March Slice of Life No. 11.
When I was a girl, waking up on Sunday mornings was not like any other day of the week. Here’s my story.
Instead of my hair being in two long braids, it is wrapped around rags. You see, on Saturday nights, Mom curls my long dark hair carefully around rags, special rags made and kept for this purpose only. Mom dampens my hair and sections it for the curls. Then I hold one end of the rag against the top of my head as Mom curls a section of my hair around and around the rag like a corkscrew and then she wraps the rest of the rag around the hair. She then ties her end and the end I’m holding into a knot. We repeat that for each curl. (See how it’s done here.)
Just before time to go to church, Mom takes the rags out and my hair falls into long Victorian spiral curls. In the summer, Mom ties them back with a satin ribbon. But since it is winter, she’ll let me just wear them lose.
My Sunday dress is hanging from the closet door. Looped over the hanger is my crinoline petticoat with layers of ruffles and tulle. I never wear this dress or crinoline petticoat to school. Some girls do. Tucked into my shiny, shiny black patent leather shoes is a pair of white anklets with lace on the top. I’ll fold them over only once to make a cuff, not three times like the bobby socks I wear to school.
The aroma of freshly perked coffee filling my room tells me Mom is up. The quiet tells me that my four brothers are still sleeping. The warmth from the coal-burning potbelly stove that is in the corner of the living room, directly below my bed, is pushing the cold out of my bedroom. You see, there’s a vent in my bedroom floor, right beside my bed, right over the stove.
Pulling my blanket with me, I lean over the edge of my bed and look through the vent into the living room. I lay there half in and half out of bed, listening to the music from the Zenith radio on top of one of the barrister bookcases in our living room. I love those bookcases because each shelf has a door with glass that raises up and slides back into the shelves. It’s one of my chores to clean the glass and polish the wood. Daddy’s books fill the shelves.
I think about getting up. I know when I slip down the stairs, I’ll see Mom sitting at the dining room table. And like every Sunday morning, on the table near her will be a cup of coffee, an empty plate with a knife across it that she used to butter her toast, and her open Bible. She will be writing in a notebook, copying Scripture references and making notes of the thoughts she will share with her Sunday School class. And when she hears my footsteps, she’ll look up with a smile.
But I don’t get up just yet. I lie back on my pillow, snuggle into my blanket, and close my eyes — singing in my head the words of the hymn that’s broadcasting to us from the Moody Bible radio station.
The Story Behind the Hymn.
This is the story behind the hymn as related in The Story of our Hymns by Ernest Edwin Ryden (1930).
Ray Palmer, who was born at Little Compton, R. I., November 12, 1808, was a direct descendant of John Alden and his good wife, Priscilla. One of his forebears was William Palmer, who came to Plymouth in 1621. . . .
Through pressure of poverty Ray found it necessary to leave home at the age of thirteen, after having received a grammar education. For two years he clerked in a Boston dry goods store, during which time he passed through some deep spiritual experiences, with the result that he gave his heart to God. . . .
Eventually he graduated from Phillips Andover Academy and from Yale. For a while he taught in New York and New Haven, but in 1835 he was ordained to the Congregational ministry. He served a congregation in Bath, Maine, for fifteen years, and another at Albany, N. Y., for a like period, after which he became Corresponding Secretary of the American Congregational Union, a position which he held until 1878.
It was while he was teaching in New York City that “My faith looks up to Thee” was written. He was only twenty-two years old at the time, and he had no thought when writing it that he was composing a hymn for general use. He tells in his own account of the hymn how he had been reading a little German poem of two stanzas, picturing a penitent sinner before the cross. Deeply moved by the lines, he translated them into English, and then added the four stanzas that form his own hymn.
The words of the hymn, he tells us, were born out of his own spiritual experience. “I gave form to what I felt, by writing, with little effort, the stanzas,” he said. “I recollect I wrote them with very tender emotion, and ended the last lines with tears.” “A ransomed soul!” Who would not have been moved to deep emotion after having written a poem with such a sublime closing line! This happened in the year 1832. . . .
Palmer copied the poem into a little note-book which he constantly carried in his pocket. Frequently he would read it as a part of his private devotion. It never seemed to occur to him that it might some day be used as a hymn.
One day as Palmer was walking along the busy streets of Boston, he chanced to meet Lowell Mason, the famous musician and composer of Savannah, Ga. Mason was compiling a hymn-book at the time and asked Palmer, who had established something of a reputation as a poet, if he could give him some words for which he could compose music. Palmer remembered the poem in his note-book, and, while the two men stepped into a nearby store, a copy of the poem was made and given to Mason.
When the two men met again a few days later, Mason exclaimed: “Dr. Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My faith looks up to Thee.’”
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