Sunday, November 12, 2017

I Need Thee Every Hour -- Annie Sherwood Hawks

What kind of housework must she have been doing to inspire such words? Perhaps someone, maybe even the minister at the Brooklyn church where she worshipped who had encouraged her to exercise her poetic gift, asked Annie Sherwood Hawks this question in the summer of 1872, once her words for “I Need Thee Every Hour” were made public. They sound like someone who felt that life was empty in some way, meaningless without the Divine influence. Or was it a gift from the Holy One, a present that she would not fully comprehend for several years? Annie might have answered ‘yes’, it was both.

Annie Hawks evidently had been preparing for some time to write the words that would come to her on a June day in 1872. This 37-year old housewife and mother of three children had been writing poetry since her own childhood, and as an adult was urged to write some more, which her minister Robert Lowry liked to put to music for the enrichment of the church’s children. It was a beautiful June day, she remembered, a day like many others in which she was busy with household duties. Whether she was completely alone, or perhaps with one or more of her children likely at home as well, Annie was evidently joined by somebody more unusual – even spiritual. She described a sense of being filled with a presence, a fullness that made her ponder how life could be complete without Him. Indeed, if one believes the Creator is the source of life, Annie was asking something quite logical. As a believer, this train of thought would certainly not have been completely revolutionary to her, but its intensity and impact that day were definitely unique. She reportedly sat down and immediately composed the poem’s five verses, which she gave to Pastor Lowry the following Sunday. Her senses likely had been heightened, making her an open vessel, a result probably of her poetic nature that had been nurtured since her teens, and more recently as a consequence of Lowry’s support.  Though her acquaintances at the church would have undoubtedly appreciated Annie’s song in the weeks after it was first publicized, Annie herself would not fully value its import until many years later. She related after her husband died 16 years afterward that her poetry truly spoke to her in ways that it must have for others in similar circumstances when she first wrote it. The death’s ‘shadow’ that she described had fallen upon her was not as dark as it could have been because of the Spirit’s comforting words, transmitted through her own hands.    

Watch for those mundane moments when you might think you’re alone. One wonders if Annie retraced her experience at the moment of “I Need Thee’s ...” conception, and tried to repeat it. She wrote approximately 400 hymns in her lifetime, but this one crafted whilst in the midst of a seemingly routine summer’s day says something about God’s creative calculus. Is He deliberately unpredictable, unfathomable? I’m made in His image, but He’s the model, and I’m merely the copyist. For some, that might not be enough, but for Annie, she was apparently satisfied to play her role, to be used by Him in her ordinary day. No flashy, jaw-dropping light appeared, but for someone whose antennae was ready for reception, His tap on her shoulder and cohabitation of her spirit crafted a product that touches us believers still today. A great God doesn’t overwhelm…a submissive heart just listens to His suggestion. That was Annie.   

The following website has a brief account of the song’s story:
See more information on the song discussed above in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.  Also, see Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 More Hymn Stories, 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.

See a brief biography of composer here:

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