Friday, October 14, 2011
There is truly no way to adequately describe the spirit stirring emotion of standing on the deck of a huge ship, hundreds of miles from any land mass, with the great waves moving up and down in an endless march to somewhere else. The sea is it's own world, a world of absolute wonder, with a power that can certainly be felt as well as seen. I sort of get the impression that the unnamed author of Psalm 107 had at some point either been a sailor or had been on the sea enough to have experienced that soul stirring wonder. "Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, his great wonders in the deep. For he commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so he guides them to their desired haven. Oh that men would give thanks to the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works for the children of men!" Psalm 107:23-31 NKJV A few weeks after I went aboard the Mount McKinley we set sail for the Caribbean Sea to transport several hundred Marines to a small island to sharpen their skills during some annual war games. We left Norfolk, Va late one afternoon in freezing rain and snow with very cold temps and rough seas. Two days later we were in bright sunshine with calm seas and temps in the 80's. I loved being at sea and, given the choice, would have spent my entire enlistment at sea. The days were always busy workdays, but the evenings were always more relaxed. We had a nightly movie shown on-deck, there were card games, time for writing letters, guys just sitting around talking about their girl friends and cars and someone usually would bring out a guitar. I slept many nights on the forward deck with a blanket and a pillow under the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. The sound and motion of the ship took some getting accustomed to, but after a few nights it became a pleasant way to be rocked to sleep. But it wasn't unusual to have that sleep interrupted by a fire drill or GQ (General Quarters) when every person aboard the ship had to get to their assigned duty station ready to perform whatever duties they had been trained for, regardless of the time of day or night. The Captain always timed these drills to make us aware that time was a critical key. My first cruise was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Some of my shipmates had to deal with the unpleasantness of seasickness but I never did, thankfully. During the day we always enjoyed the treat of watching flying fish, many dolphins, an occasional spouting whale and hundreds of gulls, pelicans and other sea birds that always seemed to be there. Once we arrived on station and the Marines went ashore, the ship anchored off-shore about a mile or so and we spent the next two weeks watching from afar. Actually I spent most nights fishing off the fantail with a small group of guys. What a blast. We kept the Officers Mess supplied with fresh fish every day of those two weeks. But I also leaned something new about God on that cruise. I began to think of him as much, much bigger and greater than I had ever known. The sea is more than impressive, its extremely humbling, at least it was to me. Although I had been reared in a Christian home and had attended a Christian college. my vision of God was crushed by the experience of seeing him in the power, the enormity, the beauty and the life that teems in the sea. Later, on our way back to Norfolk several months later after completing the Caribbean cruise, we would encounter scary weather with 60-80 foot waves that threatened to swamp the ship. I did exactly what the Psalmist said all sailors do at some point - I cried out to the Lord. He brought us into our safe harbor. He's been doing that for me every day since. HALLELUJAH!