Showalter was a 29-year old music teacher from Georgia, who happened to be in Alabama, and sought out his 48-year old friend Hoffman in Pennsylvania, with help from inspired words Moses spoke in a wilderness thousands of miles and years from 1887. Two former students had lost their wives in death, and somehow they each knew to whom they could go for solace – their former music teacher, Mr. Showalter. He didn’t disappoint them, offering sympathy in letters, referring to Moses’ words about God’s ‘everlasting arms’ to his people as he prepared to leave them in his own death (Deuteronomy 33:27). But, he didn’t stop there, feeling moved that a hymn worth remembering was hidden inside this episode. So, when he wrote his friend Elisha with the words to the chorus and what motivated them, his cohort responded with three verses. Anthony soon had the music written to match the words Moses, Elisha Hoffman, and he had authored. An amazing thing had happened, even though it took fatal blows to generate the product. Moses’ words came as he thought about his own passing, and they echoed centuries forward as A.J. Showalter confronted the same issue. Did the dual nature of his former students’ loss accentuate the experience for Showalter? Perhaps he felt overwhelmed by his young friends’ despair, an engine that propelled him to Moses’ episode and a people preparing to move on without him. The potion the two 19th Century men and their forefather Moses prescribe for this death struggle we all face, probably numerous times in an average lifetime, never loses its potency. Their words in “Leaning…” say that it grows stronger, in fact.
This story tells us something about the nature of us, passed on from a God in whose likeness we’ve been constructed. That the hymn has survived into the 21st Century shows the three who gave us the words (Moses, Showalter, and Hoffman) knew what power lay in the words, necessary for humankind to endure its final tragedy. How did Showalter know to go find these biblical words? It must be that he’d discovered he couldn’t escape inevitable death, even if he himself hadn’t yet reached 30 years of age. Instead, embracing is the answer. This includes other people, and Him, too.