Karen’s post, Folksongs are like Teapots, brought hymns to my heart and mind. Here is a piece I wrote in 2015 on the AmblesideOnline Forum. At the time, I had just finished reading Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
The tears were streaming down my face. I could barely choke out the words to Abide With Me (AO Sept. 2014). We were in the middle of singing the hymn; it was not the time to answer the question. I brushed it aside with a whisper. “My eyes are burning.”
But as we continued to sing, there was no way I was going to hide the tears; in fact, I did not want to. I chose to stop singing, and I just listened to the words, my mind flooded with images from long ago.
When the hymn ended, the question was repeated. “Mommy, why are you crying?”
I took a breath. My voice faltered as I began to speak, but as I proceeded with my answer, my voice became more steady even as the tears renewed their flow.
“It was 100 years ago this month. There was a war between Britain and Germany, the beginning of WWI. America was not yet a part of the war. A large British passenger liner named the Lusitania had left New York and was sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool in England. As the ship neared its destination, a German submarine torpedoed it, sending it to the bottom of the ocean in about fifteen minutes.”
“Mommy, did the people die?”
“Yes, many, many people died. But as the ship was sinking, as people were facing the last moments of their lives, not knowing if they were going to live or die, some not knowing where their children, parents, wives and husbands were, with chaos and destruction all around them, there were some, of whom it is said, were singing Abide With Me. In those last moments of desperation, as the ship listed and life boats were rendered useless, as life vests were out of reach or improperly donned, some turned to God and to the words of this hymn, these very words we just sang.”
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
These hymns do tie us to the generations who have gone before us. I pray, should my children one day be called to face an unimaginable disaster, the depth and the beauty of the words of hymns such as this will be called to their minds to encourage and comfort them in their time of need.