Nearer my God to thee…

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2017

By Fr. Jonathan J. Filkins

One hundred and two years ago, on a frigid and moonless night, the ill-fated British ship, Titanic, struck an iceberg in the North Sea, while en-route to New York City.

Other than her sea trials, she was untested. Fate, pride and human error, would soon dictate her failures. So, it was that the so called, unsinkable ship, careened into a floating iceberg, opening 300 feet of her prodigious length to the nearly-freezing sea.

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At first the ship’s crew was in denial of the reality of the situation. Only when it became clear that the height of the interior watertight bulkheads would soon be overtopped did the obvious become clear. Soon lifeboats were ordered out and the sad truth of the inadequacy of their numbers became all too apparent. As this new reality began to set in, with the passengers and crew, panic ensued. Some lifeboats were lowered with only a handful of passengers, others were never overloaded; even though the ocean was flat calm and rescuers were on their way.

Once the lifeboats had departed, with a bit more than 700 souls, mostly women and children, there were still over 1,500 people left on board. Other than a few, rescued from the waters by the lifeboats, most succumbed to the water’s numbing chill as the ship slipped into the depths.

Later, there were several official inquiries. Each pointed fingers at the design of the ship, and the owners and Captain Smith, the master of the vessel.

Reports concluded that the rudder was too small, the bulkheads were not high enough, the ship was going too fast, there were not enough lifeboats, and that the captain had ignored several warnings about ice.

The tragedy was so immense that immediate safety mandates were put in place; many of which remain today.

Each finding revealed a level of pride, which we also call ego, that stood in the way of fully grasping the depth of the action, or the consequences after they occurred. Putting on more lifeboats, and a more organized abandonment, would have saved more lives; if not them all. Such it was at this heady time of the Victorian era; this sense of invincibility. Yet, this tragedy is usually the mark of the end of this era, as a creeping acknowledgement began to emerge that we can only attempt to control our lives and not be the real masters of them.

It would be so easy to believe that we are well past this arrogance; this pride of self. However, we are constantly reminded we are not. It is in our intrinsic nature to be pride-full, to allow our egos to run rampant in our lives. Some find themselves impatient in their driving habits; offended at the least imperfection of their fellow drivers, and the desire to be ahead of everyone else. Some find themselves driven by their comfort of their back account, as if the necessity of the balance is all there is to life itself.

On that fateful night, so many years ago. The Titanic’s heroic band stood on the sloping deck, until the very last moment. Tradition holds that their last tune was, “Nearer my God to Thee,” a familiar hymn written by Lowell Mason in 1856. We do not know what effect these calming refrains brought to the doomed and soon lost. We do not know what effect it provided for any survivors. Yet, in the tradition, they reminded those present and, tangentially, to us today, of the necessity of being nearer to God, always, as we never know the time, place or the circumstances.

In our journey’s, we may have allowed our egos to overtake the reality of our relationship with our Creator and assume we too are unsinkable. Such is the peril of our flawed design, of our own choosing. We are reminded of another familiar hymn, “Throw out the Lifeline,” as we acknowledge that the only real rescue, in this turbulent sea called life, is through our Savior, Jesus Christ.