held acquaintance with the waves
as there's mistakes I've made no rowing could outrun
the cloth low on the mast like to say Ive got no past
but I'm nonetheless the librarian and secretary's son
with tarnish on my brass and mildew on my glass
I'd never want someone so crass as to want someone like me
but a few leagues off the shore, I bit a flashing lure
and I assure you, it was not what it expected it to be!
I still taste its kiss, that dull hook in my lip
is a memory as useless as a rod without a reel
to an anchor-ever-dropped-seasick-yet-still-docked captain spotted napping with his first mate at the wheel floating forgetfully along, with no need to be strong. we keep our confessions long and when we pray we keep it short
I drank a thimbleful of fire and I'm not ever going back

Oh, my G-d!

"I do not exist," we faithfully insist
while watching sink the heavy ship of everything we knew
if ever you come near I'll hold up high a mirror
Lord, I could never show you anything as beautiful as you

Lyrics submitted by you fail me

Messes of Men song meanings
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  • +1
    My InterpretationHere are my thoughts on the song. I found the comments by naptime1979 to be especially helpful in understanding its essence and meaning. The song is filled with cavernous depth, so I took it line by line.

    “I do not exist…” Recognizes the “speck-ness” of who we are, but is projected in such a way as to be proud (Lk. 18:10-14). This is proven by the next line “sailing in our separate ships…” True humility will result in unity. Pseudo-humility will result in relational separation. This motif is buttressed later by the line “such distance from our friends…”

    “Tiring of trying…” I had to mull over this line for a while before I think I got it. I believe it is actually a precursor to what the whole song is going to be about: dying to self and Christian maturity. At the end of the song the character has been through a lot, but he has finally understood what it means to die to himself and it has nothing to do with how hard he tries. The metaphor of the horseshoe crab is used to represent these stages in life where we have to shed off our old shells and put on new shells. It is reminiscent of the adage that Jesus told the disciples of John when they came to Him: “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.” (Matt. 9:16-17)

    “Made everything look wrong…” is again representative of the Pharisee of Luke 18 and his critical observations of the community surrounding him.

    “Our paper flew away…” this line is opaque at best. I will creatively venture that it’s talking about a condescending Christian who feels the need to correct others errors. He had the paper to write his “spiritual soliloquies” yet God graciously spared him the embarrassment (and the subsequent harm it would cause others) by blowing away his paper. This, however, does not hinder the stubborn sailor’s digression from truth; for he chooses to (half-blindly… meaning that he has been deceived) write his skewed thoughts on the planks of the ship in hopes that he will eventually share his “enlightenments” with the world.

    “You caught me making eyes…” Represents the many venues of sin available for someone who has left the shore of the Almighty. I do not take this to be literal, but figurative in nature. I feel that it would also be valid to assume that this song is speaking of literal adultery; however I personally feel that it truncates its significance. To me, these women (or perhaps it is better to say the way that our character views these women) are symptoms of residing on a ship sailing in the treacherous waters of this world.

    “I’d set my course for land…” Land represents the stable and ever-abiding presence of the Almighty.

    “It takes a steady hand…” The waters of adultery against God are ruthless. They are the waters that toss men to-and-fro in the choppy, unstable culture of this world. (Jms. 1:6-7) It takes dedication, hard work, and above all faith to correct one’s prideful ways and submit to a God who knows better. Our sailor’s circumstance has everything to do with his lack of trust in God’s benevolent, omnipotent character. So he continues to keep his propeller in harmony with the waves, for it seems to him the easiest path to take.

    “As there’s mistakes I’ve made…” The main character recognizes that he has gone too far out to sea. It’s beyond him to make it back. This is good because he has now noticed his own faults (which are many) and how distant they have made him from God. This is bad because he believes them to be insurmountable, even for God.

    “The cloth low on the mast…” Sadly, the poignancy of the prior moment is avoided out of fear. Admitting defeat, he decides to forget past failures and let the waves take him where they may. This is not redemptive forgetting. This is denial. He retreats back to the familiarity of his high-strung lifestyle, musing instead on his social status and the perks therein. He has put his trust in worldly position.

    “With tarnish on my brass…” Time slips by and he lets the residue of worldly ambition accumulate and compound within him. His spirituality begins to fade. He becomes crude and unappealing in many ways. During moments of introspection, he admits that he wouldn’t even desire himself if he were someone else.

    “But a few leagues of the shore…” Fascinating enough, Weiss strays away from one seafaring metaphor and leaps to another. The man has now become a fish! This is a subtle shift, but important I believe. The man has spent so much time on the sea that he has been transformed; now becoming a part of the sea. Before he was merely sailing on top of the water, he had no intention of debasing himself to this level, but it happened nonetheless.

    “I bit a flashing lure…” This could be widely interpreted. Either another fisherman, dabbling in sin as our main character used to be before his degrading metamorphosis, has him caught and is now painfully reeling him in; or… and this could be a stretch… but perhaps it’s a full fledged disciple of Christ (a fisher of men Mk. 1:17), who has caught him and so now our character is serendipitously being pulled back into the loving presence of God. Either way he is surprised by this turn of events.

