Saturday, September 19, 2015

Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand – Jennie Wilson

She was a 48-year old whose life had been spent, some might say, as a cripple. But that didn’t stop or slow down Jennie Wilson, who knew how important it was to “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand”, perhaps a paraphrase of how she felt about her life up until that point. (Maybe she was inspired like others by Michelangelo’s Creation, when God reached out with his hand to create us.) She was contemporaneous with another female poet-composer, and similarly prolific in her output, and also shared a physically challenging lifestyle with this fellow lyricist. One could compare these two women and say that these facets of their lives were no accident, that in fact their makeup spurred the musical vigor in them. What obstacles did they see, or did they instead consider them stepping stones, a reason to reach out and experience Him?

Jennie Wilson was a lifelong Indianan who was struck in childhood with a spinal malady that left her wheelchair-bound, but not defeated, for the balance of her life.  It’s said that she composed approximately two or three thousand hymn texts over her lifespan, an amazing number considering that she lived to the age of just 57. Some people nicknamed her the ‘Fanny Crosby of the west’, comparing her to this counterpart who lived to the age of 95 in the Connecticut and especially New York City areas. Both women were challenged by physical impairment – Crosby was blind, while Wilson could not walk – but neither would probably have called herself disabled. In contrast to Crosby, Jennie Wilson’s life was not as well-known, and so the circumstances of her songs are likewise not readily known. But, we can surmise with the few facts we know that Jennie was in or near her native South Whitley, Indiana (northeast Indiana) when she wrote “Hold to God’s…” in 1904. One historian of her life says she exhibited few signs of an invalid, and travelled to Winona Lake, west of her home in northeast Indiana, as well as other places in the state for bible conferences. She’s not listed among the notable people of South Whitley, a small rural place, but that could merely reflect her character and her choice to live in and mimic an unremarkable, mid-western community. It’s likely her songs flowed from this same environment, perhaps somewhere in South Whitley or one of the conference venues she enjoyed frequenting annually.

Do Jennie Wilson’s words provide other insight into her emotions or the intellectual mindset of this 40-something composer? Despite the slow, dull existence one might presume pervaded Wilson’s northeast Indiana home, she hints that there was a fast-moving ‘swift transition’ she sensed (verse 1), one that drew her loyalty to Him. Did her health incline her attitudes also? She died prematurely, which could suggest she had lingering health problems, ones that might have lead to her expiration nine years later. But even if her death was unexpected, other life events can make one introspective, and malleable for His use. ‘Whatsoever years may bring’, Jennie says (verse 2), so she felt life held uncertainties that she could manage only with His presence. Maybe she also was ‘forsaken’ (verse 2) by friends, a not uncommon experience, but nevertheless still painful. Health, fickle circumstances, and loneliness. Do those sound familiar? Jennie knew those wouldn’t dictate her next life. Isn’t that a great thing to know?  
The sources for the information on the composer are here:
See  description of composer’s birthplace here:,_Indiana

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