Saturday, June 6, 2015

Thou My Everlasting Portion -- Fanny Crosby

She must have really meant what she said, someone might have observed when examining Fanny Crosby’s situation in 1874. How she chose to live really was reflected onto the page as she wrote “Thou My Everlasting Portion”, also known as “Close to Thee”. As a 54-year old woman, Fanny was blind and in poverty, by all appearances. And yet, if asked, she probably would have contended with such an assertion. Who could say they’re poor if they have God, despite what one’s surroundings in a New York City slum (one that could have looked like this picture in Crosby’s neighborhood) might tell you? And not just as a far-off, hoped-for future, but a present power – that’s what seemed to embody Crosby.

Frances Crosby (more commonly known as Fanny) was an amazing testimony to hope in Christ. Her life story is well-known, even among secular folks, because of the stark nature of her challenges compared to her accomplishments. One might suspect that the former (her challenges) actually spurred the latter (her accomplishments). Knowing a little of the background to one of the many songs she composed in 1874 leads one to suspect this synergy was a fact in her existence. One account of “Close to Thee” indicates she employed a method that was familiar to many of her song-writing ventures – someone played a tune, which sparked some words from her to match what she heard. This version says a hat salesman, Silas Jones Vail, probably one of her Long Island-Manhattan neighbors, played her one of his tunes. Her ear and her spirit must have already had quite a reputation, for someone to bring a nameless piece of music and expect Crosby to respond with meaningful prose. But, she didn’t disappoint, saying that one repeated phrase in Vail’s tune called out ‘close to thee’ over and over. Another source reports that Fanny was pondering God’s proximity late one day when the song’s words just leapt out of her. From what we know of Crosby’s life, the mid-1870s were a rough period, one in which it’s thought she was impoverished, deep in the heart of New York. That makes her words all the more special – they are a personal pledge she was vocalizing to her God. The words ‘everlasting portion’ also suggest she was reading Psalms, and echoing the songwriter’s words of utter dependence on Him (Psalm 16:5; 73:26; 119:57; 142:5). Was she struggling to feed and clothe herself, to stay warm? No matter, Fanny says. He’s all I need. I only require His companionship.

Fanny’s life among the poor spoke credibly of her beliefs, about the closeness she felt toward God. She seems to have viscerally understood that knowing Him meant living like Him. Maybe she believed that the poor would listen to a God-message, since they had little else to lean upon for support. Or, maybe she felt more like she had a secret to share…that the weak (like herself) were the really rich ones. Attached to Jesus, being like him in His common estate, and connected to the One who transcends earth – that would get anyone’s attention. She might not have seen with her eyes, but her vision let her reside with contentment in an area that depressed others. Am I better or worse off than Fanny?

Information on the song was obtained from 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 from the website:  
See biography on composer here:

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