December 7: Stella Maris and the Wreck of the Deutschland

stella-maris-staithes

Our sequence of posts from John Masefield is interrupted by anniversary reflections from another great poet.

We came to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in Staithes in time for evening Mass six weeks ago. I was rather disappointed that the statue of Mary inside was of Our Lady of Lourdes, but when we passed the church in daylight, there was Mary, Star of the Sea, gliding calm against the storm, reassuring us that despite the tempests that come our way – and the statue feels the full force of the gales, up there on the hilltop – her prayer will lift us up to her Son.

I was reminded of a great storm which hit the Thames Estuary on this date in 1875, causing the Wreck of the Deutschland, rendered immortal by Gerard Manley Hopkins. A powerful prayer, wrestling with the mystery of inescapable death before one’s span is over. Hopkins focuses on five Franciscan sisters, refugees fleeing to exile in England from oppressive laws in Prussia, only to die on a Kentish sandbank. He challenges himself (and the reader) to:

Grasp God, throned behind
Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;
With a mercy that outrides
The all of water, an ark
For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides
Lower than death and the dark;
A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,
The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost mark
Our passion-plungèd giant risen,
The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.

Grasp God! Perhaps a little finger or the hem of his garment? But may we be listeners, heart and soul, humble enough to board the ark.

Let us pray for all in peril on the sea, as they did recently in the local Middlesborough Cathedral when they welcomed a Lampedusa Cross, made from timbers of a XXI Century Refugee boat that landed in Italy, remembering those who do not survive the voyage to Europe. Middlesbrough Lampedusa Cross

And here you’ll find the text of the poem, Wreck of the Deutschland .

Middlesborough’s Bishop Terry Drainey commissioned  port chaplains on the Feast of the Star of the Sea  in September.

MMB

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