In 1934, Admiral Richard Byrd was exploring the area near the South Pole. He decided that an advance weather base should be established farther south than the exploration centre, which they called Little America.
The original plan was to have three men at this new weather base, but because the supplies for this number could not be transported before the beginning of the three months of total darkness in midwinter, Byrd decided to man the base alone.
A specially built shack fifteen feet long and eleven feet wide was sunk into the snow. Food, fuel, weather equipment, and a radio were placed in the shack, and the famous explorer settled in for months of solitude. For several weeks after he was left in the underground shack, his weather experiments went well.
He had time to read and listen to gramophone records he had brought along.
On the last day of May, 1934, tragedy struck. The exhaust pipe to the gasoline engine, that he used to generate electricity for his radio, froze, sending poisonous fumes throughout the shack.
Byrd became too weak to lift cans of food and fuel, and he spent hours resting after completing the slightest chore. He was sure he was going to die, and wrote farewell notes to his wife and children.
Outside, the temperature fell to nearly fifty degrees below zero.
At the base with which Byrd made radio contact several times a week, they knew something was wrong, but the solitary explorer would admit nothing. They decided that a rescue party should go out, even though the 125 mile journey through the cold Arctic night was filled with danger.
After several attempts failed, they finally reached Admiral Byrd on August 11.
Admiral Byrd wrote a book about his experience; it was entitled, Alone. In it he vividly describes the torments of loneliness, especially when he was weak with illness. But he also spoke of “an abiding presence,” that sustained him and protected his sanity even in his moments of deepest loneliness.
Loneliness, it seems, is part of the human condition. A famous Bible scholar, commenting on the first chapters of Genesis, said that “Loneliness is the first thing God declared not good.” When God created Adam and saw that he was lonely, Eve was created so that there would be companionship, a mutual indwelling, a spiritual and physical union.
Jesus said “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Abide is a wonderful word. It isn’t used much these days and in many modern translations, it’s been replaced with “remain” or “remain united”.
But the word “abide” basically means a mutual indwelling, or “living together” in such a way that our lives are completely intertwined .
When people live together in this way you cannot think of one without the other. That is the way it is between God and ourselves. Christ urges us into that mutual indwelling so that are lives are intertwined with God’s love.
It’s a very special word – that word “abide”.
Think of that hymn by Henry Francis Lyte that has been such an inspiration to others in both life and in death.
“Abide with Me” was composed by the Scottish poet and hymnologist Henry Francis Lyte just before his death in 1847. It was completed on the same day as his last sermon to the congregation in his parish church, “All Saints” in Lower Brixham, Devon.
The emotional impact of the situation of drawing near to death and the occasion of his last words to the congregation is acutely felt in the words of the hymn.
Abide with me; fast fall the eventide:
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, O Abide with me
—-O| Thou who changest not , abide with me
—-Through clouds and sunshine, Lord, abide with me
—- I triumph still, if thou abide with me
—-In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
“as the rain penetrates the tiniest roots of a tree in order in order to rise and to fill the whole tree and to bring forth leaves and fruit.”, as someone has written.
We will find it life giving. And we could say that it is a life sentence