Nearer, my God to thee, nearer to thee!
Even it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God to thee:
Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone:
yet in my dreams I’d be nearer my God to thee:
Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
Words Sarah F. Adams 1541
Music Lowell Mason 1856
On Good Friday, I was reflecting on what it must have been like to survive the first Good Friday without the assurance of Easter Sunday. It couldn’t have felt like a very good Friday. It might have felt something akin to being on a sinking ship.
I’ve been reviewing the story of the RMS Titanic with my sons as they’ve studied the ship and my mind wandered there as I reflected. I have always been fascinated by the Titanic.
Wallace Hartley, the bandmaster of the orchestra on the famous ship Titanic, changed songs from popular ragtime tunes to Nearer my God to Thee sometime before the ship sank April 12, 1912 around 2:20 am on that incredible evening of its maiden voyage. A friend had asked earlier Hartley what he would do if he found himself on a sinking ship. “I would gather the band together and begin playing,” he responded. Wearing their life vests, not one of them stopped playing till the very end … survivors recounted.
I loved the movie “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Debbie Reynolds was fantastic as she played Molly Brown, a survivor of the ship. It is understandable why it was the major blockbuster years ago. People are spellbound by someone who survives something like that, because few do. So I was thinking about how those survivors made it to the lifeboats — simply one word…others. Others put them on those boats. Others gave up their seats so that someone else might have one. Others informed them. Others pointed them in the right direction. Others thought of someone else, instead of themselves that evening.
I recently watched a movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. Once in captivity he said, “real Christianity is sharing each others pain… it will shock people.” I think of those who stepped aside so that someone else might live: husbands put wives into lifeboats, women put children in the hands of strangers. What kind of person does that? Someone who is selfless, someone who is willing does that. When the Titanic finally went down, countless people were in the water. Amid the Lord’s prayer being prayed, one cry heard by those in the boats was, “Save one life! Save one life!” Boat after boat… thought about going back to aid those in the 28 degree water, but were talked out of it fearing they would be overthrown by the masses in the water. One did go back though, Fifth Officer Lowe. He thought he might wait and let the crowd “thin out,” but in fact, he waited too long. Even still he did find Steward John Stewart and another unknown gentleman and 2 collapsible life boats with a dozen men still alive, as well as Mrs. Rosa Abbott.
Lowe knew what others forgot that day, that his rescue could not come without his helping others rescued. Molly Brown knew the same. She begged the crewman from their lifeboat to return to aid those in need. When denied, she knew that to stay warm the women would also have to row along with the men in the boat and she carried on until they were allowed to. She wrapped her coat around the legs of a man who sat beside her shivering uncontrollably as she rowed into the night. But those that really captured my attention on the Titanic, were the crew. In Daniel Allen Butler’s book, “Unsinkable: The full story of the RMS Titanic” he notes that, “… it was devotion to the duty, a sense of responsibility, obligation to other people, a knowledge that people were depending on them that caused so many crewmembers to stay at their posts, even at the cost of their lives.” There is no greater love, a love for their fellow men and women. I love what Butler wrote of the crew, “if there was a lasting legacy from the crew of the Titanic, something genuine, meaning that would transcend cliché and platitude… that they could leave for their children and grandchildren… it was their willingness to follow men who were doing what was right and noble and good, and in doing so become right, noble and good themselves.”
Some call it crazy, others call it sacrifice. A kind of sacrifice rarely seen, but when witnessed, it captivates our spirit, it makes us too want to do for others, to be selfless for others, to risk it all without regard for our own gain, to step in when stepping in might not seem popular or easy. Isn’t that what hope is all about? You and I in the icy water as our ship is going down near us calling, “Save One Life” desperately hoping, longing with all that is in us that someoneŠ just one someone, will come to our aid.
I think back on the Titanic moments in my life – those times when I hit an iceberg or when I sunk altogether. As someone one who grew up with a mother who struggled with depression, I know all-too-well what the sinking of a metaphorical ship feels like.
That was part of my survival and my growing up. Someone stepped in; someone lent a hand; people came to my aid. My support system was quilted together by people who surrounded me at times when I felt my ship was going under. Whether or not they knew of my mother’s battle or the challenges that came with living in a pastor’s family, or others that presented themselves as an adult… eating disorders, deaths of my sister, parents, close friends… fear disappointments, loss in all our lives….others were there.
I received that aid time and time again, from friends on my street, in my choir, sitting near me in class, in Sunday school and from teachers, volunteers, aunts/uncles/ cousins, pastors and youth directors. As I look around I’ve continued to have that in my life: blessedness… blessed friends, family,from my best friend Ron and the dangerous duo- Max and Zach, countless folks I’ve met along the way. Names and faces continue to be added to my list. You are on it if you have opened your stories and yourselves to me, have put your arms around me, have laughed and cried with me and drank countless cups of coffee with me, have written songs, edited books, showed up to concerts, eaten many meals, played at the park, gone to the movies… and on it goes. You’ve been present for moments of despair, loss, shame, hope, joy and healing… you were simply agents of loveŠ living love.
And so it goes, each day we all have a chance to put someone else in a lifeboat. We all can huddle together and be on the lookout… we all can simply save one life and in doing so, what a wonderful funny little twist, our lives are saved as well. Isn’t that what really happened Easter morning… the disciples finally really got it.. what real sacrifice looks like… not death at all… real living love.
Following that first good Friday, we find the disciples in a room, huddled together, hanging onto each other for dear life. They are presented with the wonderful news that you and I can’t help hearing the story through. God owns the Omega as well as the Alpha. Light has the last word.
Take care of your soul, friends,
Enjoy the journey
… and celebrate the simple things of life… like more ice cream!