“You have made man a little lower than the heavenly beings…
You made him ruler over the works of your hands…
All the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and…
All that swim the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:5-8, italics added).
“Paths of the seas.” What might that refer to? That question crisscrossed Matthew Maury’s mind frequently.
Maury had always loved the sea, prompting him to join the U.S. Navy at age 19, in 1825.
Life at Sea
The second ship on which he served, the Vincennes, included a library. Matthew was eager to learn, and spent his spare time studying navigation. Sometimes he chalked out problems in spherical geometry on cannon balls. When the Vincennes circumnavigated the world, Matthew received practical experience in the subject.
Upon returning to the States, Matthew took an examination in navigation and passed. He was then appointed acting sailing master on the Falmouth. Along with the ship’s commander, he was responsible for navigating the course, steerage, and sail trim.
Next Matthew determined to learn about winds and currents. He discovered that no one had charted such information for the treacherous Cape Horn off the southern tip of South America. He kept meticulous records during the voyage and wrote about his findings in a paper, published by the American Journal of Sciences and the Arts.
In 1834, Matthew married Ann Herdon, and they settled in Fredericksberg, Virginia.
Maury’s life was certainly following a positive trajectory. And no doubt, as a strong Christian believer since boyhood, he saw each new opportunity as a blessing from God.
But in 1839, Matthew was injured in a stagecoach accident. The final result: permanent lameness. Never again would Maury be able to work aboard a naval vessel. His career came to an abrupt end, and Maury fell into despair.
Surely he must have wondered, What am I to do, Lord? The sea is all I know.
But Maury did not allow his despair to debilitate him. He used his convalescence to continue studying navigation, meteorology, winds, and currents.
Was God behind that compulsion? Perhaps so. In 1841, Maury was offered a position as manager of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the depot for charts and instruments. This position was perfect for him, requiring the exact knowledge and abilities he had acquired.
In 1852-1853, Maury brought together ten major maritime powers of the world. In unanimous agreement, they began to compile unified records benefiting all mankind. For the next thirty-five years, more than a million ships’ logs were sent annually to the observatory. From those records were developed wind and current charts for the globe.
Pathfinder of the Seas
Meanwhile, Maury sought for the meaning of that mysterious phrase in Psalm 8:8, “the paths of the seas.”
As he studied those ships’ logs being sent to the observatory, he compiled charts of ocean-wind and sea currents. He set adrift weighted bottles that would float slightly below the surface of the water, where they would not be impacted by wind.
Instructions inside each bottle informed the person who found it to return the bottle, with the location and date of its discovery. From his charts and experiments, Maury was able to determine the “paths of the seas,” including the Gulf Stream.
Pathfinder of the Wind
Maury also proved the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:6:
“Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.”
Further study and experiments indicated that the wind did indeed move in circular patterns. Today we call them jet streams. Maury’s investigations led to a better understanding of weather, and predictions became more reliable.
But despair entered Maury’s life again when the United States declared civil war. As a citizen of Virginia, he felt obligated to side with the South, giving up the position in Washington at his beloved observatory. Jefferson Davis, President of the South, sent Maury to England as an ambassador for the Confederate States.
After the war Matthew spent three years exiled in England. Many honors were conferred on him during that time, but his heart was still in the U.S.
Did he wonder once again what God might be planning? Perhaps he prayed, “Lord, if it be your will, arrange circumstances so that we may return to America.”
In 1868, the U.S. offered general amnesty to ex-patriots and Matthew sailed back to the States. He accepted a position at Virginia Military Institute as professor of meteorology, a position he held to the day he died, February 1, 1873.
Matthew Fontaine Maury, a self-taught navigator of the seas, astronomer, meteorologist, author, and educator, always sought to prove:
“The Bible is true and science is true,
and therefore each, if truly read,
but proves the truth of the other.”
And though he may not have set out to do so, Maury also proved:
“I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
With the advantage of hindsight, we can readily see this promise grandly fulfilled in Maury’s life. Yes, he suffered pain and hardship. All saints of God do (Romans 8:17).
But! God brought Maury through every challenge and used him in mighty ways—ways that impact our world to this day.
* * * * * * * * * *
Lord, I am deeply grateful you are the one who plans each of our lives. What comfort to know that an all-seeing, all-wise God is orchestrating not only the main events of life, but every single day. I pray for your grace, in order to be accepting of disappointments, knowing that you will bring good out of every situation. In fact, you may very well be preparing something important. I want to trust you without hesitation.
(Psalm 139:16; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10)
Photo and art credits: www.travelblog.org; http://www.firstladies.org.)