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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The True Captain Of The Soul

by Saint Mark (bio)

image via eva juliet
When I first saw the movie "Invictus" and heard the self-titled poem by William E. Henley (1849-1903), I was moved to tears. It was powerful. It was evocative. The fact that Nelson Mandela used Henley's words to keep his mind, body and spirit alive while incarcerated for 27 years was a testament to the indomitable soul of mankind.

Here is the poem in its entirety, along with a moving rendition here:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Although I enjoyed this poem, there was something about the last stanza that resonated as only quasi-truth to me. "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul" speaks to the truth that we possess God-given agency or "inalienable rights," but there seems to be a falsehood contained in its text that we can truly determine what happens to us.

To a certain degree, based on our own choices, we do have qualified "control" over our lives. I can and do choose my thoughts, words and actions. But, based upon other's choices (e.g. an apartheid government murdering and imprisoning those who challenge a prejudiced system of government), we have little to say. I cannot control you and you cannot control me.

After I heard the poem "Invictus," I couldn't articulate how it was not the final word on the subject until I read Orson F. Whitney's "The Soul's Captain." Elder Whitney (1855-1931) was an Apostle of Jesus Christ and, for me, he speaks the whole truth on the subject of who really is the Master of our fate and who truly is the Captain of our souls. The form of his poem is, in a way, an answer to "Invictus."

Here is Elder Whitney's "answer." For a modern take on Elder Whitney's refrain, click here.

Art thou in truth? Then what of him
Who bought thee with his blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
And snatched thee from the flood?
Who bore for all our fallen race
What none but him could bear.
The God who died that man might live,
And endless glory share?
Of what avail thy vaunted strength,
Apart from his vast might?
Pray that his Light may pierce the gloom,
That thou mayest see aright.
Men are as bubbles on the wave,
As leaves upon the tree.
Thou, captain of thy soul, forsooth
Who gave that place to thee?
Free will is thine — free agency
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto him
To whom all souls belong.
Bend to the dust that head "unbowed,"
Small part of Life's great whole!
And see in him, and him alone,
The Captain of thy soul

Compared to Elder Whitney's "The Soul's Captain," "Invictus" comes across as a little proud and defiant. Don't get me wrong, however. In a situation like Mandela's, a little pride in one's cause and defiance against one's wicked captors seems like a good choice. However, a better choice may be to approach one's fate as Elder Whitney suggests, and as Joseph of Egypt, Alma the Younger, Nephi and Lehi, the Apostle Paul, and Joseph Smith did. We may not be able to control all that happens to us, but we can control our response. We can "turn the other cheek." We can "do good to them that hate us." We can "bless them that curse us." We can "pray for them that persecute us." We can be the children of Christ when we are confronted with the children of the devil.

I do not know Mandela's heart but only what he read while in prison. I do not judge him but only judge for myself who is my pilot, my captain, my master. Especially in these times of hardship and trial, whether it be unemployment, marriage struggles, children rebelling, family loss, or other pain, "as for me and my house," Jesus the Christ is the only Captain and Pilot and Master of my soul.

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