In one of the first chapters of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, the classic novel I’m Currently Reading, his protagonist Ishmael visits the chapel of Father Mapple who mounts the picturesque pulpit that looks like the bow of a whaling ship, rope ladder and all, to give hope to some and comfort to others, all the while representing God to men, and as a former sailor himself… these men and their families to God. Mapple saw himself as a Pilot of the Living God, helping men arrive to their inevitable destination.
In the section I’ve captured above, Melville in the literary guise of Ishmael ponders the reality of the Soul that survives physical/earthly death. He describes his belief/hope that what some refer to shadow here on earth is our real identity, and that what we see now as who we are, is but the “lees” or left overs of what we really are.
I imagine seeing so much death at sea or at war, the difficulty of finding “closure” for the family when their loved ones are lost at sea or “Missing in Action” and presumed dead could have, as our “Ishmael” says earlier in the chapter, an effect of drawing one closer to God or the Eternal Hope. Expressing his comfort and preparedness, even yearning for the possibility of being Lost to the Nantuckett, and yet Found in that which waits Beyond.
And it’s just the first few chapters, both of the Novel of Moby Dick, but also of Life as we know it. I used to think I “Knew it All” on the subject too. I was once not only a passenger but a Pilot on the Ship of Faith. But my foundations have been rocked by waves and wind. My former Faith Tradition foundered on the shoals of Evidence, History, and Textural Criticism and lies with Davey Jones. But I still think I believe in the Eternal, the possibility of a Life that survives the last Breezes in these earthly Sails.
From tragedy and loss, I still Hope and Yearn even for the next Voyage when I’ve disembarked from this one. I no longer “Know it All”, but in a way… I still Hope and feel that there is, as one of my favorite Christian Artists sings, “More to this life, than living and dying. More than just trying to make it thru the day”.
I think this is what Melville is trying to say in these first few pages of a book most of us have never actually read and think is just about a White Whale and his obstinate hunter, Ahab. I’ll keep reading because there’s more than that here.