Wednesday, February 20, 2019
He says it was a special moment, which had been building for several days during a summer trip in 1971. Thanks to Gary Mabry being an alert believer and gifted with a music gene from above, he was in a perfect position to craft “Blue Skies and Rainbows” in just a few moments. Do you suppose Gary felt a little bit like Noah (seen here in this Joseph Anton Koch painting, circa 1803) when he saw a rainbow once? In my e:mail conversation with him recently, it was clear that this was a moment Gary won’t ever forget. And now, we have access to that moment through the song and the story he shared with me. Here’s a piece of it below in what I call a ‘fresh scoop’ of song (see some other ‘fresh scoops’ in the label-cloud for this blog, which are generally unknown stories that I’ve managed to dig up and provide here)…so thanks, and blessings Gary for what you’ve created!
He (Stanley Shipp) encouraged me to sign up to go on a Christ in Europe (trip) then next (1971) summer. Through the financial support of people like Moses McCook, owner of Athletic Supply and my across the street neighbor on Peach Street, I was able to go. We spent the first leg of the trip in Lisbon, Portugal. The second part of the trip happened in Lausanne, Switzerland, culminating in a short stay in Geneva, where he had worked several years before. The experiences of the campaign: a Gospel Meeting in Lisbon with Glenn Owen preaching in Portuguese, Bible studies and conversations on the street with youth, experiencing the universal language of music as our chorus (partially populated by a group from Lubbock Christian College), singing at the meeting each evening, leading singing in French in the Switzerland part of the trip, seeing the beauty of the Swiss Alps at a chalet owned by Highland member Jack McGlothlin had filled my head and heart and was just incubating to find a meaningful form of expression. I had experienced Jesus being alive in people and in nature. It came on the flight back to the states. I looked out the window and saw a rainbow on this clear day far above the earth. I had a small notepad with me and began to jot down what I feel was an inspired few moments. In my study of music so far, I had learned to notate rhythm and use the solfege syllables for melody. “Blue skies and rainbows, and sunbeams from heaven are what I can see when my Lord is living in me…Jesus is well and alive today! He makes his home in my heart. Nevermore will I be all alone, since he promised me that we never would part.” From the time in Lausanne: “Green grass and flowers, all blooming in springtime, are works of the Master I live for each day.” From the Swiss Alps, as we slid down a meadow slope on sheets of cardboard: “Tall mountains, green valleys, the beauty that surrounds me, all make me aware of the One Who made it all.”
Monday, February 18, 2019
Money. Should it have been a surprise that the loss of it would most certainly create some apprehension? Was Erastus Johnson maybe even anticipating that such an episode might one day call upon many that shared his faith? The words Erastus composed one day to call out to “The Rock That Is Higher Than I” (sometimes known by its first line, ‘Oh! Sometimes the Shadows Are Deep’) came so swiftly, that one might suspect he was already pondering a deeper issue than the loss of the dollar in multiple quantities. Were the people of his era too reliant on profits and livelihood; had the Fortress of their spirits been shoved aside? A crisis, though unwelcome, did usher in a renewed sense of their Rock’s importance, and that His presence could strengthen all who would encounter the valleys of terrestrial life.
Erastus Johnson was 45 when he wrote “The Rock That Is Higher Than I” in 1871, during a financial crisis that affected many of the participants at a YMCA convention in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His own recollection of the episode indicates even the president of the convention was not immune to this disaster. Perhaps it was this man’s (John Wanamaker) extreme financial calamity – reportedly, the loss of some 70,000 dollars – and his reaction to it that made the event so memorable. Erastus was looking upon the faces, hearing their words, and discerning the collective mood of the convention’s delegates to surmise that a pall hung over them all. And so, Johnson acknowledged this in his penned words, comparing the trials of this time to deep shadows and tempests (verse 1). In verse two, Erastus has transformed the shadows of verse 1 to shadows that are more like shade to a tired traveler on a dusty road. This intervening divine presence has assumed a constant position in the mortal’s life by verse three (‘…near to the Rock let me keep’). The repeated use of ‘Rock’ in the refrain is moreover an emphasis on whom the author saw as the foundation of hope and deliverance. God as his rock was not just a casual reminder of this truth, but someone to whom he could ‘fly’, as someone might do breathlessly in desperation after a headlong sprint. These friends of Erastus were in deep distress, gasping for air as drowning men might do in a deep pool of water. It’s said that the convention’s president asked for Johnson’s song – which he’d written on the spot and given to a composer for accompanying music at the event – numerous times. A crisis might have enveloped Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but maybe the men at this site also sensed that a balm, perhaps even a turning point in their collective spirits, was at hand.
If the fellows at Carlisle in 1871 had found some method for managing their gloom by singing about Erastus Johnson’s Rock to who they could fly, perhaps they kept using that technique as the decade continued. For, the financial struggles of 1871 continued for many more years, probably throwing many others into panic as a general depression set in across the North American continent and in Europe. Did Erastus see this coming? Can any of us really imagine what it’s like to lose one’s life savings, and live hand-to-mouth every day? The Israelites could tell us a little about this lifestyle (Exodus through Deuteronomy). Some men sound the alarm and stand with mouths agape. Others write poetry, and stand with arms wide apart to find a holy embrace. Which one do you think was Erastus Johnson…and which one are you?
See this site for the song’s story and all three original verses, and some biographic information on the author: