Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sweeter than All -- Johnson Oatman, Jr.

What is the tastiest, sweetest confection to your palate? A scientist might say such a compound would have to possess the chemical known as Lugduname (which a Chemistry textbook might depict this way). If someone said Jesus --to accurately define just how special and far above other faint copies of Him we could examine—was like Lugdumane, just how much more potent would He be? Science says the chemical shown schematically here is between 220,000 and 300,000 times as sweet as regular sugar. In fact, this chemical is so strong, it hasn’t been approved for use in our food. It must be that its dosage is hard to balance or restrict so that it doesn’t harm the human body. Did Johnson Oatman feel that way about Jesus when he said He was “Sweeter than All” in 1900? What would make this 44-year old man say that?

Johnson Oatman must have had plenty of ongoing and previous real-life experiences as the 19th rolled into the 20th Century to compare to the person of his faith. He’d been part of his father’s family commercial business as a young man, and later after his father’s death he sold insurance to make a living. These were following his initial inclination as a 19-year old to pursue formal ministry, although his ordination did not lead to larger roles in church work, but only in small local congregations in New Jersey, his lifetime home. So, by the time middle-age had come upon Oatman, he’d been pointed at various times in three different professional directions. His life’s avocation, songwriting, had also taken hold, a grip that would continue in a very firm—some might say consuming—way for the rest of his life. He would complete between three and five thousand lyrical compositions before his life concluded in 1922, a stunning amount, especially since it appears he did not begin this “hobby” until in his 30s. His father’s influence, as a notable singer and man of faith, no doubt also made its impact on the junior Oatman, distilling in him the fusion of music and faith. Most likely it was his family, and most prominently his father, who inclined his heart to believe the Christian faith could overcome any life-challenge. He may have been writing songs for about a decade, or at least for several years, when he expressed his ‘Sweeter…’ sentiments. Had the insurance business or other ventures around his New Jersey home brought into sharper relief how much he valued God? As an ordained minister, maybe he was also trying to encourage other believers in one of the local churches where he ministered part-time. Even sporadic preachers probably hear lots of the miseries of churchgoers than they know how to cure. Oatman’s musical remedy was no mystery. Taste Him. Let Him surmount your life’s ills.

Maybe it occurred to Oatman as he read David’s words about tasting (Psalm 34:8), or another ancient songwriter’s thoughts (Psalm 119:103) on the same sensation, that God is good, a sweetness that spurs my craving Him. Like the sweetest part of my meal – dessert, the concluding course--Oatman’s fourth verse of “Sweeter…” is about what he expected to taste as he entered life’s final phase.  This sweetness has such staying power, that it will endure even as I encounter death and approach Eternity’s territory. Johnson could imagine that scene, convinced as he was of God’s potency. Can you?  

Information on the song’s composer 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.; and 101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985. 

See also here for four verses and refrain of hymn:

See also here for brief biography of the composer:

Here’s some background on the chemical Lugduname:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jesus, Rose of Sharon -- Ida A. Guirey

She must have been looking at a very specific portion of Biblical text as she mulled over how to call out to
God’s son. “Jesus, Rose of Sharon” sprang from the consciousness of Ida A. Guirey in the early 1920s, but what compelled its emergence? Was it something unique to herself that she wanted to say, matching the select nature of the text at which she peered? Was she seeking or in a special marital relationship that drew her to the text she read? How old was she? Did she appreciate nature, including beautiful and fragrant flowers, like roses (or tulips, like these that could be the ‘rose’ on Israel’s Plain of Sharon)? The answers to a host of questions like these and maybe others could tell us important details about her, but since “Rose of Sharon” is still here, it provides us some insights of her that we can reflect back upon ourselves.

The few details we know of the otherwise anonymous Ida A. Guirey tell us she wrote song poetry in the early 20th Century, including ‘…Rose of Sharon’ that she must have composed as she looked at one of the more obscure books of the bible. She composed only a handful of song poems, including one (in 1909?) during the first decade of the 20th Century, so by 1921-22, when ‘…Rose’ is attributed to Guirey, her age probably was that of at least a young woman, if not older. Only Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs; chapter 2, verse 1) uses the phrase Guirey borrows for her song’s title and oft-repeated phrase. Love is on the mind of most of us when we open the pages of this bible book…was it also Ida’s state of mind? We know not if she had an intimate bond with someone on earth as she read Solomon’s words, but certainly she loved Jesus, and sought His embrace and impact. We could also surmise that perhaps she appreciated nature’s beauty, and the facet of Jesus’ nature that a Sharon rose calls to mind. Flowers might seem fragile to some minds (like mine), but Ida’s thoughts tell us she believed His strengths lay in that imagery. Perhaps she had a green thumb (!), along with a deep desire to see His way more deeply affect her life and those around her.  Roses need good soil and other nourishment –sunshine, water—that really only He can give. Ida Guirey may have concluded that our Creator is the unique source of growth and beauty, to make herself and others flourish and be who He created His offspring to be.  

What Ida prayed to receive is common to all of us, if we want His best. She apparently had deduced that God’s creative power and beauty could flow through herself and be a magnet for those nearby (v.1), if only she would allow those things to increase personally (v.2). To heal others’ spiritual ills and infuse them with a submissive desire to honor Him (vv. 3-4) was the model Christian community—even a worldwide one—that Ida envisioned. Ask yourself, ‘am I there today’? ‘Impossible’, you say? Ida must have thought otherwise, or judged the connection with Him was worth the effort. She might have thought there was an extraterrestrial place where the ideal could culminate, too. Know where to go to find that?  

The following links are the sources for songs by the composer, the only scant information on the composer: