Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lead Me Gently Home, Father – Will L. Thompson

This 32-year old Ohioan from East Liverpool had a few decades ahead of him yet, but still must have been mulling over what would be inevitable at some point. Will Thompson wrote “Lead Me Gently Home, Father” in 1879, and sounded rather like someone who had had enough of life, even though he was a relatively young man. Was it some disappointment with struggle he’d encountered as he began his professional life following college? He reportedly wrote down words at all times for musical ideas, so this much is sure: Will had experienced something that was significant enough for him to commit it to paper on the spot, thinking it would be a meaningful contribution to his spiritual and musical life.  In other words, he must have thought the Spirit was always present, prompting him in various ways, even if an incident was downbeat.  

Will Lamartine Thompson likely knew from an early age that he was going to pursue music as his life’s work. He wrote a few songs as a teenager, including some secular tunes that were popular (“My Home on the Old Ohio" and "Gathering Shells from the Seashore").  His musical penchant deepened in the 1870s with his college and post-college training, taking him to New England and Leipzig, Germany for specialized training in his chosen field. So, it was no doubt frustrating for him when he hit a speed-bump of sorts – a commercial music publisher who rejected his efforts. Will was apparently not one to surrender so quickly however, and he responded by forming his own publishing company. By the 1880s, the Will L. Thompson Music Company in East Liverpool was serving customers across the U.S., and must have contributed to Thompson’s formation of a similar company later in Chicago. But, as a 30-something, the mood of what he wrote in ‘Lead Me…’ suggests this young music businessman had his share of struggle and depression, too. This was a guy with his musical antennae active, and consequently recording poetry that pinpointed what was occurring around and inside himself. It must have been at least one or perhaps several days that prompted Will to write about ‘life’s toils’ (v. 1) and ‘darkest hours…(and) troubles’ (v. 2), compelling him to seek a gentle touch from his Father. In fact, ‘gently’ is Will’s favorite word throughout ‘Lead Me…’, suggesting his terrestrial days had been pretty rugged at the time.

Will Thompson was not a pity-party unto himself, though. Life didn’t stop him, though a roadblock was not uncommon in his path. Rejection from a publisher only fueled Will’s imagination, serving as grist for his musical mill. How do you suppose he got this attitude? From where did his musical creativity emanate? Maybe the source was someone else who was likewise cast aside, at least for a while. That person rose up and became a focal point, despite other people’s momentary disconsolation. Do you suppose Will noticed that historical example, too?  
See the two sites here for information on the composer and the song’s original two verses:

See more extensive biography here:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sweet Will of God -- Lelia N. Morris

This organist was a 38-year old who wrote something like a confession in the church where she’d spent a lot of time, but it wasn’t the last time she would write something like “Sweet Will of God”. Lelia N. Morris had decided to make songwriting an important part of her life several years earlier, as she pored over some words about God’s will in 1900. She wanted to say she’d been wayward, an admission that might have seemed a little unusual for a churchgoing, spiritually active woman such as herself. She did play the organ and thereby help guide the weekly services of the church, and had made a habit of being at camp meetings too. Perhaps her zeal need a dose of reexamination.     

Lelia Morris was born, raised, and lived almost her whole life in southeastern Ohio. McConnelsville, in Morgan County (see map here), and the Methodist Episcopal church were her home, and where she spent much of her energy to compose some 1,000 hymns over her lifetime. But, some of the trips she took to central and northeastern Ohio to frequent camp meetings (to Mount Vernon and Sebring) no doubt had their impact on Lelia’s spirit. Perhaps one or more of those or some experiences closer to home had dawned on her the need to say what she did in “Sweet Will of God”.  She called herself ‘stubborn’ in the song’s first few words, and elsewhere ‘weary’, ridden with’ discord’, and ‘wayward’. On the other side of confession, she finds no remaining struggle, but ‘home’, as the final word of her thoughts testifies. Were they her own struggles, perhaps Lelia would not have chosen to write ‘Sweet Will…’ for public consumption. Even in a church filled with other believers, or travelling many miles from her home to coax others into His ways, Lelia must have met many others that she felt shared her emotions. She uses the ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’ over a dozen times in her poetry, but must have known that others needed what she expressed too.

