Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross – Fanny Crosby and William Doane

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Awesome! Have you ever read someone’s biography and had this reaction? That’s what draws me most often when I read…a great life. Try on some of these names: Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela…what would it have been like for the Great Emancipator to meet the first black South African president? Or how about Clara Barton, or Florence Nightingale….great humanitarians, and did you know they were contemporaries (Florence, 1820-1910; and Clara, 1821-1912) ? And of course, Jesus Christ, the most amazing life ever. How about Sally Smith…or Victoria Sterling…or James Black? Nope? Well, what about Frances Crosby? If this name still has no spark, maybe it’s because she’s more commonly known as Fanny Crosby, or ‘Aunt Fanny’ to some. Did you know that she was also Victoria Sterling, Sally Smith, and even James Black? She used many fake names, or pseudonyms, at least 100 in her hymn-writing career.

Crosby (1820-1915), who was also a contemporary of Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, presents no small task to a blogger trying to sum up her life. A three-paragraph blog entry just doesn’t make it, really. Here’s some links if you want to read more about and appreciate her more. But, if you want the short version, read on. One of the most loved of Aunt Fanny’s 8,000 hymns was “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”, which she co-wrote with William Doane. Doane wrote the music first, and then Crosby penned the words we know so well. Her words show the familiarity she felt with her Lord: from the ‘beams’ around her (verse 2), to the cross’ ‘shadow’ over her (verse 3), senses that were sharpened as she pondered the sight she lacked here on earth, but would inherit to see Him in Eternity. Perhaps you’ve heard this quote attributed to her: "when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!" Her glad heart shows in the song she co-authored with Doane, in way I never noticed, until I delved into this song story. Doane gets the credit for the song’s music, which is in 6/8 time, or meter. Any musicologist will recognize this form as a waltz, made most popular by the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss (1825-99), who was also one of Crosby’s contemporaries. Think she or her collaborator William Doane might have heard a Strauss waltz? It’s an upbeat, happy occasion, a celebration when a waltz is played, usually. Isn’t it odd, that someone would celebrate a symbol of cruel death, a cross of crucifixion? Not for Fanny Crosby, whose life is an example of someone who turned conventional thinking on its head, who exuded a positive attitude, even in the face of trial. How on earth does a blind woman learn to play two instruments (she learned the guitar, piano, and singing while a student at the New York School for the Blind), become a teacher and speaker, and one of the most well-known women in America in the 19th Century? Most would not prescribe the way Fanny began, blinded at six-weeks old by a substitute physician whose remedy for her eye inflammation was tragic. But, could her experience have made her that much more prolific? She, indeed, epitomized what Paul writes to the Corinthians about human weakness versus Godly strength.

Yes, there’s more than meets the eye when one looks at this lifelong Methodist, who was raised by her mother and grandmother. Fanny Crosby amazed and inspired – still does. So, what’s that say about the Mighty One who strengthened her? He’s still at work today, if I’ll just look for Him, if I use Him as my eyes. Aunt Fanny may have been blind, but maybe that’s what it takes to see my world the way God does. There’s a 4th verse to this song that you may have not heard…I had not. Here it is: "Near the cross I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever, till I reach the golden strand just beyond the river. "

See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. Also, see: Amazing Grace: 36 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.

1 comment:

Country Girls Life said...

Do you know how she came to have the name "Aunt Fanny"?