Saturday, October 14, 2017
Sweet Hour of Prayer – William W. Walford
A blind preacher he may have been, but he most certainly knew how to pray. That’s an assertion you or I could make after reading some poetry that one William Walford mentally recorded in 1842 as he thought about a “Sweet Hour of Prayer” that he’d experienced. A friend wrote it down for us, but it was Walford who spent the crucial time in thought, perhaps mostly alone within his own mind, between himself and his Creator in his novelty shop. His method and his recitation to this friend reveal something notable about prayer – it stays in one’s mind, as a regular refrain the believer places before Him. It must have been one that Walford replayed repeatedly, as he prepared to share it.
William Walford was an Englishman, either from Coleshill or Homerton, who was the author of a four-verse ode that he eventually shared with another minister, Thomas Salmon, in the early 1840s and which was published by 1845. Since he was reportedly blind, he stored it mentally until Salmon visited him one day and became the initial hearer and recorder of its verses. The 70-year old Walford must have been gifted with a keen mind and spirit, in order to retain the poem’s words until Salmon happened along to preserve it on paper. It’s said Walford spent much of his time on a chair next to a chimney, carving trinkets out of bone, ivory, or wood, perhaps deep in thought about a sermon topic or a poem like ‘Sweet Hour…’. Can you draw that mental picture of William, alone, carving and thinking, but not really lonely? His words in the poem suggest he treasured those times, to present himself before God and ponder his earthly existence, and also his ultimate destiny. Was it Walford’s insistence, or instead Salmon’s inference, that an exclamation mark be placed after each ‘sweet hour or prayer’ phrase, when these two friends first talked about these words and their import? Fervor for his time with the Father was apparently something that either William or Thomas thought was a fitting description for the prayers that Walford prayed. Perhaps not having physical eyesight magnified the invisible God, and helped underscore the time Walford sought to spend with Him.
Keeping it secure in his mind until Thomas arrived – did that also reinforce prayer’s value to William? Like many issues a writer might mull over repeatedly before he’s satisfied with the final work, Walford must have been accustomed to this pattern as a matter of habit, since physical writing wasn’t possible for himself. If one closes his eyes, he gets some appreciation for William’s world, but it’s not the same. Inhabiting the place where access to God is undistracted by sight…was that what William had discovered by age 70? Was “Sweet Hour of Prayer” actually his life’s experience talking to God? His words sound like something that cannot be contained inside 60 minutes. God’s there all of the other minutes too, as William might remind us.
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 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945.
See this site for all four of the original verses, and a brief note of the song’s history, according to one account: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/s/h/o/shop.htm