A Mariner's Psalm 23

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This past summer vacation, we visited the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. On the second floor of the museum is the Fishermen’s Memorial Room. A whole wall in that room is dedicated to remembering the names of men and vessels lost to the sea. On another wall is a mural painted by Joseph Purcell (seen here) of Jesus calming the storm. And, though I’m not sure if it’s a constant part of the memorial room, on a table in the center of the room were printed copies of a Mariner’s Version of Psalm 23, as below:

23rd Psalm (Mariner’s Version)

The Lord is my pilot, I shall not drift,

He lighteth me across the dark waters,

He keepeth my log.

He guideth me by the star of holiness for His Name’s sake.

Yea, though I sail ‘mid the thunders and tempests of life,

I shall dread no danger, for Thou are near me.

Thy love and Thy care, they shelter me.

Thou preparest a harbour for me in the homeland of eternity.

Thou anointest the waves with oil; my ship rideth calmly.

Surely, sunlight and starlight shall favour me on the voyage I take,

and I will rest in the port of my God forever.

The mural and the psalm are both good examples of contextualization of the Christian faith. Contextualization is translating the Christian message into a new cultural context that makes it meaningful to people in that culture. In this case, the Christian faith is contextualized into the Maritimes’ mariner culture. If you look closely at the mural, it looks to me that the fishermen in the boat with Jesus looked more like Canadian maritime fishermen than the early Jewish disciples of Jesus. So, even though at first glance, it reminds you of the incident in Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calmed the storm while in a boat with his disciples, at second glance you realize that Jesus is not actually calming the storm in the mural. His hand is stretched not towards the roaring waves but towards the fishermen in the boat, as if in an act of blessing or benediction. Or probably, Jesus is calming the emotional storm in their hearts.

This is a powerful application of the biblical story: even though God may not stop the storms and waves of the sea, God is with us in the midst of the storms and waves. This is echoed in the Mariner’s version of Psalm 23: “Yea, though I sail ‘mid the thunders and tempests of life, I shall dread no danger, for Thou are near me.” 

I wonder if the juxtaposition of this version of the 23rd Psalm and the mural with the long list of deceased fishermen was deliberate. If it was, I think it is inspired. This museum exhibit is, in essence, a confession of faith:- in the face of death and danger as witnessed by the long list of names of those who were lost at sea, we still confess that God is with us and near us, God is still our pilot, as confessed by the mural and the mariner’s Psalm 23.

It made me reflect on how our faith cannot rely on outward circumstances of prosperity or well-being. It contradicts the so-called “prosperity gospel” movement. How smooth or well our life is going is no indication of how God loves us or cares for us. It’s not easy, I must admit, to confess that God is still good in the midst of our sufferings and disappointments. And, to many, the question of evil and suffering in the world is enough to disprove God’s love and existence. I don’t have an iron-clad logical response to the question of evil, at this point. But my faith in God doesn’t rest on this one foundation. And following Christ is not a “what’s-in-it-for-me” venture. There are some strong reasons to believe in God, which I can and maybe should put down in a blog post in the future, but at the end of the day, I must admit that over the years I believe that God has got a strong hold on my life, and, it would take a lot more than a few unresolved or unexplained issues or dilemmas to make me wriggle out of that embrace.

My late brother Thomas’ response to his cancer, which proved fatal, always speaks volumes to me. When asked by some friends if he, as a Christian pastor, still believes that God can heal him of his cancer, Thomas replied: “I believe God can heal, but God doesn’t have to.” I think confessions like that are signs of a mature faith. It’s a faith that can weather the storms of life. In the Bible, we also see a similar statement in Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NRSV):

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation.

Have you witnessed or heard of similar confessions of faith in the midst of life’s storms? 

How do you deal with the storms of life, when things aren’t going so well for you?

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