This is one of my favourite hymns. I don’t love the melody but I appreciate how it draws our attention away from the troubles we may be encountering at home, safe on dry land, and rather specifically makes us look beyond.
Although I’ve never fallen overboard or been in a sticky swimming situation I have had that brief panic when a wave was that bit higher and strong than I anticipated. Being in peril on the sea must be terrifying.
We sang this hymn last Sunday as the congregation of St Stephen’s Shepherd’s Bush went up to receive communion. As we half sang, half shuffled toward the altar, I looked around and wondered how seriously we were taking this plea.
‘Hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.’
It’s difficult to get an accurate number of the amount of men, women and children who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year. The phrase that is frequently used is, ‘record numbers’. What we do know is that around 60% of those who arrived in Europe by boat this year were from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan. These countries are not full of individuals looking for an improved economic situation but suffering with the effects of war, oppressive dictators and religious extremism.
And yet this week, we sang this hymn as though it were any other. Something has gone very wrong. Whatever side of the debate you sit on, we can all agree, something has gone very wrong.
Something has gone wrong when our hearts are not broken by women being raped and men being killed leaving the survivors with no choice but to flee.
Something has gone wrong when our hearts are not broken by thousands meeting their deaths, abandoned to a watery grave.
Something has gone wrong when our hearts are not broken by children’s new normality being a makeshift school in an unofficial refugee camp.
Something has gone wrong we fail to see our shared humanity.
There are so many directions this post could go in. I could explore Giles Fraser’s tweet ‘My baptism is a stronger bond to others than my passport’ (though a similar theme will be looked into at a later post, cue Bonhoeffer!). The Church’s role in speaking up for the least in our society could be another direction for us to travel. I could even point out that Jesus himself was a refugee.
But something has gone very wrong if we need in-depth theological persuasion to help those who have nothing.
Have you heard of practical things to be done to support those stranded in Calais? I’d love to hear them.
In the meantime, let’s take our plea seriously-
‘Hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea’