Saturday, February 13, 2016
I Love to Tell the Story – Arabella Katherine Hankey
This Englishwoman had a mission, yet she didn’t give up its pursuit even while prostrate. One might even ask if Katherine Hankey became sick as part of God’s plan for her to say “I Love to Tell the Story” in an even greater way than she had been doing before. After all, it gave her a chance to reflect and relate in perhaps 100 verses her thoughts as she lay in a bed. The two songs derived from her poem were but a small portion of what she wrote, of how she felt about her faith’s impact. Her exhortation in the poem tells what perhaps is most important to a storyteller. It’s not about how she clung to its details, or about the quality of her voice, or the delivery and pace of her words. Kate would be gratified if we just passed along the story.
Arabella Katherine Hankey was a 35-year-old Anglican in 1869 who’d been engaged in Christian ministry for many years, and who would continue on for several decades after composing the poem “The Old, Old Story” in the mid-19th Century. Even as a teenager of a wealthy banker in London, Katherine (known as Kate by most) began sharing the Christ story, probably as a result of an upbringing by devout believers in the Clapham suburb of the city. The believers in this sector of London were not only believers, but also those who put their faith into action. Philanthropy, teaching, social justice (they were slavery abolitionists, led by William Wilberforce) and missionary work marked this group. As such, Kate taught Sunday school classes all over London, initially in her own neighborhood. As a missionary abroad in Africa, she contracted an undefined serious illness that required a lengthy recovery over several months, apparently disabling her from her life’s purpose. The measure of her emotion at this prospect may be the length of the poem she crafted, over 50 stanzas, in which she urges the story’s recitation. Imagine her being handicapped, but with her memory and desire still intact. If she couldn’t stand or travel to find others to communicate the message, her hands would have to do the job. So, she described how this mission made her feel ‘satisified’(v.1), of its ‘wonderfully sweet’ (v. 3) nature that spoke to ‘hungering and thirsting’ people (v.4). She obviously felt intensely the absence of her normal activities, of sharing and seeing the expressions on her students’ faces. But, more than that, she must have felt if she could draw others into being storytellers, the effect of her life, even while suspended, would synergistically increase His kingdom. It’s as if she was putting in action, though personally immobilized, what the psalmist says (34:8) – just taste that, and see how good it really is! Go tell others!
Kate had the message, from start to finish, in her poem. The other parts of her poem relate how God’s plan evolved from creation through Christ, and then through His spirit’s arrival in each of us to spur the story onward. Twenty centuries after Him, we have the advantage of being in the era where we can examine His completed work. From the Garden to now, we’re part of His creation, His story of creatures made in His likeness. ‘How’s that feel?’, I ask myself. Way too much to grasp? Adam and Moses could talk to Him, but they lived before Christ consummated the deal. It’s all way more than I can fathom, honestly. But, not for Him! I just need to keep marveling at the story the way Kate must have.
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982.
See the story told here also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Love_to_Tell_the_Story
See biography here of composer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Hankey
A link to the original poem the composer wrote: http://www.wholesomewords.org/poetry/oldstory.html