    “I still taste it’s kiss…” We are now peering back in a moment of reverie within our character’s psyche. The memory of that event (whatever it was) is painfully recalled. Yet the memory appears useless now. He has experienced something, something tragic yet compelling enough to bring him back to shore. The wounds are their in order for him to remember, but his spirit is now lacking in fervency.

    “To an anchor-ever-dropped…” This part is difficult for me to interpret. He is anchored to the ground and so part of me is compelled to connect this with Heb. 6:19 “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” It makes me think that maybe Weiss is speaking symbolically of the “in between” time between the kingdom of this world and the consummation of the kingdom of heaven. The water would represent the kingdom of this world, the land the kingdom of heaven and the completion of love that comes with the absolute removal of our sin that happens at the resurrection of our souls. He is seasick because he is still tainted by the movement of the waves and the remembrance of his prior life.

    “Floating forgetfully along…” He attempts to forget his past excursion and has realized that there is no need to be strong in the Kingdom of God. God is our strength.

    “We keep our confessions long…” We tend to live in extreme regret despite the truth inside the redemption of God. We should be praying for “his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven…”, but we frequently glance back at our past glaring sins. If we attempt to read between the lines, we may note that our character does not feel a complete fullness of the experience of Christ. He is not pessimistic, he is not optimistic; the glass for him is half-way. While this may not seem as triumphant as we would like in our perfect little Christian world, this does seem far more realistic. His life has been transformed, and thank God for that, but he is still a hurting man in need of recuperation.

    “I drank a thimbleful of fire...” Well lots of routes that could be taken on this one. I’ll just go with my opinion. It could be that it represents a fire of the Holy Spirit, which grants him the fervency to continue on the path of Christ in spite of his seasickness, but is for now limited to only thimble-sized portions until the promised eschaton (Jesus’ coming back), where the fires of the spirit will be unlimited.

    “I do not exist…” This repetition is meant to be a sort of “wrap up” of the song. It’s there to bring us full circle, but with a greater clarity of mind. This time the character of the story insists on his “speck-ness” in comparison with the Almighty, but as we will see, he also believes it. He has been on a journey, one which has scarred him, but one which has led to his fortunate change of mind.

    “While watching sink…” I believe this could represent the death of our character. I am not sure, however, whether this is a spiritual death (dying to self, but becoming alive to Christ) or a physical death. Either way, the ship, which represents the sins of the flesh, is now sinking before his eyes.

    “If ever you come near…” Perhaps my favorite lines in the song. Absolutely beautiful, and to me this should be the constant mindset of the Christian life. The mirror is representative of Jesus. If we have Jesus in our spirits, then the Almighty looks at us and sees himself. We have done nothing to deserve it, but all we have done is hold up our mirrors so that God would see something of value when he sees us. We aren’t trying to prove ourselves, because we can’t. We are connecting ourselves to a new object (the mirror), now that our ship has sunk. The same way that we became a fish earlier by sailing the sees, we will become a part of God the longer we continue to hold up our mirrors in honor of His glory.
    SteveOatmanon October 02, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it should be "but you well understand it takes a steady hand to navigate the OPEN water." What a great song.
    Velfare4on September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is my favorite song on the album. and that "oh my god" is amazing.
    midwestproducton September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment--"Like a horseshoe crab in it's proper sea can shed it's shell"
    a Horseshoe crab goes to the same place to molt every year.
    --"I bit a flashing lure"
    --"The anchor ever dropped sea-sick but still docked"
    --"boatman's wives" --"daughters"
    --"The perpeller spitting flames it held aquaintence with the waves"
    --"We'll be brave and keep it short"
    --"floating forgetfully aloft"
    --"hold up high and dear"
    --"O my God!"
    the perpeller line I''m not sure about and there are a few other things wrong, and you're missing the line before "I'm not ever coming back", I think it says something about a fire and a thimble.

    Anyway I love this song, and I'll give it a full comment when I get the real lyrics, but I believe this is him in search of faith.
    Knife2aGunFighton September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIf ever you come near, I'll hold up high a MIRROR.
    Lord, I could never show you something as beautiful as You
    andreaaaaon September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnd I think it's

    Tiring and trying with unnecessary dying
    like the horseshoe crab in ITS PROPER SEASONS SHED ITS shell
    andreaaaaon September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow, and again...

    Lord, I could never show you ANYTHING as beautiful as You.
    andreaaaaon September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentfixed some stuff. thanks.

    this is one of my four favorites on the album
    you fail meon September 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSounds to me like "adulterous waters" instead of "ocean's waters", but I'm just going off a lousy live recording.
    Fat Kid With Asthmaon September 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSounds to me like "adulterous waters" instead of "ocean's waters", but I'm just going off a lousy live recording.
    Fat Kid With Asthmaon September 06, 2006   Link

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