PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Perhaps you've heard floating on the evening air, a lyrical verse at the time of evening prayer, not a figment of the imagination just before taps, but a heartfelt message from our baby chaps. As we all settle into our tiny shipboard "beds", Chaplain Dundon's voice brings to our heads, visions of our departments and also our spaces, our missions, our shipmates and our families' faces, of animals from exotic locales, of trips, of dreaming, and assurances that our days have worth and have meaning.
Catholic Chaplain Lt. Luke R. Dundon, from Chantilly, Virginia, had conducted masses to hundreds and even thousands of people before reporting to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) over a year ago, but he found the faceless intimidation of the 1MC to be especially unnerving.
"I was mortally afraid of giving the evening prayer when I first started," said Chaplain Dundon. "You can see the faces of the people (in Masses), you can gauge their responses. You can tell a joke and see it work or fall flat. But here, you are getting on an intercom and speaking to thousands, but you can't know if you are connecting to people. The prayer is to the Lord, but there is an element of the prayer that is meant to involve a lot of people. All people, of all faiths. There is the trick."
So Chaplain Dundon came up with a novel way to handle his stage-fright and bring the audience into the prayer. Humor and Rhyme.
"Why Rhyme? Because I have the time," joked Dundon.
"I wanted to do something with a twist to it," said Dundon, "Rhymes can be simple, but they can convey a lot. Sometimes you want to convey a message in prayer so powerful, that the best way to convey it is through poetry or some artistic expression, and simple prose doesn't suffice. There are often very special, very human experiences that occur on the ship. It is just not enough to say 'be with our cooks as they cut onions' but if you put it in a poetic expression it shows the sacredness of the events they are doing. It shows these acts have meaning and they have been recognized. It is worthy of poetry.
Dundon graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2003 and got his master's degree in Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, before joining the Naval reserve. Dundon went to Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and Pontifical North America in Rome. He was ordained a priest and joined the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. He was re-commissioned into the active duty Navy and sent to Sasebo, Japan, to USS Bonhomme Richard.
"I get a kick out of bringing the inner child out of everybody," said Dundon. "We live in a very serious environment. We live in a dangerous environment. I think all the more reason that something light-hearted like this is important. Something which helps people laugh or smile is important. I did not come to BHR thinking I am going to do poetry. But, it was well received. It allows me to express myself and it lightens peoples' day. The humor gets them to listen. If they are listening they are involved in prayer, if they are involved in the prayer they are lifted up to God."
And the results seem to speak for themselves. People are listening.
"We often work late," said Ensign Andrew Shepherd, Bonhomme Richard's assistant intelligence officer. "We can't always stop what we are doing, but when Chaplain Dundon comes on the 1MC, it is funny how people try to stop, or crane their necks to listen. You never know what he is going to say, and people listen. Some of us have affectionately nicknamed him Chaplain Seuss."
That is poetry to the ear of Chaplain Dundon.
"What do I think of the nickname Chaplain Seuss?" said Dundon, his eyes drifting upward into the distance and small smile pulling up the corners of his lips. "I think it allows me to cut loose."
"I think it is great," said Dundon, "It reminds me of the childhood books I grew up with. I think it is an affectionate name. It means they are listening."
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