Saturday, December 30, 2017

Did You Think to Pray? -- Mary Ann Pepper Kidder



What would a 55-year old New York City woman need to pray about? Mary Ann Pepper Kidder did not leave a record of what circumstances spurred her hymn-poetry question “Did You Think to Pray?” in 1875, so her words allow us to draw our own meaning from what she wrote. Yet, one need not know every detail of someone’s existence (including in New York City – see its seal here) to know she must have dealt with much of what you or I have experienced, particularly if you’ve been at this life as long as she had been the year she crafted her question. In fact, like her, our own queries might take several forms, as various facets of living ebb and flow, but nevertheless lead to one overarching response. Help!

Help! It’s perhaps the one-word exclamation most analogous to how we think of prayer, and maybe that was true for Mary Kidder, too. She probably would have had several episodes to consider in her own life from what little we know of her, though two of them were apparently prior (at least a decade or more) to when the hymn may have been written. Since her life spanned the U.S. Civil War (when she was in her early 40s), we could say confidently that that four-year struggle most likely generated recurring angst that she poured out in prayer to God. It’s also reported that she had suffered temporary blindness as a teenager, a condition that undoubtedly would have spawned calls to the Divine for help. What one of us would ignore God if so physically challenged? Were these the incidents that caused Mary Ann to call out to Him? Her own words give us clues regarding what general issues she thought were paramount in her prayer life, voiced as questions to her fellow believers in four verses. Protection for the day in front of me – that’s what Mary Ann thought about first (verse 1). Did city-life in New York offer dangers that made her feel vulnerable? She would not have been alone with such apprehension. She also thought about temptation that can lure the unaware into hazards, and asked for His countervailing presence (v. 2). She considered how anger toward others might fester inside herself, and petitioned that instead forgiveness might be extended to wrongdoers (v. 3). Finally, she prayed about undefined trials, capable of producing deep depression (v.4). Could these trials have been the war events or the blindness she experienced earlier in life, or some other life-changing incidents? Had she lost someone close to her, or was another health issue afflicting this 55-year old or someone else in her circle?   

Mary Ann’s response to prayer (in the song’s refrain) is what I would want, when or if I choose to pray. I want my prayer’s result to upend my perilous condition. ‘…rest the weary’ is how Mary Ann saw the outcome of praying. A sleepless night fades away, and ‘night (becomes) day’ in her account of prayer’s impact. Are they magic words that give prayer its potency? Nah…just God. And, He’s enough.            

See these two sites for very brief information about the composer: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/k/i/d/kidder_map.htm

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