Friday, March 2, 2018

Beyond This Land of Parting -- Mary Bridges Canedy Slade

This 50-year old minister’s wife and editor had an outlook, undoubtedly painted by the experiences five decades had provided, that she shared in song. Being a minister’s wife, Mary Slade’s words in “Beyond This Land of Parting” could have been shared by her spouse to underscore a sermon message too. And she must have related some of her views in the journal where she spent so much of her time. And finally, the students she taught likely also heard the words she crafted here in yet another venue – the classroom. So, while not much has been recorded about Mary Bridges Canedy Slade, she nevertheless had multiple avenues to present the message that we see in four verses of prose still available today, nearly 150 years later. This is yet one more bit of evidence that even comparative unknowns like Mary (in addition to her more renowned contemporaries, such as Fanny Crosby) can contribute culturally and spiritually notable Christian artifacts, a blessing in more ways than one!

What Mary Slade wrote in 1876 gives us a window into the life of this minister’s wife, teacher, and editor. She evidently lived most or all of her life in Fall River, Massachusetts (see picture here), where she lived out these multiple roles. In addition to her spousal relationship with Albion King Slade, she reportedly wrote her hymn poetry for a professor (R. M. McIntosh) to whom she was also apparently close. We could imagine that she shared with these two men, as well as others, the valleys in her life-experience of which she wrote. In addition to what she shares in the song’s title, she also endured (or perhaps watched while others did) ‘losing, leaving…’ (v.1), ‘sighing, moaning, and weeping...’ (v.2), ‘sinning, fainting, failing…doubt(ing), griefs and dangers’ (v.3), ‘sickness and dying…’ (v.4). That’s a pretty lengthy list, right? Her response in each verse is not to wallow in all these down moments, however, but to gaze beyond to ‘the summer land of bliss’. ‘Fair and bright’ (refrain) would have resonated with many of her minister-husband’s hearers, who most likely shared with him routinely what struggles they bore daily. The students she taught also would not have been immune to challenges like those Mary described in her verses; a ‘happy summer land of bliss’ appeals to downtrodden children too. Mary’s experience as associate editor of the New England Journal of Education and later another publication called Wide Awake also put her in positions to help shape minds and give others a hope – one that everyone needs.  

Was Mary Slade a ‘glass half-empty’ or ‘glass half-full’ person?  Maybe both? She certainly did not wear the rose-colored glasses and saw plenty that an average person would say was gloomy. Yet, her riposte never wavers in ‘Beyond This Land…’. The beyond was her oasis. Furthermore, she might have drawn strength if she’d considered what else her four verses communicated, beyond the words and notes on a page. Three things stand out from Mary’s hymn: 1. The song itself, obviously; 2. Encouragement to all of us in life to contribute his/her gift, one that might endure for decades, or better yet centuries; 3. Each of us has multiple opportunities/avenues/roles for impact – a minister’s wife, a teacher, an editor – and can touch countless people with His hope. It’s His life, really, and so it never ends.   


See scant information on the composer here:

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