Saturday, May 28, 2016

Nearer My God to Thee -- Sarah Flower Adams



Did this composer experience her own dream, after she read about the one her ancient predecessor envisioned (see picture here of Jacob’s dream)? Or, maybe it was just the reading of the story in Genesis that spurred Sarah Flower Adams’ imagination, so that she thought of being “Nearer, My God, to Thee” and spoke to Him in five verses about how she felt. (The hymn’s theme also touched another composer, Edward H. Bickersteth, Jr., who wrote a rarely heard sixth verse after Sarah’s original five were published.) She may have been pondering her life’s challenges as she reached out to Him with this prayer-song, a not uncommon posture to take when conversing with the Almighty. After all, who else can one count on to listen and respond except the Creator, the One who can solve my troubles?

It was 1840, and 35-year-old Sarah Adams and her sister Eliza were collaborating with their church’s minister on a hymnal project in London, an assignment that had Sarah perhaps looking backward as well as forward. She’d wanted to be an actress, and had at least one great moment on the stage, at least until poor health forced a change in her outlook just a few years earlier. Her sister’s frail health must have been on her mind at times too – Eliza would die from tuberculosis just five years later. So, Sarah had steered her life into writing, abandoning a thespian career for the pen she could more easily wield. The sisters were in the midst of the hymnal’s compilation when their minister-collaborator coaxed their involvement in capping his next week’s sermon with a brand new hymn. The subject was the episode that found Jacob sleeping with a stone pillow and dreaming of an angel staircase (Genesis 28:10-22). Who could imagine being able to sleep with a stone headrest? And, would that discomfort inspire dreaming, a slumber indicative of an especially deep rest? Perhaps it was God’s promise of his future that secured Jacob’s mind as he lay under the stars, drawing for him the angelic portrait in his mind. Were Sarah’s burdens -- a ‘cross’ (v.1), being a ‘wanderer’ (v.2), and ‘griefs’ (v. 4) – lightened as she considered how Jacob’s experience spoke to her?  It’s said that songwriting can be therapeutic, a method of managing one’s stress points.

What would I do if I really did encounter God, or one of His messengers, in a visible, memorable, and riveting way? Maybe ‘riveting’ comes closest to describing how I’d react, for most biblical accounts of humans meeting God or an angel face-to-face convey this – the encounter freezes the human in fear. God Himself says don’t look, or you’ll die (Exodus 33:20). With this in mind, how is it Sarah wanted to draw near to Him? Wasn’t’ she afraid? Did she notice that Jacob had been, too (Gen. 28:17)? Yet, he didn’t cower. It seems the experience does leave the follower frightened, but yet mesmerized and intrigued too. If He shows me a dream, could He in fact want more than fear from me? Could He want intimacy, too? Maybe that relationship urge I have in my life is less human, and more God, than I thought.     
      
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; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
Also see the composer’s brief biography here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/a/d/a/adams_sff.htm
Also see this link, showing all six original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/n/m/g/nmgtthee.htm

Saturday, May 21, 2016

I Am Mine No More – Anonymous



The artist may have been a group, in fact, that began to express themselves somewhere in America. The song “I Am Mine No More” is so simple, easily learned, and generally applicable to the lifestyle of such a broad spectrum of people that its development is not that unusual. There are lots of folk hymns with no known author or composer, for they spring forth from a way of life common to a generation or generations. Perhaps someone first uttered the sentiment and others nearby appended the tune with other verses to further encompass the broader reality they all experienced as one. (Perhaps not unlike the sense expressed in this Eastman Johnson painting of a slave saying “The Lord Is My Shepherd”.)That’s how something becomes popular, accepted. What’s the message this person or group wanted to convey?

“I am mine no more” was a statement, an act, and an emotion born from perhaps a situation that this individual or group found was impossible to manage. The human urge to control had morphed into submission. Much of American folk hymnody emerged from the slave era of southern U.S. plantation life, from a group that did not control their own destiny. Families were often split because property–even if it was human--could be divided to pay debts to various creditors, one of several reasons for this sad phenomenon. One could see how ‘property’ might sing this as a blues song, as flesh and blood was dehumanized, becoming the object of a financial transaction. At least they could soothe the deep hurt by reminding themselves that ultimately they belonged to an owner—God—who was benevolent beyond what they could expect here on earth. Additionally, if they spilled blood as a result of injustice, they could sense the brotherhood with a God who’d done the same. It was a memory that helped others like them manage life, such as it was, with hope.

Though slavery like mid-19th Century America has ended, there are still other prisons people inhabit. That would explain why “I Am Mine No More” endures. It might be a campfire song, sung freely by kids or adults, but life has many difficulties – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Like the song’s origin suggests, the singer of this tune must grasp that life as out of control. Some things just cannot be surmounted here. Even He found no way out, except death and transportation to another plane. What He wants me to know is that I need not feel powerless, despite the submission I must accept. In fact, I tap into power when I do.       

Some basic information about the music type: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_folk_music

Friday, May 13, 2016

More Holiness Give Me – Philip Paul Bliss



Philip Paul Bliss was a 35-year old singer, musical publishing house composer, and teacher when he evidently was being pulled in another direction. His utility up to that point had been the music he could contribute, although he must have been drawn by its effect, too. It was 1873, and he may have felt something was still missing, as he wrote out something he called “My Prayer”, probably while in the Chicago area. It’s more commonly known by its first few words – “More Holiness Give Me” – but that’s not really broad enough to cover all he said in three verses. He wanted 24 ‘mores’, and perhaps those gaps were what compelled his response to another direction’s call shortly thereafter.  

