The exact origins of The Midshipman’s Prayer aren’t well known. It’s said to date back to World War II, in a letter from a Sailor writing home.
“Almighty Father, whose way is in the sea, whose paths are in the great waters, whose command is over all, and whose love never faileth: Let me be aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and in deed, and helping me so to live that I can stand unashamed and unafraid before my shipmates, my loved ones, and Thee.
“Protect those in whose love I live. Give me the will to accept my share of responsibilities with a strong heart and a cheerful mind. Make me considerate of those entrusted to my leadership and faithful to the duties my country has entrusted to me. Let my uniform remind me daily of the traditions of the service of which I am a part.
“If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again. Guide me with the light of truth and keep before me the life of Him by whose example and help I trust to obtain the answer to my prayer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
What began as one man’s private communication has spread far beyond its original intended audience though: among other locales, his words continue to be read weekly at the United States Naval Academy Chapel. Annapolis’ soaring dome and intricate stained glass, nestled in white marble, have witnessed the tumultuous journey of many a young candidate as they seek to learn the true meaning of “honor, courage, and commitment” and the burden of leadership.
But be it in Annapolis or no, for midshipman, officer, and civilian alike this prayer’s penitent cry continues to resonate deeply today.
To my mind, this is not a prayer of strength.
It is not Moses on the mountaintop nor Elijah on his flaming chariot; it is not the supplication of one in deep commune with God, confident in his purpose.
No. To me, this is the humble exclamation of one utterly lost, a man bereft of strength but still reaching out, seeking for succor. As they say (too often), the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak—this midshipman wants to do good, his heart seeks to do the right thing, but he feels so helpless himself.
And who can’t relate to that?
I know I can.
Of the past 18 months, I’ve spent at least 13 at sea (I think … the days run together).
- Those mornings when I wake up and already feel defeated.
- Those evenings when I look back and feel as if I’ve been running around all day, but nothing was accomplished.
- Those long afternoons spent pecking away at one task, and no progress appears.
- Those crises of insecurity, where I feel as if I’ve lost both my character and my ability to work.
Those flashes of every day in every moment, when no matter how often I seek refuge in the rolling waves, mackerel sky, or moonlit reflection, I’m still reminded of how far I am from those and what I love.
That’s just me. I know I have it better than most, my commission significantly easing some of the burdens that weigh upon my Sailors. And who can say what goes on in their minds, in that often-harrowing inner dialogue which we share with no others? Though the world outside may be a frightening, exacting, and demanding place, frequently the true horror lingers unseen.
In such circumstances, it is only reasonable to remind ourselves yet again of these words. One doesn’t need to wear the bars of a naval officer to pray for strength; one doesn’t require a uniform to live with honor. And, most particularly, one does not need a certain race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion or occupation to cry out for protection for our loved ones: God, “protect those in whose love I live,” whose silent but real support sustains me even at my worst.
Perhaps this prayer has been misnamed.
“The Midshipman’s Prayer,” they call it.
Perhaps a better description would be, “The Human’s Prayer.”
About Brett Beeson
Brett Beeson, officially, is a Lieutenant JG in the United States Navy, currently attached to DDG54 Curtis Wilbur out of Yokosuka, Japan. She graduated in 2014 from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Arabic and a minor in Spanish. Unofficially, she is the “evil twin” (one of Jory’s twin daughters), that annoying-friend-who-won’t-stop-calling perpetual questioner, ice cream enthusiast, scribbler, roarer-of-laughter, and eternal student of God’s amazing mysteries. After extensive travel in Morocco and Oman, she has become passionate about furthering her/our understanding of the Middle East and Islam. To enjoy more of Brett’s writing, please visit Randomness with Brett.