Monday, March 10, 2008

America Must Pray: Nearer, My God To Thee!

When the Titantic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on the night of Sunday April 14, 1912, there was a lot of panic and contradictions as hundreds drowned in the icy waters. While some survivors gave contradictory accounts of that horrible event, one of the most vivid descriptions of the liner's last moments entered into the permanent folklore of the tragedy.

As the ship sank, the seven-man orchestra on board continued to play to the end in order to calm the passengers. Finally, when it was clear that all hope was lost, the orchestra began to play the familiar hymn know by all, Nearer, My God to Thee.

Though the words of the piece had been written by Unitarian Sarah Adams in 1841, the song had been adopted by all Protestant groups because of its orthodox message. The words of the song were said to be recited by dying President McKinley several times during the last hours of his life. "Nearer, My God to Thee" had become a mainstay in churches across America. After the sinking of the Titantic, the hymn gained a special significance for future generations, joined forever, as it were, to one of history's greatest disasters. During both World Wars, the hymn was often sung for inspiration on ships crossing the ocean with young men headed for combat.

Most often forgotten is the fact that this was the maiden voyage for the ship, and it was claimed to be "unsinkable." When the White Star Line liner left Belfast headed for America, it is said that 100,000 people lined the shores to watch it pass into the ocean. What irony that the ship was the epitome of human engineering and technology but it would be most remembered in such a tragic way by a song that spiritually placed frail humans in the hands of a sovereign God!

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God to Thee,
Nearer, to Thee!