Friday, June 12, 2015

My Faith Looks Up to Thee -- Ray Palmer

Ray Palmer was just a young fellow, but he had feelings and physical symptoms that belied his age and clouded his future. So in 1830 he composed a poem “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” as a very personal prayer – a needy individual calling out for divine help. Its creation offers a method that other writers may find is not easily duplicated, for did Palmer really intend the outcome that came about when he sat down and poured out the words in despair? Would anyone else intentionally submit to such a process? If they knew that’s how God works, would that alter their music-writing ventures?  

Ray Palmer’s first effort at songwriting would not be his last, and his first had been incubating for perhaps several years before it was hatched.  Palmer’s schooling as a teenager had been suspended for a time out of financial necessity, but his education continued later in his youth and coincided with his heart turning to God. He eventually attended and graduated from Yale University with an aim toward ministry, while coincidentally teaching part-time at a girls’ school in New York City – no doubt a taxing schedule. He had been ill, both physically and emotionally, for a year when he sat down as a 22-year old to reach inside himself and find God’s help through words from his heart. He wanted something that he could carry as a reminder, to lift his spirit daily, for he must have seen a long road in front of himself. ‘Would the previous year’s experience be what ministry entailed?’, he may have worried. His devotion to God had spawned in his teens, and he was still clinging to that faith and to the road to ministry he had set before himself. But, there was no denying that loneliness, depression, and sickness also inhabited his being – he admitted this too. He kept the four-stanza composition in a notebook in his coat pocket. His poem might have remained between himself and its addressee (God), if two years later he hadn’t bumped into his friend Lowell Mason, a music-writer who was hunting new songs for his latest project. The rest, as has been said, is history. Palmer would write a few dozen other song poems during his life, yet he may have employed the best technique for this part of his ministry just as he was beginning.

Palmer probably never forgot how his prayer played out – that we know the story of its conception assures us of this. It really sticks with a believer, to sense when God has heard and delivers His response. Ray admitted to Him how he felt in his verses – guilt, weakness, fear, overwhelming sadness, and even some distrust. Perhaps Ray felt that he had nothing to lose at that point. After all, the year had already been pretty tough on him, so why not be honest, while telling Him you still think He’s capable of delivering the Providential goods? That Palmer was still engaged in ministry two years hence, when he encountered his friend and shared the poem, tells us that God did reply. Maybe God taking his servant’s request-prayer to the next level—making it public, and lifting it for others to see for the last 185 years--was what Palmer could not have anticipated. What do you think Ray would say if he were here today? He’d probably say ‘See, God’s still here…and He may have a surprise for you’.     

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.

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