“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
Unexpectedly my throat constricted and tears filled my eyes. I hadn’t been having sentimental thoughts or a pity party but I was blinded as the sunlight turned my tears into sparkling facets of light.
I was quite amazed and dabbed furiously at my cheeks hoping that no one had noticed this sudden gush of emotion.
Granted these are the words that are on Stevenson’s tomb but I wouldn’t say that I was his greatest fan though he is possibly Scotland’s most successful author after Burns. His book Treasure Island has been made into a film, radio and television series on numerous occasions including the Muppets.
Thinking about it later I tried to rationalize what it was that had been the trigger. These are not lachrymose words in fact he’s ‘glad to live and gladly die’ and that ‘he lies where he longed to be’ and that he had come ‘home’. The words ring with anticipation, hopeful, expectant to some degree down to earth.
When I was younger I could be brought to tears by films, songs and books but I am not so prone to this now. I tried to think did it remind me of something long past in memories? Did it make me home sick?
Those of you who know me know I am not a natural traveller, I’m a stay at home, and as I’ve said before God had to do a real work to get me to China, but I’ve seen the fields of white crosses at Arnhem in the Netherlands and I’ve been to the vast gash that was Ground Zero in New York, the enormity of the loss was too great for my heart to comprehend. The place that brought me to tears was the graveyard in the Robert Morrison chapel in Macao. The sun streams through ancient gnarled trees filtering down onto row upon row of the graves of Christian missionaries who left the comfort zone of their family and friends that they might fulfil the great commission.
‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1:8
Some of these pioneering, courageous men and women had barely disembarked from the fragile ships that had carried them through treacherous seas to this totally foreign, merciless land before they died. Was theirs a fruitless sacrifice?
Not at all. Their fruit was their going, their heart of obedience to Christ’s word. “And I laid me down with a will” They needed to do no more.
On departing England for China in 1854 Hudson Taylor said “None of these things (separation from his family and difficulties) move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus to tell the gospel of the grace of God.”
Even as I remember this beautiful, tranquil place a sob catches in my throat.
The gravestones in Macao date back to the 1760’s they represent thousands who over the centuries in every nation often in unmarked graves laid themselves down willingly for their faith. On one of the rough stones is graved
‘The sails are furled life’s voyage is now over
By faith’s bright chart
He has reached that world
Where storms are felt no more’.
“Here are the sailors home from the sea”.
The picture on the cover of my book Reflections of the old past was taken in the Carlisle Cemetery Cumbria.