“Peace, Be Still,” The Fisherman’s Prayer, and anchors for the soul.

There is a very old prayer–known as the “fisherman’s prayer” or the “seafarer’s prayer”–that goes something like this: “Dear God, be close to me; thy sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.”

To me, this prayer captures something of what life itself feels like: the world is big and wide, and not altogether safe, friendly, or predictable, and our ability to cope with it all feels as flimsy as a small wooden boat battling the waves of the open ocean. We are all but guaranteed to face more than a few storms. It is, all in all, a frightening business, this journey of life. Psalm 107 describes this terrifying scene:

Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

The early Christians sometimes likened the journey of life to a voyage on the seas, with the hope that God’s promises are sure and steady, providing “an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Some old churches–including the one where my son performed the role of Jesus at Bible camp–are built to resemble ships on the inside, and the anchor–like the fish–was an important Christian symbol for many, many years–and fittingly so. It is good to have reminders that while the sailing will not always be smooth, and while our boats will sometimes seem pitifully small and rickety, the one who commands the wind and the waves sails with us, speaking to them–and to us–these words: peace, be still.

{This is just an excerpt from my first piece at the motherhood channel of iBelieve. Please read it all here, if you’re interested, and feel free to share.}

Going Down to the Sea in Ships

23Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters;

24they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.

25For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.

26They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity;

27they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.

28Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress;

29he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

30Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

{Psalm 107, nrsv}

{image via wikipedia}
{image via wikipedia}

I am reading a wonderful book called In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick, and it’s so good that he’s nearly convinced me finally to give finishing Moby-Dick another, well, harpoon. There’s something about stories of adventure, especially on the sea–Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing is another favorite–that I love. They don’t make me want to go to sea, exactly, just to think about it. My favorite Harriet Beecher Stowe novel, The Minister’s Wooing, deals a lot with seafaring, as do many others of her stories, perhaps because her sister’s fiance was lost at sea when Harriet was still quite young.

What is it about the sea that captures the imagination of adventurers and storytellers? Is it, as the Cambridge Old English Reader comments on one of the oldest English poems ‘Seafarer,’ that stories of the sea remind us “where our true home lies” and help us “concentrate on getting there”?