Philip Bliss had a musical gift that had been incubating for many years, and which would reach its conclusion just a few years after he wrote out this prayer song. His parents’ nurture must have played a part in his faith and musical development –his father, a Methodist and musical lover, and his mother who taught him from the Bible. But with little formal education by the time he was in his mid-teens, much of his musical skill was indeed latent. This was until he met a musical teacher who recognized his potential, and later his soon-to-be wife who further influenced his musical growth. Philip taught and toured as a young man, and soon turned to composing with Root and Cady Publishers in Chicago. But, he was also being coaxed to pursue evangelism full-time, particularly by Dwight Moody who was convinced Bliss’ musical gift could achieve much in the missionary field. By 1874 Bliss indeed did listen to the missionary call, joining the Civil War veteran Daniel Whittle in this effort. Perhaps the words he wrote shortly before he made this commitment show how deeply he contemplated his life’s meaning. Though he had been producing gospel songs, the words he wrote in “My Prayer” suggest he still pondered if he wasn’t missing something, many things in fact. The earnest persuasion of Moody and others spurred this introspective moment Bliss recorded, and what he did a few months or a year later show his reflection was genuine. He wanted to draw closer to Him, and must have become convinced that evangelism was how he wanted to reply. Had he known his and his wife’s lives would end suddenly in a train wreck two years later, Philip Bliss might have appreciated still more how God was speaking to him through the music he wrote and sang.   

Did Philip Bliss find his prayer was answered? What he wanted was much more, so it would be illuminating to know if he found at least a little more. Some of his ‘more-s’ sound like human modifications he sought –patience, striving-effort – so one wonders if God really thought that was wise. Should a child seek instead to become more like the Being he wants to emulate, and so work on trust, faith, purity, etc.? One who observed Bliss in his final days says he did seem to exhaust himself trying to get one more -- more joy, interestingly enough. He didn’t think more of that was possible here on earth. What do think he might say about where he is now?
 
Main source for the song’s story and its verses are at this link: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/m/o/r/e/moreholi.htm

Also see a portion of this account in this link chapter: http://www.biblebelievers.com/bliss/mem_ch27.html

See the song’s verses here also: http://www.hymnary.org/text/more_holiness_give_me

Biography of the composer here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Bliss

A much more extensive biography of the composer is here: http://www.biblebelievers.com/bliss/memindex.html
 
Brief bio on the company where the composer worked up to the time when song was published: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_%26_Cady

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Yes, Lord, Yes – Lynn Keesecker



Lynn Keesecker was a songwriter feeling the upbeat of God’s blessing. That much we could surmise just by looking at the words he recorded over 30 years ago. He’s not left us much else to explain his circumstances and why he was feeling ebullient. But, various internet sources suggest he was a 29-year-old working in the music industry, perhaps in Nashville, Tennessee, when he recorded the song “Yes, Lord, Yes”. To Keesecker, the bounty he experienced he attributed to the One to whom he wanted to reciprocate. “Give back to Him, because He has given me everything that makes me feel this way – it’s His anyway”; that might sum up how this young composer calculated his life’s purpose.

Lynn Edward Keesecker had been pursuing Christian ministry for several years by the time he would write his affirmation-ode to God in 1983. He’d attended Azusa Pacific University, in the Los Angeles area, in the middle-to-late 1970s, evidently because he wanted a higher education from this college affiliated with the evangelical Christian community. Since he was later a music-writer, we might guess that was his emphasis as a college student, seeing himself entering that field upon graduation. Perhaps things were going well or even better than he could have worked out for himself by the early 1980s after graduating. He’d gone to the Nashville area and was at Word Records when he felt the urge to express his sentiments about how things were going. One cannot discount, however, that for Lynn to express his thoughts the way he did might alternately imply that he’d had his share of challenges too. ‘Trust and obey’, after hearing the ‘Spirit speak(s) to me’ could have been Keesecker reminiscing about an episode that challenged his notions of the path he was on.  There’s no hint of regret in his voice, though, so by this time, even at just 29 years, perhaps he’d already had lots of practice following Him no matter what the consequences. There’s biblical references associated with “Yes, Lord, Yes” to Samuel (1 Sam. 3:9) and a later writer (Hebrews 10:22) emphasizing faith, and especially being unafraid to be draw close to the Holy God. Could those references have been especially relevant for Keesecker? Had he perhaps trembled initially at God’s wave to follow, before tagging along in His footsteps?

We’ll leave it right there, and hope Lynn Keesecker helps us at some future point understand just what prompted him the say ‘Yes’ with such conviction. Maybe he’s still finding the path requires him to respond, whether or not he’s still engaged in the music business. He’s probably still engaged in life, and that’s God-business, not matter what the details are.       

See following links for brief biographic facts of someone with the same name as the song’s composer, and who therefore may be the composer: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lynn-keesecker-ab662a5

The music company that recorded the song: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_Records
The composer’s education was here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azusa_Pacific_University