Saturday, May 19, 2018
How Beautiful Heaven Must Be -- Cordie Bridgewater
What moved this nearly anonymous woman to share her mental imagery of the afterlife, while living in northern Alabama approximately 100 years ago? Was it the bittersweet longing of her heart for a departed child that compelled this poetry, producing this therapeutic remedy for a deep hurt that Cordelia Bridgewater had suffered? If the daughter Cordie lost during the early part of the 20th century was her only offspring, one can understand especially how she must have needed some method to salve the pain. Could she have known that “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” (also known as “We Read of a Place That’s Called Heaven”) would also be her progeny, a kind of child attributed to her? We all produce something, a fruit of a life lived that seeks to impact others, something that doesn’t expire, but is instead passed on to one’s descendants. ‘What’s my offspring?’, you might inquire.
There’s very few details of Cordie Bridgewater, save what could be contained in a couple of sentences and what is put on a gravestone; there’s probably more words in her poem than there are in her own biography. Moreover, the circumstances of how her hymn words came about are unknown, though one evident life-changing event could have been the impetus for her verses. Married to Albert Samuel Bridgewater, Cordie and her husband lived in America’s Deep South on either side of the start of the 20th century, when and where they had one daughter named Florence. The historical record indicates Florence had died as a child before 1910, and it is likewise believed that Cordie wrote this ‘How Beautiful Heaven…’ ode, perhaps in the aftermath of this tragedy, while the couple lived in the Hanceville, Alabama area. No other details are known of this family’s heartbreak, but one can assume they had others of like faith nearby to share their sorrow. Did perhaps one or more of them encourage Cordie’s writing of the words we still have a century later? Did Albert and Cordie mourn long? Was the first line of her second verse – including the words ‘drooping or pining’ -- a reference to their own recent or ongoing experience? If so, she must have tired of the misery of loss, for her words speak of the ‘happy and free’ (refrain), and ‘pure waters of life’ (v. 3). One common coping mechanism for the believer is to imagine – indeed, feel confidently – that the departed loved one is in a grand place, awaiting the arrival of others. This is particularly true when the deceased, especially a child, has gone prematurely. ‘Rare jewels’ (v. 3) and ‘angels’…sweetly…singing’ (v.4) are just some of the other trappings of heaven Cordie visualized happily.
Heaven is not only beautiful, according to Cordie. It is one of God’s truths (v.1), is restful (refrain), and is full of light (v. 2). Death, therefore, is not a dreadful transition, but a blessed passage that allows me to find freedom (vv. 1, 3, refrain) in the presence of the One who makes it all possible. Could that be one of the reasons that beings sing there (v.4)? I can think of other reasons, including family reunions that are near the top of my list for going to such a place. Can you imagine Albert and Cordie embracing Florence again? Who else can you see there?
Following site is one source of information on song: https://hymnary.org/text/we_read_of_a_place_thats_called_heaven
See author’s obituary here: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/51850837/cordelia-j.-bridgewater