It is reported that Lelia kept going in her songwriting life well past when others may have decided to put down their pens. Thirteen years after she wrote ‘Sweet Will…’ she was still at it, albeit with difficulty, due to a deteriorating eye condition. A jumbo-sized chalkboard provided by her son allowed her to continue, evidently, telling us her poetic words were appreciated. A historical marker in her hometown moreover tells of her notoriety, including well beyond the confines of that small southeastern Ohio town. She must have been gratified to know that her local efforts had travelled so far and wide. They, in fact, should help connect us to the One who will carry us to the way beyond. That was Lelia’s goal.  

See the link here for all four verses:
See brief biography on composer here, including a picture of an historical marker that tells some more of her:

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jesus Meek and Gentle -- George R. Prynne

This 38-year old minister was an educated, intelligent man, and therefore most likely aware of the history of the area where he’d begun his work some years before. George Rundle Prynne had been in Plymouth, England for about eight years in 1856, and would eventually die there some 47 years later. Evidently, he was struck by the peaceful demeanor of the heavenly Savior, and so began his composition that year with the words “Jesus, Meek and Gentle” to underscore this impression. This contrasted with the nature of Plymouth, one of England’s most notable military bastions along the nation’s southwestern coast (see the historical picture here, depicting this to some degree). Was Prynne pondering how his leader’s security guarantee differed from the fortifying values of secular Plymouth?

George Prynne had been ordained as a priest in a church in England by the early 1840s and assumed his duties in Plymouth several years later, duties that included writing a few hymns and publishing at least two compilations of hymns to serve the people there. Though he apparently was aware that most people thought “Jesus, Meek and Gentle” was intended for children, he indicated that was not so. He did suggest some modification of the words in the fourth verse to encourage its usage by children (see second link below), but his own comments about the song indicate he must have been thinking of an adult audience originally, perhaps what they should seek in prayer. So, if someone like Prynne wanted to write something that would be relevant to adults of that time in the Plymouth area, what would he say? Plymouth’s location made its history as one of England’s defensive bulwarks for many centuries very notable, a fact that George would have certainly appreciated if he was close to his church’s members and knew of the livelihood of people in that coastal region. How does the Christian secure himself, and on whom does he rely for protection? It must have been something that this ambassador for God asked himself, as he viewed the famous forts enveloping Plymouth Sound, some of which had been present for centuries. Prynne’s words told his hearers to trust in a being focused on love (verses 1 and 3) and grace (verse 1), but One who was nevertheless capable of freeing them from captivity (verse 2) and guiding them through darkness (verse 4). Who’s better at securing my life than Him? That seems to have been George’s reminder to Plymouth residents.   

George Prynne lived the rest of his life in Plymouth, and according to historical records is buried there. Plymouth’s geography and its utility in England’s security haven’t changed, so what George Prynne would say to residents there today might be pretty similar to what he said in 1856. You can try standing behind the walls of that fort, but there’s another method that he’d recommend. Nothing’s better than someone who can take you through and above the enemy’s challenges.    

See brief biography of the composer here:

Scant information about the song is here:

See this link for history of Plymouth:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Listen to Our Hearts -- Geoff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman

These two best friends must have had plenty of opportunities to tell one another some details about how they each felt about his life before the Creator. So it wasn’t an accident that Geoff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman would write some songs together to explore this facet of their lives, including in 1992 in Nashville when they collaborated to ask God to “Listen to Our Hearts”. It was one track on Geoff’s band’s (The Distance) album A Friend Like U, on which Geoff and Steven co-wrote two of its 10 tracks, including the album’s title tune. They were musical poets, able to inspire and motivate one another, yet also comfortable admitting that they lacked some of the words they would have liked to have said. In doing so, they must have taken some of their notes right out of another author’s text.

Geoff and Steven were early 30-somethings in 1992, who had connected while looking to make careers in the Christian music business in Nashville in the 1980s. What they wrote for “Listen…” suggests they may have been studying together at some point, or had both independently noted something that caught their attention.  Perhaps they were taking notes from what the apostle Paul had to say while preparing to meet some Romans (chapter 8), or about how this ancient writer had marveled about God’s deep well of love (Ephesians 3:17-18). That first-century Christian acknowledged that he came up empty when trying to vocalize his feelings (Rom. 8:26-27), using phraseology that Moore and Chapman echo in their poetry about their own conversations with the Lord twenty centuries later. Although the specific circumstances that motivated Geoff and Steven when they crafted “Listen to Our Hearts” have not been confirmed, their authenticity as songwriters and as men of faith, and their activity in other ways with their beliefs, indicate that they were hearing something pretty clearly, even as they asked God to inspect their insides and draw it out. Examine them and their family’s biographies, and you will find one way that the Chapmans and Moores extend their hearts is toward worldwide assistance for orphans and their  adoption via Show Hope, an organization that Steven and his wife founded. It’s not just talk either, for both the Moores and the Chapmans have adopted multiple children into their own families. Their hearts evidently have been speaking even when they haven’t been singing the words of the song they co-wrote in 1992.         

