Thursday, February 10, 2011

Faith Under Fire

by C.J. Chase

...and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
-- Matthew 28:20

This past summer, I commissioned my first author website. At the time, I expected to showcase an unpublished writer working towards that first contract, so I focused on my two best books. Though both historical, they were quite different in many respects: one set in 19th century London and the other in the wilds of 17th century Virginia. My designer requested ideas for pictures, but what did two such disparate books have in common besides the author? I could hardly tie them together with pictures of bucolic landscapes or city skylines. And then it came to me--ships.

Even now as I work on my next book, my main character is a retired naval officer. It makes sense, really, that I should have so many ships in my manuscripts--and not just because I live near the world's largest naval base. Or that my husband works for the Navy. Or that my best friend is a Navy veteran.

Before locomotives or cars or plans, people traveled by water. To this day, most of our major cities are located on rivers or bays. I write stories of people who have far to go, both literally and figuratively, so ships figure prominently in both those books. One begins on a ship. The other ends on a ship. One heroine lost her brother on a frigate during the Napoleonic Wars. The other one experienced shipwreck. In fact, I even included a mention of the Bible story about Jesus and his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Remember that from Sunday School? An exhausted Jesus went to sleep on the boat. Then a sudden storm blew up. Thinking their lives were over, the frightened disciples woke the Master--who rebuked them for their unbelief before calming the storm.

As the All-Knowing God, Jesus sees the future as clearly as the past. There are no surprises in His world. He knew a storm was coming. He could have stopped the disciples from getting into the boat--but He didn't. He did, however, get into the boat with them.

This month marks the 68th anniversary of the sinkng of the USAT Dorchester in WWII. American Legion posts and churches marked the event with observances around the country this past Sunday. The Dorchester was transporting men and supplies through the stormy waters of the North Atlantic when a German torpedo hit her below her waterline. So severe was the damage, she sank in a mere eighteen minutes.

Eighteen minutes. Not even the length of one period of a hockey game. And yet, something so amazing happened during those eighteen minutes, we still commemorate them seven decades later. You see, along with her other cargo, the Dorchester carried four chaplains: Rabbi Alexander Goode, Father John Washington, Reverend Clark Poling, and Reverend George Fox.

In the chaos that ensued as the ship began to sink, these four men went to work--calming the frightened and praying with the dying. They passed out life vests. And when the life vests ran out, all four of them took off theirs and gave them away so that others might live. Survivors reported that as the ship sank into the sea, the four chaplains stood together on the deck, hands linked in prayer.

God doesn't promise a life of calm seas and fair winds. There will be storms and attacks: illnesses, a child in trouble, financial distress. But He'll be in the boat with us, no matter what lies ahead.

Can you remember any particularly special times when you felt God's presence despite the storm raging around you?


  1. Hi CJ!

    Congratulations on surviving your first post at the Inkwell! And what a message!

    the idea of dying in the cold waters of the Atlantic chills me and I'm not punning on you. What an amazing story and I'm sad to say I'd never heard of it before.

    I do know that I'm not on this journey alone, and as much as I sometimes stress or concern myself with things I can't do much about, I also can not understand how someone would do this without the comfort of our faith.

  2. I have heard of the Dorchester although I didn't remember the name of the ship until you recounted what happened.

    What a great message, CJ. And I can't wait to read your stuff. Tall ships figure prominently in 2 of my finished manuscripts and in the colonial novella I'm working on.

    Did you ever read Patrick O'Brien?

  3. Hi CJ. So excited that you have officially joined the Inkies!!!! Everyone jump over and take a peek at CJ's bio on the "Who We Are" page. She'll be a regular now.

    One of the early posts I did for inkwell was about a time when I was stuck in a war in Lebanon. Talk about being caught in a storm. But we truly did feel God's peace.

  4. Welcome, CJ! So very happy you've decided to join us.

    I really enjoyed your debut post. And your pic. Tall ships are the best! Well, unless you want to actually sail in one and then I wouldn't advise you going below decks... because... you know... it's dark... and dank... and all the scurrying from the mice. shudder. But they're so romantic.

    I'm not aware of the USAT Dorchester sinking, but I have to admit your 'Eighteen minutes' gave me pause. Not because I doubted it. But as a Canadian, the reference to hockey got me thinking that an 18 min period actually takes about an hour to play. LOL

    Excellent question - my answer YES! Too many times to count. But right up there is the time a strange dog was coming toward me, I was all alone in a field, and I'm petrified of dogs. I asked God to make me invisible to the dog and he did. Walked on by like I wasn't even there. Not even a glance. PTL.

