I have always loved stories.
Perhaps it’s because I come from a line of good story-tellers. My grandparents, on both sides, are master story-tellers. Professionals, if you will. Some of my most cherished memories involve the whole family sitting in the living room, listening to Granda or Grannie (whoever happens to be center stage at the time) share a particular memory, sometimes so moving that you can’t sleep that night for thinking about it, and other times so hilarious that you’re laughing well into the night.
Anyways, my favourite stories are the ones that are true, and usually the ones that are serious. Because life is a serious thing. Those are the sorts of stories that are unforgettable, that mean something, that teach us something.
During spring break, my mum lent me a book entitled Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan. Its pages contain the stories behind certain beloved hymns. I was instantly fascinated. You know, I’ve sung many of these hymns in church, in the car, in the shower. But I’ve never known their stories. I’ve wondered, but never thought to look up their history. Sure, the names appear at the bottom of the page in my hymnal, but that’s it, just a bunch of consonants and vowels. I mean… who were they? where did they come from? and most of all, what fueled their lyrics?
Well, I didn’t have to wonder any longer. I went straight to the index, scrolling down the lists for some of my favourites. Here’s what I found. (excerpts from the book)
I Need Thee Every Hour was written by a stay-at-home mother in Brooklyn, New York. Annie Sherwood tell us her story. “One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became so filled with the sense of nearness to the Master that, wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words, I Need Thee Every Hour, were ushered into my mind, the thought at once taking full possession of me.” She later said, “It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of great loss of my husband, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace.”
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go was written by George Matheson. He lost his eyesight during his teenage years, which caused his fiancée to break their engagement, as she refused to marry a blind man. He later came to learn of his sister’s engagement. Although he rejoiced with her, his mind went back to his own heartache. He consoled himself in thinking of God’s love which is never limited, never conditional, never withdrawn, and never uncertain. Out of this experience it is said he wrote the hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go, on June 6, 1882.
His Eye is on the Sparrow was written by Civilla Durfee Martin. Here is her account of her song, “Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittle’s, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow; and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow was the outcome of that experience.
Knowing these stories has made these songs all the richer.