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Philosophy Lite: The greatest hymn writer, ever

By By Raymond Smith
March 30, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 29, 2012 at 10:30 p.m.

Raymond Smith

Nowadays, the media caters to the sensational, such as automobile accidents, divorces, murders, theft and suicides, but today, let's focus on the heroic. If we are to grow in character, we need to pattern our lives after honorable and famous people.

Thousands can testify to the stories of heroes who inspired them to achieve more than they would have otherwise. A female hero who has inspired more lives than can ever be counted is Frances Jane Crosby, more commonly known as Fanny Crosby.

Crosby was born in 1820. At the age of 6 weeks, she developed an eye problem. The doctor who treated her was inept and caused her to be permanently blind. Fortunately, her mother rose to the occasion and gave her extra care, but it was her grandmother who spent many hours describing the things of nature and heaven to her.

At 8, she wrote her first poem: "O what a happy soul am I. Although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be. How many blessings I enjoy, that other people don't. To weep and sigh because I'm blind, I cannot and I won't."

Making good use of her time and mind, she committed to memory several books of the Bible. Not being occupied with the things of the world, which she could not see, she devoted herself to the inner life. Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge.

At a school for the blind, Crosby met another blind student named Alexander VanAlstyne. Fifteen years later, they married, and that marriage lasted until 1902, when VanAlstyne died. Fanny died in 1915.

Crosby wrote around 10,000 poems, 8,000 of them set to music - even writing one on her death bed. She wrote so many that publishers insisted she use pen names because they didn't want to load the hymn books up with all the hymns attributed to Fanny Crosby.

On several occasions, Fanny would come across a poem that captured her interest; upon asking who wrote it, she was advised it was one of her own.

While America's most loved hymn, "Amazing Grace," was written by Englishman John Newton, Fanny's hymn, "Blessed Assurance," was deemed to be second, with scores following, like "Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior," "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," "Rescue the Perishing," "To God be the Glory, All the Way My Savior Leads Me," "Saved by Grace, I am Thine," "O Lord, He Hideth My Soul" and "Close to Thee," among hundreds of others. Good art and music survives the years because of the beauty and the meaning expressed.

Throughout life, she met and developed friendships with many American presidents and even addressed a joint meeting of Congress. Asked about her long life of 92 years, she said her secret was that she guarded her taste, temper and tongue. She often said, "Don't waste any sympathy on me. I am the happiest person living."

Wish that we all could have such an attitude.

Raymond F. Smith is president of Strong Families of Victoria.

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