If you’re uncertain how to talk to the One above, Geoff and Steven might suggest you begin to investigate this by first asking Him to listen to your heart, and then admit to yourself what is there. Are you OK with Him listening and knowing what’s inside? You can’t hide it, only change it. It’s also been said that what’s in a person’s heart comes out in his actions (James 2:14-24). He once said something about being fruitful (Matthew 12:33), and one of his followers eventually listened and said something similar (Galatians 5:22). It’s interesting that that Galatians writer was once listening to another voice. I just have to get better at listening to Him, and tuning out the rest. Then, I might start to sound more like Him.

See the following two sites for biographic information on the two composers:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Jesus, Lover of My Soul -- Charles Wesley

He was a 31-year old, feeling grateful but also thinking of himself as a fragile and vulnerable creature compared to the God upon whom he reflected. Many stories contend for the specific circumstance that spurred Charles Wesley to call “Jesus, (the) Lover of My Soul”. None of them have been verified, yet the five verses he drafted have lingered for close to 300 years since their inception around 1738, about the time of an experience the composer evidently had at a place called Aldersgate (see picture). Perhaps the words are a patchwork of events that coalesced in Charles’ consciousness, or among other believers that inspired him to record what a desperate person might say to Him who can rescue. Charles evidently had already seen, or anticipated in his own future, various episodes that prompted this ageless poetry.     

Charles Wesley was an Englishman who’d ventured across the ocean to America and then back again, finding along this journey or in his native land, perhaps, the roots of “Jesus, Lover…”. Charles and his brother John initiated the Methodist movement along with others, including George Whitefield, while at Oxford in the 1720s. They later traveled to the American colony of Georgia in the mid-1730s, though a rugged and brief tenure there led Charles to return to England in 1736. Perhaps it was the rough ocean voyage, or a brush with an angry crowd, or a small bird that sought refuge in his room that nestled in his spirit and caused Charles’ reflective thoughts. He had not actually made a deep commitment to God until 1738, at a place in London known as Aldersgate, and that too may have played a role in what he wrote about Jesus’ love for him. Was that period a watershed for Charles? His conversion was apparently genuine, and he devoted himself to ministry for the remainder of his life, so yes, Charles had indeed found something that revolutionized his outlook. And, he wrote about it, probably not just in “Jesus, Lover…”, but in various poems that illuminated his spirit for the next several decades, giving Christendom some 6,000 hymns to ponder and employ in worship. But with this hymn being in such proximity to Aldersgate, it provides a window into the newfound sense of spiritual freedom that Wesley was feeling. What were his thoughts, so close to that moment? He sensed the imminent danger, and like someone still breathing heavy with alarm, sought help from the most certain source. At such a moment, not just any haven is acceptable; in fact, Charles saw no others (‘other refuge have I none’ – v. 2). Then imagine being Charles, sinking, and being saved by God, the ultimate shelter (‘…dying, and behold, I live’ – v.3). It must have been quite an experience, one perhaps like Paul’s (on a conversion road to Damascus), to motivate Charles’ life over the next half-century.

Verses four and five could read like a microcosm or epilogue of Charles Wesley’s life after Aldersgate. He spent the time up until 1788 in England, ministering and raising a family with three children, two of which followed in his musical footsteps. He certainly knew personally the grace of God that he wrote about in those two verses, and must have felt fulfilled, in an earthly sense, because of the choice he’d made. He wrote in a portion of verse 4 ‘…thou O Christ are all I want…thou art full of truth and grace’. And, in verse 5: ‘Plenteous grace with Thee is found…’. If you’re still young, think about what Charles might say to you, if you are standing at a moment of choice. Think about where you might want to be in 50 years. Or, if you’re further along, can you still change something, before it’s too late? Read some of Charles’ words about Jesus’ love – it’s never too late to grasp for Him!  

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; A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945; and Then Sings My Soul, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003. 

See the following site for biography of the composer:
See this site for all five of the original verses: