Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Wonderful Savior -- Fanny Crosby

Francis Jane Crosby was a 70-year old by the time she penned a song, using a method that was tried and true. Could it be that the environment in which she lived also played a part in “A Wonderful Savior”, perhaps more appropriately known as “He Hideth My Soul”? She may have known many people in places where she lived and ministered, among them the Bowery Mission in Manhattan (shown here),
whom she thought were ‘hidden’ in this life, perhaps better protected from the strain of life, and so better tools for Him to mold and use. Fanny Crosby may have even thought that about herself. Maybe that’s why she chose to be where she was in 1890.

Fanny Crosby was a multitalented figure by the time she reached the septuagenarian ranks, and she seemingly had no intentions of slowing down from what had spurred her onward to that point. The fact that she had begun writing hymns only at mid-life makes all the more astounding the prolific nature of her output – some 8,000-9,000 hymns. You might say these were messages that just burst forth from her spirit, after gestating for a lengthy time, nurtured by her life’s path. She had been involved with mission work for many years, but had apparently strengthened this commitment some 10 years prior to “A Wonderful Savior”, especially in her native area of New York. She lived among the poor and spoke publicly on many occasions to lift the people who needed hear her life’s example. But, you can tell from the verses she penned that it wasn’t her own life she offered as the solution to these needy people, but indeed God’s. And so, it was not a surprise when one of her musical collaborators, William Kirkpatrick, visited her with a brand new tune in his pocket, expecting Fanny to provide the words very quickly. She didn’t disappoint. Or, perhaps she would say God doesn’t disappoint. The words she employed about a ‘cleft in the rock’ imply that Fanny was consuming the Exodus story (the end of chapter 33), in which Moses was safeguarded by Him in this special place in a personal encounter. It didn’t matter that it was a barren place, as long as His presence was evident. And so, in a similar way, it didn’t matter to William Kirkpatrick that Crosby might have been in a slum, for he knew the Lord was near – indeed, inside—her. Fanny wrote something that would have inspired her neighbors too, a people who probably thought theirs was not a blessed existence.  

Many people might think they are unnoticed deep inside a difficult situation, like a slum. This song’s story is a message for those people – you’re not forgotten, and not without His work among you. Flowers, in fact, can bloom only in dirty soil. By her 70th year, this fact must have been evident to Fanny too. Choosing to live and work among the needy wasn’t just an act of charity—though the crucial factor—for Fanny Crosby. Perhaps she had realized that’s really where He’s is, where she could be the channel for Him, overlooking a ‘dry, thirsty land’. Moses was protected in that spot, though in close proximity to His  presence that might have otherwise killed him. Where’s that cleft rock today for you and me?  

Information on the song was obtained from the books  Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

See biography on composer here:
See information on one location where Crosby was frequently in the late 19th Century:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Does Jesus Care? -- Frank E. Graeff

This 41-year old hymnist had an apparently hidden gloom, which he did not easily address. Perhaps the persona he projected to others helped him manage the dark feelings with which he couldn’t cope. Frank Ellsworth Graeff must have asked himself many times “Does Jesus Care?” by the time he actually penned the words to this song just after the turn of the 20th Century. He found great strength in the words of Peter (pictured here),
and that’s why he could proclaim ‘Oh yes…!’ to answer his own question. Maybe he believed others struggled as he did, coaxing himself to go public with his emotions and his path to the tonic he discovered.

Frank Ellsworth Graeff’s “brotherly love” attitude he adopted in his hometown of Philadelphia and his nickname as “The Sunshine Minister” conveyed one impression of this minister that belied the despair that had built as he approached mid-life. Graeff was reportedly a favorite especially among children because of his usually bright disposition. And yet, there were tragedies, not unlike those that dim any person’s outlook. His family suffered many deaths through the latter part of the 19th Century (according to one great fellow blogger, see link below), including a young sister’s demise in the same year that Graeff wrote “Does Jesus Care”, a testimony to the song’s final verse in which he describes bidding ‘goodbye’ to someone close. Other sources indicate he also met many physical struggles, though what these were exactly remains undefined. These mounting episodes apparently tormented him, perhaps repeatedly, and the multiple verses suggest he never completely conquered these lingering bouts of depression.

What hauls a hurting soul from the depths? Graeff’s turn, unsurprisingly for a minister, to scripture is a lesson in reality for others like himself. Don’t just try to convince others you’re OK, giving them a smile and an upbeat word. Be real, for that’s the way to find the true remedy. Peter’s an interesting example of this kind of circumstance. Who else could say as the apostle so aptly does, to lean on Jesus with my anxieties (1 Peter 5:7)? Here was a guy who wouldn’t stick by his closest friend when confronted by accusers. He ran from his anxious moments. But, that didn’t rule the rest of his life. Peter and Frank could both announce with certainty ‘Yes, He cares!’ with  renewed vigor, ironically because of the death of the God they trusted. Sounds kinda foolish at first, doesn’t it? See how you feel, knowing that He once hurt like you do. And, now He’s waiting for you on the other side of that hurt. Still think it’s foolish?

Information on the song was also obtained from the books  Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; 101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
An especially good account of Graeff’s life is here by another hymn story enthusiast:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Are My Way -- Alecia Nault

Do you pay attention to road signs (maybe like this one shown here, from the United Kingdom)?  
I sure do, at least most of them, how about you? Probably, most often I watch them intently when I’m in unfamiliar territory, searching for the correct path. But once I’ve travelled that same way a few times, I tend to ignore the signs, and so if something changes unexpectedly, I’m once again examining the signs. Alecia Nault may have realized that same sequence of events along a new road she traveled in the spring of 2014, when she unpredictably wrote a song “You Are My Way”. She must have been around new babies before, but she says something about an episode in that year -- as a mother – made a difference in how she sang to one of her sons. He was new, at least in terms of years…could it be that God was saying ‘You need a new song, my daughter’ ? Here’s how Alecia describes what happened.

I've never even thought about writing songs. I've always loved to write, and singing has always been a passion, but it never occurred to me that I was qualified to combine the two. Becoming a mother changed that. As I sing my boys to sleep, songs I've sung forever take on new meaning, and sometimes, they take on a life of their own. But one night this spring (2014), the words of "You Are My Way" floated into my heart, as Jericho (Alecia’s son) slept in my arms. The melody and the lyrics seemed new to me, but it was as if I had known them all along, it came out so naturally. It was scary to share it; the vulnerability of showing your heart to someone is terrifying. But with my husband's support, and the help of Sam Souder's incredible arranging talents, it became a "real song", complete with 4-part harmony. I truly feel like God put this song on my heart, and I am completely humbled by the support I have received for sharing this song.

Alecia’s story could also be Jericho’s story too, right? It’s said that children learn most or all of their most important lessons from parents. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jericho Nault – the first ears, perhaps, to hear his mom’s song that Spring – someday retells the story of ‘You Are My Way’. He’ll no doubt hear who the ‘You’ is in the song, and why He’s described with words applicable to no other being – Hope, Truth, the Way. Alecia and her husband Lee will probably share lots of stories with their kids about Him, passed on from generations long gone, about trails others have followed. But, since the Naults have never been parents before, their road will likely have twists and turns they might not be able to predict (watch out!). New song alert…there just might be other tunes waiting to pop out of their souls! Stay tuned to this channel, world.

The only source for the song story is an e:mail this blogger received from the composer on 15 July 2014. Thanks Alecia for this ‘fresh song scoop’!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus -- Charles Frederick Weigle

Knowing the circumstances of this composer’s moment of inspiration gives this song a poignant hue, at least you might think so. Just listen to Charles Frederick Weigle tell the story (see YouTube link below). It was in the wake of the breakup of perhaps Weigle’s most significant earthly relationship that he wrote “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus” in 1932, so you might think he was despondent, and calling out to Him from a sense of desperation. At least, that’s what I was thinking. But, you might re-think that assumption, after you hear what he has to say.  You might even say he was still married, but not quite like the two people shown in the wedding picture here.

Weigle’s testimony is pretty vivid. He declares that he gave up everything to spread the word as an evangelist. He experienced the thrill of seeing people responding to the gospel early on in his ministry apparently, and it got deep inside him until he knew without a doubt that this was something he just couldn’t ignore for any reason. Despite what must have been many years of struggle emotionally with his spouse, and her eventual departure from their marriage when the composer was 61, Weigle said that three years later he was still excited and thankful to be doing God’s will and experiencing all the ways He was blessed by the Lord. And, so with a burst of energy he wrote this song in just a few moments, as he overflowed with gratitude toward his Divine companion. And, then he sings his own composition, letting the hearer listen to his passion for this friend Jesus who was so crucial to his life. The only thing better, perhaps, would be to see him tell this story and watch his face as he sang how much he felt Jesus cared for him. Perhaps it was in fact his wife’s departure that brought home to Weigle just how important Jesus was to him. He no doubt loved people here on earth, including his wife, but not more than Jesus. One can imagine that in the wake of his earthly loss, this attitude endured, perhaps even more strongly in the next 34 years that Weigle lived. Perhaps he’d discovered that his divine marriage mattered to him more.

Was Weigle bitter or depressed after the episode that severed his earthly marriage? Other sources indicate he did in fact suffer depression and considered suicide. What got him through this? Perhaps that’s the answer we hear on the You Tube site – that strength from the Jesus-relationship carried him along. He sounds like a guy who, though tossed by an earthly storm in a rocky sea, was someone who felt stronger now, knowing that Jesus stayed with him. Yes, it must have been awfully tough, to be 61 and lose one’s life-partner – at least, that’s how he probably thought of her, and she him, too. But, Weigle doesn’t sound regretful. He wants his hearers to focus on what he—and they—still have, even if life’s events have turned sour. Jesus. That’s the one word answer Charles Weigle had for his life in 1932.   

Information on the song was obtained from the books  Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Listen to the story told by the composer on this YouTube site:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

In Loving Kindness Jesus Came -- Charles Hutchinson Gabriel

It was one of many songs this 49-year composed that year in the early 20th Century using the name Charlotte G. Homer. He was saying something in the hymn’s poetry, something that he’d probably already said in one way or another in other songs he’d written by mid-life in 1905. With a resume like his, Charles Hutchinson Gabriel had a lot going for himself, but he seemed to know that he needed to direct his hearer’s attention elsewhere in order to maintain the proper focus, as he composed “In Loving Kindness Jesus Came” that year. His hymn’s alternate title, “He Lifted Me”, must have had a personal testimony, a story to it. What do you think it might have been?

Gabriel was a farm kid from Iowa (see its flag here), whose career in writing some seven or eight thousand songs in his three-quarters of a century of life could largely be owed to his upbringing in the eastern end of that Midwestern state. He might have epitomized the definition of ‘prodigy’, for those who knew Charles Gabriel as a child and teenager could tell he had the capacity for a prodigious future. His musical muscle was certainly exercised by his father, who was a singing school teacher and farmer, but it was said that young Charles’ ability to play the family’s reed organ was self-taught. He wasted little time, even while doing the farm chores, as he mentally crafted songs and later recorded them in the evenings. Upon his father’s demise while he was still a teenager, Gabriel walked in his father’s footsteps to continue teaching others to sing, even as it took him outside of Iowa for the next several years. He eventually returned to live there for periods or for many visits, while living also in California and in Chicago in the neighboring Illinois. His renown was perhaps most prominent when he was paired with Billy Sunday, the popular evangelist of the early 20th Century, with whom he often worked during revival campaigns. It’s not clear when Charles gave himself to God, but probably this happened during his early years in Iowa, possibly at the local First Presbyterian Church in Wilton, for which he apparently had written a song to match the pastor’s sermon one week while still a youth. Perhaps it was these early memories and his frequent visits to his boyhood home state that spurred his memory, as he hearkened back to his conversion with the refrain ‘he lifted me’. Visiting or recalling one’s childhood home might be cause for reminiscing for any 49-year old.    

Gabriel’s 4th verse of “In Loving Kindness…” is interesting, and makes one wonder if the composer was spiritually transported while writing its words. ‘Now on a higher plane…’was Gabriel imagining being in eternity already in 1905, or was he recognizing that his life had indeed changed while still on earth? This sensation must have been one that stuck with Gabriel throughout his long life. How else would one explain the output of someone with little or no formal training in his chosen life pursuit? He wasn’t just gifted, but compelled. Charles Gabriel knew he was meant for something higher, for a life lifted beyond his own abilities. His words sound like someone who was aware of his condition, and how he got there. You could say his was an engine fed by a supernatural fuel. Hook me up to this fuel pump!

Information on the song was also obtained from the books  Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

See also the following sites: