Saturday, December 8, 2018

Kneel at the Cross -- Charles E. Moody


If you use your imagination, you can just about hear this song-writer plucking this song out on his guitar, or maybe one of the other instruments he played, perhaps a banjo or a ukulele. Maybe Charles Earnest Moody even tried out his song “Kneel at the Cross” with his fellow band members in the 1920s, when they were performing, especially in Georgia and the Gordon County area (see the map). The southern drawl of the voices would have told you the geographic origin of Charles’ tune, yet the words emphasize something from another era and area of the globe, far distant from where Charles and his friends or the church where he often worshipped and guided the singing could be found. Moody’s message was very focused, a basic Christian thread that was and is common throughout the American bible belt.

The 33-year Charles Moody who wrote about kneeling at Jesus’s execution symbol had been writing and singing for many years in various venues by the time he crafted this hymn in northern Georgia. Nevertheless, Moody’s reputation may have been just developing by the time the 1920s and “Kneel at the Cross” made its way into the musical lexicon of Georgia and the South, since a popular singing group in which Moody sang may have started after he actually wrote it. Perhaps we are getting a picture of a musician still traying to ‘make his mark’ in 1924, the year the song was published. In short, he wasn’t afraid to wear his faith on his musical sleeve. In his first 30-40 years, Moody studied music in Georgia and North Carolina while directing music at a local church in Georgia at Tunnel Hill, and then later sang with a popular string band named the Georgia Yellow Hammers. He also taught in public schools, and after the Yellow Hammers split up, Moody was again directing singing at a church in Calhoun. So, there were plenty of points which might have spurred Charles to pen the words for other songs he wrote subsequently. Though the precise circumstances of ‘Kneel …’are not known, he must have still been at the Tunnel Hill church, where we can imagine that being engaged in the music program spurred Moody’s imagination routinely. Indeed, we know he authored more than 100 hymns over his lifetime, probably all of which were sung at either the Tunnel Hill or Calhoun churches. The Yellow Hammers most likely sang a number of them also during the several years they were together. ‘Kneel…’ contains the basic Christian message, which we can presume Moody and his fellow musicians embraced. Honor and identify with the sacrifice that Jesus made, and He won’t leave you out of the great redemption plan that he offers.

Charles Moody probably wouldn’t have described himself as the brightest nor the dimmest musical light for the Christian faith in his time. With one hundred hymns to his credit and ministry at two churches in his home state for many years, Charles could say he did his part to keep the Christian faith alive and renewed through new songs. Other composers and writers crafted more, but Moody was also touching many lives through the churches where he ministered. In short, he helped foster a culture that kept the heart of the Christian message beating. “Kneel at the Cross” is still around today, a mark that Charles did indeed make upon his world, something that he might have been aiming to do in the 1920s as a young fellow 33 years old. It’s safe to say that Moody was really thinking of another 33-year old who once upon a time made a difference in His world. And, He still is.                       

Biography of the author can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_E._Moody


See this site for the musical group of which the author was a part: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Yellow_Hammers

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Tell Me the Old, Old Story -- A. Katherine Hankey


This 32-year old English woman was sick, and was it perhaps the depth of her illness that spurred the prodigious 50 verses that she would compose over a several-month stretch? From those 50 verses would spring “Tell Me the Old, Old Story”, a poetic appeal that Kate Hankey (her first name actually is Arabella) constructed to express what she initially sensed most strongly. Another part of the same poem led to a companion hymn (I Love to Tell the Story; see Feb. 13, 2016 entry of this blog) that would consummate her request and then the desire to relate what she’d heard. Quite a woman, someone who would not be stopped from sharing what she felt was most important, even while too ill to go about doing so in person. How many of us would do this?

Kate Hankey was the daughter of a wealthy banker, but she found her spiritual roots via other stimuli in her life in 19th Century England. The Hankey family were ardent believers in what was known as the Clapham sect of Anglicanism. Besides being a Sunday school teacher, she was inspired by the likes of John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and therefore believed strongly in anti-slavery and pro-missionary positions in the social structure of the time. She would also travel to South Africa as a nurse, and cared for her handicapped brother for a time. She herself would become seriously ill in 1866, preventing her, apparently, from fulfilling her most passionate purpose – teaching about and steering others to the Holy Son. Nevertheless, during her recovery from the malady that laid her up, she wrote a lengthy poem that conveyed two main thoughts: She wanted to hear the story – Part 1, The Story Wanted – and then she wanted to be able to re-tell it – Part 2, The Story Told. You can tell from what she penned that she still felt sickly, with phrases like ‘weak and weary’ (v.1), and ‘…time of trouble, a comforter to me.’ (v. 3) She relates that she began in January of that year, and finished her thoughts some 10 months later. This was a person who knew not how to quit! Can one say that her perseverance and devotion were rewarded, since she indeed did recover and lived many more years (until 1911)?

Kate Hankey would probably say that she was rewarded, but not perhaps in the way others might have thought. Her health rebounded, and she lived many more years. Did she merely bask in her recovered physical well-being, though? If she stayed true to her pre-sickness form, we can guess that she continued teaching, and still supported abolitionism and missionary works. She wrote only a few hymn texts over her lifetime, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. Kate’s story may have been simple, contained in but a few sentences necessary to relate its highlights. The other story we have from her, she would undoubtedly say, is more noteworthy. Perhaps that was enough reward for her. It’s OK if another story outranks hers, don’t you think?   
 

See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945.   
See this site for all of the original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/t/e/l/l/tellmoos.htm
See a few brief details of the composer’s life here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/h/a/n/k/hankey_ak.htm

See this site also for a brief biography of the author: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Hankey