Back in the days before COVID (remember those?), I taught all of my courses face-to-face rather than online. Classes would meet once or twice a week over the span of a ten-week quarter. Occasionally, I’d teach an “intensive” that would meet every weekday for one or two weeks.
The most grueling of these was a Doctor of Ministry course in which I lectured for a total of nearly 40 hours over five straight days. At the end of each day, I was spent, and returned to my hotel room mostly to vegetate. The schedule was a necessary accommodation to the availability of busy pastors — but it wasn’t my favorite format, not by a long shot (then again, pity the pastors, who had to listen to me for hours on end). I encouraged myself with the thought that I could endure anything if I knew it was just for a week or two.
Well… maybe anything except being lost in a raging sea.
The apostle Paul, bound for Rome aboard an Alexandrian grain vessel, found himself caught in a violent storm that threatened to destroy the ship and everyone aboard. The crew had already taken whatever desperate measures they could think of to save the ship, but the goal had become simply to survive. An angel had brought Paul a word of encouragement, which he passed along to his shipmates — but they weren’t out of trouble yet. Luke continues:
When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come.Acts 27:27-29, NRSV
The ship and all aboard had been at the mercy of the storm for two weeks. Finally, however, they had the seafarer’s sense that land was near — perhaps they could hear the sound of breakers on a distant shore. They therefore took soundings to check the depth of the water.
They did not, of course, have the benefit of sonar, but had to use something a little more low-tech. Lead weights would be tied to the end of a cord and lowered into the water. At the bottom of the weights was a reservoir of tallow or grease; sand or debris from the seabed would stick to the grease, and the crew could gauge the depth by measuring how much line had been paid out.
At the first sounding, they estimated a depth of 120 feet; soon after, the water was 30 feet shallower.
They were indeed approaching land, quickly, even if they couldn’t see it yet. If they didn’t slow their approach, the boat might strike rock or reef and break apart. They therefore dropped an anchor from the rear of the boat, eventually cutting that one loose and letting down another. They did this four times.
And still they prayed for daylight.
Things were still desperate; they needed more encouragement from Paul. And as we’ll see, they’ll get it.
But for this Sunday’s post, I want us to pause and consider this question: what might this story teach us about how we face the storms of our own lives?