    Yay, CJ.

    Anita Mae.

  5. Welcome, CJ. Tall ships are a special thing to me, too. Lots of wonderful metaphors there. Got to sail on the HMS Rose, which has been rechristened the Surprised, used in Master and Commander. Waht an experience to climb the rigging. Do you know how bad the saw is up there? Gew up on the water, so don't get seasick, but--Yikes, in a storm!

    Unless my editor makes me change it, my second midwfie book is mostly on a ship. Well, a brig, as the hero keeps reminding the heroine. Only two masts. Possibly a metaphor in that, too.

    Anita, you may never want to meet me, since I'm rarely without my dog. If any puppy can convince you dogs are cool it's Nick. Just ask those who've met him. He's an animated stuffed animal is all and as gentle as a clawless kitten. Itsy kids crawl all over him and he just lies there and wags.

  6. Hi CJ! Wonderful debut post! It encouraged me today. I can't wait to read your novels.

    The story about the clergy on the USAT Dorchester brought tears to my eyes. What faith in action.

    Laurie Alice, I'm intrigued by the midwife being on the brig! Can't wait to read that, too!

  7. Debra -- like you, I can't imagine facing certain death in the cold Atlantic with such calm and conviction. It would definitely be a "God moment."

    Lisa -- I haven't read Patrick O'Brien, but my husband listed to all of them on CD a couple years back while he was commuting. I've tried reading the Hornblower series, but I've discovered I would really rather watch the movies. Something about a certain dishy Welshman in a uniform...

    Dina -- I'm going to go find that post about you in Lebanon. That sounds as fascinating as any novel.

  8. Anita -- I know what you mean about the below deck space. Add in the fact that many of the ships carried animals and people who were sick and unable to bathe for weeks, and everytime I read a book or see a movie with characters below deck I have to really focus on the fantasy aspect of imagining life long ago. Must. not. think. about. the. smell.

    Laurie Alice -- I hadn't considered it until you mentioned your book, but seems to me a midwife would be quite useful on a ship full of immigrants. You have to figure at least some of the women would have been pregnant, and the voyages lasted weeks or even months.

    Susanne -- thanks for the kind words. My first book comes out in August, which seems so far away on a cold, snowy day like today. But the July books are already available for pre-order on Amazon, so my name should go up there in about 3 weeks. Wow. Doesn't seem possible.

  9. Greetings CJ!
    The story about Jesus calming the storm always gives me pause. How often do I panic over situations when I ought to see what the Master is doing? He could rest in that storm because He had already said they were going to the other side - storm or no storm. I believe that kind of faith is what those 4 chaplains had... they knew where they were going and that knowing brought them peace that passed all understanding.

    Thank you for the reminder today!

  10. CJ, it's called "Trapped in a War Zone." And I do have some stories about that experience in my nonfiction book.

  11. Actually Laurie Alice, you and Nick walked right past me last year in Indy. Here's what happened:

    I was awaiting my turn for Purgatory. I'd staked out my spot at the top of the long escalator and was just leaning there looking around. I saw a lady and guide dog coming up the escalator. I kept watching because I like watching working dogs in action and I was curious to see what the dog would do at the top. When he got there, he looked like he wasn't sure which way to go and then someone beside me laughed and said something like, "That dog is giving her such a hard time." Or something to that effect. Then she laughed again and I knew it was like a joke.

    It wasn't until I got back home and was reading my email when you said something on the 19th century loop about not being able to see something. I then asked the Inkies if you were blind and they said, yes. And they said you had been at Indy. Finally the light came on and I realized you were the lady with the seeing eye dog on the escalator. If I'd have known it was you, I would have introduced myself.

    Well, be warned... you won't get away from me that easy next time. LOL

    Anita Mae.

  12. Hi CJ! Sorry it took me so long to get here today. I had a super long day at work. But I read this last night before I went to sleep, and have thought about it on and off today I love that Jesus is in the boat with me. And yes, I did experience a terrible time in my life a few years ago where all I could do wasrest in the knowledge that He was right there carrying me through. I don't think I would have made it otherwise.

    My son and I sailed on a tall ship last summer that engaged in a gun-battle with another tall ship. It was so fun.

    Great first post!

  13. CJ, In a wonderful book I ran across in my midwife research, the author talks about a midwife who made her living going to sea with pregnant women. That was the second midwife idea I had in grad school. Just had to work out why she would go to sea in 1813 in the middle of a war mostly fought at sea. Two wars actually. I hit three countries and a Channel island in that book.

    When your book shows up on Amazon, you will probably ist there and stare at the page and scarcely be able to believe it's yours.


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