Saturday, March 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fanny Crosby

Today is the birthday of Fanny Crosby, writer of thousands of hymns (and many other types of songs too).  We don't sing many of her hymns in my Lutheran church, and I have to confess that I'm glad that we don't.  I find her work overly sweet and theologically weak.  But I might have had a different view had I lived 150 years ago. 

Scholars note that hymns before Crosby focused on sin and the worthlessness of humans, but Crosby changed that.  Her hymns focused on our personal relationships with the Divine, and with our human longings for deeper connection.

Before she wrote each hymn, she began with prayer.  She always hoped that her hymns would bring people to Christ, which may explain why so many of them are evangelical in nature.  She rarely wrote the music, instead concentrating on the lyrics.  She often wrote 6 or 7 hymns a day, and because she was blind, she did all the work in her head. 

Her accomplishment would be amazing in any age, but I'm struck by the fact that she lived in the U.S. in the 19th century, not exactly an easy time to be a female writer of any sort.  In fact, some feminist scholars would surely wonder what she might have written, had all subject matters been open to her.

I think she would have continued to write those hymns.  After all, she didn't want to be remembered for her hymns, but for being a rescue mission worker, and I could make the argument that her hymns are a natural offshoot of that rescue mission work.  She spent much of her life living in rescue missions so that she could better help the poor and destitute.  She gave away much of her money, which may explain why she didn't seem to care that she wasn't paid very well for all those hymns she wrote.

What an amazing woman.  Like Dorothy Day or Jane Addams, Fanny Crosby reminds us of all that it is possible to do with one short life, even a life constrained by gender, history, disability, or any of the other things that can constrain a life.

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