By Elizabeth Prata
In the song “The Solid Rock” we sing the lyric ‘He is my hope and stay’. Did you ever wonder what a stay is?
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
In Isaiah 10:20 in the KJV the word stay is used. It means, To rest; to rely; to confide in; to trust.
It’s good to remember that the Lord is our hope and stay. He is strong and we can rely upon Him and His promises.
When Edward Mote wrote the song in 1834, sailing was the only mode of travel across the sea. People were familiar with ships on rivers, lakes, and of course, the ocean. Steamships hadn’t come to the fore yet.
In Mote’s time, women’s whalebone undergarments were made with a bone lining of rigid ‘fingers’ called “stays”. Whale baleen isn’t really bone but is robust but flexible, and was cut into narrow strips, inserted into the lining of outer garments, creating whalebone bodices or ‘bodies’ that molded the torso into a tight and conical V-shape that was sought-after at the time. In the 17th century, these whalebone linings became distinct, separate understructures, known as stays. (info source)
What we have come to know as a corset (a term not used until the 18th century) was previously known as stays. It is not likely however, that a genteel man writing a hymn of praise to the Lord would intend a mental picture of a ladies undergarment for his metaphor.
So what is a stay, then?
As a result of the familiarity with ships, many people were acquainted with the terms of a ship. Mast, bow, port & starboard, etc were commonly known. A stay on a ship is a piece of rigging that holds up the mast. Rather, their downward pressure hold the mast in place. It’s critical that all the stays, do their job in harmony to perfection, every time.
Stays are ropes, wires, or rods on sailing vessels that run fore-and-aft along the centerline from the masts to the hull, deck, bowsprit, or to other masts which serve to stabilize the masts. A stay is part of the standing rigging and is used to support the weight of a mast.
I lived on a sailboat for two years. We regularly inspected all the rigging, including the stay. If the mast falls down, you’re in serious trouble. The boat will roll, might even capsize. The mast, till attached to the rigging, is a mess and might trap your foot and you’d drown. The broken mast might punch a hole in the boat as it wildly pitched, having no balance. Lots of things.
I was on a friend’s boat in the Bahamas, sailboat racing, when his forestay came loose. His mast fell down he was pitched in the water amid the soggy huge sail and all the ropes and rigging. We had to get him on the boat fast before he got wrapped in it and pulled underwater. Luckily it was a calm day and we were providentially near the only port in the entire Bahamas that had a crane lift and mechanics and riggers to fix the mast. And all because one piece of rigging, the forestay, failed. The stay holds up the mast, or rather, holds the mast down with pressure.
I do not know what author Edward Mote had in mind when he wrote that line, but it’s comforting and lovely nonetheless.
Jesus IS my hope. He IS my stay. The original title to the song, was in the author’s Hymns of Praise, 1836, is No. 465, and entitled, “The immutable Basis of a Sinner’s hope”. Source info: John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)
O Lord, let me remain in you, my hope and stay.