I can’t tell you where we are; I have no idea whatsoever. We are somewhere… out in the ocean. Wherever we have travelled during the last couple of months will forever be a mystery. I could even have ticked off some of those bucket list destinations, or at least have slipped silently past them, without even knowing. It doesn’t matter though, because for us there are only two places that are important – here, and home.
‘Here’ is a strange place, an eternal twilight zone of rotating watches where the meals not only mark the passing of the days but also remind you which part of it you are currently in. When the hatch of the submarine closed, we said goodbye to sunlight and fresh air. We live to a sort of advent calendar that counts down to the moment we are all longing for. We all have our hopes – home by this or that birthday, home by half term, home for that wedding, home before ‘their’ scheduled operation, or even home before ‘they’ die. So, we are present here, but all too often our minds are in the other place, the one we journey towards.
Today it has just gone 1am, and I am thinking of home again. A few of us have gathered, and I know we are all thinking the same. Because today is Christmas Day. We are seated around a small table in the mess. On the table, bread and wine sits on top of a small linen cloth. This is our ‘midnight’ communion, and the knowledge we are doing just what loved ones have done back home is a real feeling of being at one with them. And even if they haven’t attended some service, then that closeness is there in the clutched Christmas cards we will soon open. However far away we are from them, here and now they are close. We are joined in love, in purpose, in desire. And I now realise, more than ever, the truth in the act of thanksgiving. I realise that the power of love can cross space and time. God can reach us and bring us together. Even deep below the waves in this submarine he is Emmanuel – God with us. ‘Out of the depths’ we cried, but God was here already.
Mark is a Methodist Chaplain in the Royal Navy. When he is not serving on a submarine he is based in Scotland.