Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sung Heroes

The late 19th century saw a burst of North American hymn-writing. Like English hymn-writing in the early-18th and American, again, in our own time, this burst of sacred song-writing can be traced to the creative energies of particular individuals. In 18th-century Britain, it was Isaac Watts and, later, Charles Wesley. Today, it is Ruth Duck (although, to be fair, there was a spate of Catholic hymn-writing in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II that has petered out). In the late 19th century, indeed not in church history, has there been as prolific a hymn writer as Fanny Crosby.

Quite the important public figure, an advocate for the blind, she spent much of her adult life doing mission work in Hell's Kitchen in New York, at a time when that name was truly earned. She never lost her belief in the transformational power of the Christian faith. This was expressed, simply enough, in her hymns. Far from some pie-in-the-sky view of the Christian faith, just consider the very first line of her hymn, "Blessed Assurance" - "Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!" In other words, we already experience that divine glory in our lives here and now, and for all it is something at which to marvel and for which to give thanks, it is just a foretaste of what is to come.

Historically, we in the Methodist tradition have been known as those who sing their faith. In the hymns of Fanny Crosby we have a marvelous example of that faith, poured out in over 8,000 hymns, and lived out in service to others.

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