Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing reflections on Lenten hymns for our e-retreat entitled “The Scandal of Lent.” Throughout Lent I plan to write a total of nine reflections about Lenten music, and Pastor Joan will write the same number of reflections about themes presented in the book The Scandal of Lent by Robert Kysar (Augsburg Publishing House, 1982). (For more information about the e-retreat, click here.)
One of the hardest parts of my assignment is to select which Lenten hymns to write about from all the beautiful music that is particularly meaningful during Lent. For today’s blog, I decided to write a reflection on one of the songs that I really wanted to include in the e-retreat, but there just weren’t enough sessions to squeeze it in.
“Near the Cross”
Fanny Crosby (1820 – 1915) was one of the most prolific hymn writers ever. She wrote more than 8,000 hymns. She’s been referred to as “the Queen of Gospel Song Writers” and “the Mother of modern congregational singing in America.” In 1975 she was belatedly inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Two of her best known songs are “Blessed Assurance” and “To God Be the Glory.”
When she was only six weeks old, she had an eye infection. Unfortunately, the primitive medical treatment she received caused her to go blind. As she grew into childhood, her grandmother took a special interest in helping her memorize Bible verses. By the time she reached adulthood, she had memorized the four Gospels, Psalms, Proverbs, and several other books of the Bible. This knowledge was a tremendous resource for her to draw upon as she wrote hymns and gospel songs.
The circumstances surrounding her writing “Near the Cross” were quite typical of how she wrote her songs. A friend of hers, Howard Doane, came to her with a new melody he had composed. He played the music for her. She listened and then said she felt that the tune said, “Jesus, keep me near the cross,” and she promptly wrote the words.
Jesus, keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory every,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and Morning Star
Shed its beams around me.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Near the cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
‘Til I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.
Neville Peter (b. 1972) is blind pianist and vocalist who has a special appreciation for the songs of Fanny Crosby. Click this link to a YouTube video where he sings “Near the Cross.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g1EWML1tNo
When Fanny Crosby was asked about her blindness, she responded with this statement:
It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me. [quoted from www.cyberhymnal.org]
Think about what challenges you personally have faced, or are currently facing in life. Can you imagine any positive result from these challenges? If you were asked to share your perspective on your own personal hardships, what would you say?