October 10, 2007


Why did Columbus sail?

October 11 is Columbus Day, though it's celebrated whatever Monday is closest for a three-day weekend. 
What's to celebrate or remember? Anything in his story to help me better live knowing God-is-in-our-midst?

The dominant reason I've found for his sailing, beyond what's in textbooks, is his having read the writings of Marco Polo's travels to China. The emperor of China was begging for missionaries to come to his country. Christoforo Colombo of Genoa, Italy wanted to answer this call.

In all his writings and those of people who knew him, he was a very religious man. He'd read the Vulgate Bible (see my posting on Jerome) and knew it well. He was pretty 'evangelical' for his era. Here's some of his own quotes:
 "I am only a most unworthy sinner, but ever since I have cried out for grace and mercy from the Lord, they have covered me completely. I have found the most delightful comfort in making it my sole aim in life to enjoy his marvelous presence."

"He (our Lord) has bestowed the marine arts upon me in abundance." He had already sailed the Mediterranean, the coast of Africa and up to Ireland and probably Iceland. He knew how to read currents, winds and the sea surface.

Why did he remain at the Spanish court for seven years lobbying for this trip? "If it strikes often enough, a drop of water can wear a hole in a stone." 

Was he pursuing self-aggrandizement and discovery of a trade route to the Orient to win glory, riches and a title of nobilty? "Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also the Holy Spirit who encouraged me with a radiance of marvelous illumination from his sacred Scriptures, ... urging me to press forward."

"With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible...The Lord purposed that there should be something miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies."

So the "rest of the story" is he sailed to fulfill a religious quest. He desired to evangelize people. "I recognized that they were a people who would be better freed (from error) and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force."

On October 11 in 1492 (did you say the little ditty adding "Columbus sailed the ocean blue" to complete the rhyme?) they saw the 1st signs of shore: seabirds, bits of green plants, sticks and a small plank.

 "Tierra! Tierra!" was cried out from the forecastle.

What really sticks out for me of his story is his foundation in knowing the stories of God's marvelous works. This foundation of knowing the Larger Story helped him in calamitous, fearful times to trust and rest in God. Once when the winds stopped and all was still, the men feared they'd never see home again. But eventually the sea rose without aid of wind, astonishing them. Columbus compared it to the miracles surrounding Moses.

I'm looking up on the shelf, and the old ship model from some junk store that Dawson repainted, and I used to bring to the kitchen table for this time's visual, is gone. Have you watched a history show on it or looked at pictures in books? The surprising thing--as with the later Mayflower and even Viking ships, that traveled on the huge ocean--is how small they were to today's ocean liners.
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