If the Continental Congress and U.S. Congress had not mandated that every Naval vessel conduct “divine services, the odds are good they would have taken place anyway. Overwhelmed by the vastness of the waters around them, the wondrous magnitude of the sky and stars above them, and the ever-present danger of powerful tempests or stormy seas, Sailors in ancient times were almost invariably religious, superstitious, or both. This age-old connection between seafarers and the spiritual realm was voiced eloquently by the Roman poet Horace when he wrote, “Qui nescit orare, discat navigare,” which is roughly translated as “Whoever wants to learn how to pray, let him become a navigator.”

This affinity is a boon for Christian Chaplains, because the Bible is replete not only with metaphors and allusions associated with sailing, but also stories of turning to a higher power in their times of distress. One of the best-known is the account of Jonah, a prophet commanded by God to journey to the city of Nineveh and announce their impending destruction. For reasons that are not made entirely clear, Jonah takes a boat headed in the opposite direction, and God caused a terrific gale to overtake the vessel. With their destruction in sight, the sailors all begin to pray to their arious gods for deliverance from the storm.

When Jonah tells them they should throw him overboard as a punishment for his disobedience, they at first refuse to commit what they consider to be an act of murder, and instead begin row even more vigorously to reach safety. But as the storm grew even more furious, they eventually assented to his wish, but only after asking Jonah’s God to not hold them accountable for murder. After tossing Jonah into the sea, the storm immediately calmed and the sailors then made sacrifices to the God of Jonah.

In the New Testament, many of the disciples of Jesus were fishermen working on the Sea of Galilee and, like the sailors that Jonah encountered, called upon God to save them as their boat foundered during a gale and were subsequently delivered. Jesus himself sometimes gave teachings while in a boat, and his reference to weather forecasting based upon a red sky at dawn or sunset is mirrored in the old sailors’ adage “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” Much of the latter half of the book of Acts contains navigational plots recorded by the physician and historian Luke, as well as a highly detailed account of a ship carrying the Apostle Paul being gradually swamped by a ferocious storm.

For Christian believers, these stories are more than simply historical narratives or exciting tales; for Christian Chaplains, they can be used to convey truths in language and themes their audiences can thoroughly appreciate and understand.

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