Catching Songs in First Creation
I injured my back a week ago and it left me struggling to walk. The condition became worse and I was ready to seek help. Then yesterday afternoon, Hillary and I were wondering about the origin of an old hymn written by Fanny Crosby (1820–1915). She wrote over 8,000 hymns; a stunning amount of creative work. They include two of our favorite n/om songs that we have received in visits to the spiritual classrooms: “Blessed Assurance” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”
When we reviewed Fanny’s life story, we found the most amazing account of her first great spiritual experience. First, a little background: When she was six weeks old, Fanny caught a cold that led to an inflammation of her eyes. Mustard poultices were applied and this resulted in her being rendered blind for life. As a child, her grandmother described “the things of nature and heaven to her.” Every night they kneeled together for hours in prayer. At age ten, Fanny started the habit of memorizing five chapters of the Bible each week. She went on to become a poet, publishing her first poem at age eleven. Though Fanny continued to study scripture as an adult, she felt that something was missing in her spiritual life. The following account from author Bernard Ruffin tells the story of what led to Fanny’s being struck by spiritual lightning:
. . . The last meeting with her grandmother weighed deeply on her mind. Fanny had not experienced the distinct emotional “conversion experience” so important to her ancestor. She began to doubt her faith. She doubted her life was totally consecrated to the service of God, as she felt it should be.
Fanny had a close friend named Theodore Camp who suggested she go with him to the revivals at the Broadway Tabernacle [in New York City]. At first, she hesitated. Then one night she had a vivid and disconcerting dream:
“It seemed that the sky had been cloudy for a number of days and finally, someone came to me and said that Mr. Camp desired to see me at once. Then I thought I entered the room and found him very ill.” The “dying” Camp asked if she would meet him in heaven after their deaths. “Yes, I will,” Fanny said, “God helping me.” This was the response she had given her dying grandmother. In the dream, just before he died, Camp admonished, “Remember, you promised a dying man!” Fanny recorded: Then the clouds seemed to roll from my spirit, and I awoke from the dream with a start. I could not forget those words, “Will you meet me in heaven?” and, although my friend was perfectly well, I began to consider whether I could really meet him, or any other acquaintance, in the Better Land, if called to do so.
Fanny was convinced that as things stood, she could not. She felt there was something terribly lacking in her spiritual life. She began to attend the revivals with Camp every evening in the autumn of 1850. In those days, the service was highlighted by a long, emotional sermon, punctuated by cries of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” There were inarticulate cries, convulsive sobbings, and ecstatic outbursts. It was not uncommon for the frenzied worshipers to leap from their seats and run about or fall on the floor.
When the preacher concluded the sermon, those interested were invited to come forward and be prayed over. People would go to the front of the tabernacle and kneel on the cold, dirty floor for as long as two hours while deacons and elders placed their palms on the candidates’ foreheads, praying aloud for conversion.
Twice that fall, Fanny went to the altar. Twice she got down on her knees and the frenzied elders all but crushed her skull, laying hands upon her head and roaring prayers for her conversion. Twice the hours went by without her “getting happy.”
Finally, on November 20, Fanny, now torn with frustration and anxiety, was led for a third time to the altar. This time she was frantic. “It seemed to me that the light must come then or never.” No other candidates presented themselves that night. For hours, the deacons and elders prayed, but nothing happened.
The congregation began to sing Isaac Watts’s consecration hymn, “Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed.” At the fifth and last verse—“Here, Lord, I give myself away. Tis all that I can do.”—it happened. Suddenly, Fanny felt “my very soul was flooded with celestial light.” She leaped to her feet, shouting, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” In her ecstasy, “for the first time I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand, and the Lord in the other.”
An Arrow of N/om in One Sentence
As I read this story to Hillary – especially that last sentence – I felt electricity surge through my body. I then noticed that my back pain had nearly disappeared and I had no difficulty walking. We took a three mile walk and discussed what had happened. We were amazed, but also not surprised, that healing n/om could be received just by reading another’s spiritual testimony.
Hillary and I continued reading about Fanny Crosby and discussing her for the rest of the day. Apparently, she composed all her hymns in her head and could keep over a dozen there until they were ready to be transcribed. She would often go to sleep at night with a theme on her mind and wake the next morning with the stanzas of a song completed. The hymns arrived naturally and were sung to her by an inner angelic voice. There is no doubt Fanny Crosby was a mystical song catcher.
Hillary and I discussed how strong her songs are and that nothing cooks us like an old sanctified hymn. We pondered whether we should solely use those old hymns as our songbook when cooking others. Why use any other music when Fanny can fan the flames? Why tell any other story about n/om when Fanny’s testimony and others like it are sufficient?
We went to bed that night full of zeal for the exaltation of these hymns. I fell asleep and was sent to a spiritual classroom where I received a song. To my surprise it was not a hymn written by Fanny and it wasn’t even a gospel song of any kind. The song was “Summer Breeze,” a pop hit from 1972. Hillary and I laughed when I told her we had a new n/om song for our Sacred Ecstatics songbook.
Handing it Over to a Higher DJ
We learned once again that we cannot decide what songs, metaphors, testimonies, and teachings are needed for our lives. Everything should be decided by a higher power. Right at the moment when we were ready to stop the turning wheel of First Creation and be content hanging out with Fanny Crosby, we were given a 1970s rock song. Because I went to sleep last night while deep inside The Lord’s Prayer, praise, and gospel music, I was clinging strongly to the main rope as I was sent to a spiritual classroom. This is why I have no doubt that “Summer Breeze” was delivered as a divinely anointed song.
Had I been listening to a pop radio station all day and attending a basketball game, followed by joking around at a bar, I would not have trusted the reception of a pop song in dream. This is important to recognize because we cannot lazily say that any song we like can serve as a spiritually-anointed n/om song. Everything must be handed down by higher hands. Get out of the way and let divine mystery take the reins. I have never been a fan of pop music so God really messed with me when this song was sent. You may pray for a gospel song and get a pop song. Or, you may prefer a pop song but get struck by the lightning of an old hymn, just like Fanny.
Let us never let our trickster mind decide to stop the changing and become attached to any single form or genre, even if we think it is the holiest domain. Let the changing of First Creation move us further along on the unpredictable journey of creation. Let the summer breezes blow and Thy will be done!
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…
(piano art image by burnthebody)