Saturday, January 6, 2018
‘Tis the Blessed Hour of Prayer -- Fanny Crosby
She may have been a senior citizen, but she didn’t act like your typical retiree. Was she depressed about an apparent rift in her marriage, an episode perhaps somehow related to her decision to move alone to a slum? There was something that compelled 60-year old Frances Jane Crosby to pray, and to share ‘Tis the Blessed Hour of Prayer’s words in song via one of her hymn-writing collaborators (William Doane). She may also have observed others at one of the missions she frequented – perhaps the Water Street Mission in Manhattan (see it here), where’d she’d begun visiting that year – who needed God the way she did. It was probably something quite natural for this woman, known as Aunt Fanny, to relate to others who felt that life was full of misfortune, but also opportunity. She herself might have thought so, if her words can be taken as authentic.
Aunt Fanny had already had a prodigious song-writing career, among other pursuits, in the three-score years before she moved to 9 Frankfort Street in Manhattan in 1880. She’d been a noted secular poetess, songwriter, and social activist, including speaking out for the blind, with whom she had herself identified since the onset of this condition in her childhood. She had also been married (to Alexander Van Alstyne, Jr.) for some 20 years, before their marriage apparently ruptured, roughly coinciding with her move to the Frankfort Street address on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She began ministering that year of 1880 in the Water Street Mission, an endeavor to care for alcoholic and unemployed men (also named the Helping Hand for Men in Manhattan). This was evidently not her first foray in missionary work – she’d been active also in the previous 15 years – but 1880 represented a renewed dedication she had expressed was to be the remainder of her life’s work. So, it’s not surprising that she would have prayed as part of this commitment. The verses she crafted suggest she experienced prayer this way, and probably counseled the destitute at Water Street similarly: she approached God, humbly (v.1); and He reciprocated by drawing near to her (v.2). With such a rapport, trusting and confiding develops, and as Fanny repeatedly notes, a sweet relief from weariness enters the picture. That would be good news in a slum!
Someone might say that Fanny had sacrificed much to live and serve among the poor. And, as her own words suggest, she, and the others she encouraged to pray, had ‘…care(s) (vv.2,3,4) and sorrow (v.3). But, as Fanny would also have said, prayer lets the believer receive Divine ‘balm’ (vv. 1-4), a sweet savor not to be missed. If a blind 60-year old could observe that prayer helped ease her fatigue, how do you think that might have sounded to someone out of work, or impoverished because of an addiction? ‘She’s always gonna be blind, but see how she’s coping with this!’ ‘Prayer works’, someone says. Fanny might say ‘He (the ‘Savior’ [vv.1-3] ) on the receiving end of my prayer-line works’.
See the site here for the song’s four verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/t/i/s/tisthebl.htm
Biography of composer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Crosby