Eighteenth century hymnist gifted a song to the world


Image of cross/Day on the Day

Recently my daughters, both of whom are musicians, agreed to perform a hymn for a baptism.

The hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been widely performed and recorded.

Mumford and Sons reportedly cover it sometimes in their performances.

The girls were practicing the song yesterday as I attended to my 9-month-old granddaughter. The baby became tired. She had zoom-crawled and half-walked all over my office and the rest of the house. She had played with her toy basket, then rearranged the books she could reach on my shelves. In between she made music of her own by banging the puppies’ metal bowls together. I sat down to rock her, as much for my benefit as hers.

As I held our baby, I heard my daughter’s voice accompanied by the guitar and viola. The strains of that hymn took me back decades. I realized as I held the baby, my grandmother must have held me in exactly the same way, all the while singing hymns because she often sang hymns as she worked. My grandmother had a beautiful voice, and she loved music.

Lyrics to “Come Thou Fount,” according to what I could locate about its history, were written by Robert Robinson. Robinson lost his father at an early age, and he went through some tumultuous times on the path to adulthood. I could definitely identify with that.

I also learned the significance of a line that had sometimes perplexed me:

“Here, I raise my Ebenezer…”  

I had to rely on Wikipedia for info, but the links are acceptable, and here’s an explanation for that line:

“The lyrics, which dwell on the theme of divine grace, are based on 1 Samuel 7:12, in which the prophet Samuel raises a stone as a monument, saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (KJV). The English transliteration of the name Samuel gives to the stone is Ebenezer, meaning Stone of Help. The unusual word Ebenezer commonly appears in hymnal presentations of the lyrics (verse 2).”

“Stone of help” reminded me there is no help like strong faith, a value both my grandmothers held despite lives of hard work and adversity.

Robinson seemed to have a difficult life, sometimes wandering perhaps in a quest for the modern day equivalent of finding himself. Yet amid that difficulty, he gave the world a beautiful hymn sung by millions of Christians in different denominations including my own Lutheran church.

My daughters probably had no idea how profoundly I was moved as I listened to them practice that song, or of the journey into time the song led me on.

As I rocked my grandchild, I closed my eyes and remembered the smell of my grandmother’s soap, the hard polished wood of the pew, and the safety I always felt every Sunday despite the fact I often had a hard time sitting still during the sermon.

I am happy my daughters agreed to perform the hymn for a child’s baptism. Parents like it when their children give something back to the community. A baptism is one of the most joyous occasions in a Lutheran church, and another child will begin the journey my own granddaughter began recently when her parents made the same commitment my parents, grandparents, and those who came before them made. My granddaughter wore the gown and bonnet her own mother wore many years ago.

I don’t have all the answers about God or church or faith, but I do know this. When times are dark and the world is embroiled in conflict, that is where I find great comfort. When I question my feelings or behavior, there is always a flicker of light helping to guide me. I believe the grace of God is inclusive, open to all who believe and keep the faith.

That hymn made my day despite the fact it got off to a rocky start and both my daughters and I had had things go askew that morning. I am grateful to that 18th century wanderer for his gift to the world, and I am grateful my daughters will gift their own talents to welcome a child into the grace of God.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/July 28, 2016)

About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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