Blessed thought

Sometimes the pathway is beautiful, sometimes not,
but I truly believe we need never walk it alone.
Mission San Juan Bautista, California, June 2003

“He leadeth me:  O blessed thought! 
O words with heavenly comfort fraught! 
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.” Joseph H. Gilmore

This old hymn, which its author said was written during “the darkest hour of the Civil War,” has always been a favorite of mine.  I have vivid childhood memories of hearing it sung by the congregation in church, where the booming, perfectly-pitched tenor of an older British gentleman rose above the others and impressed me with the conviction in his tone when he sang it.  To hear him sing those words was to feel a sense of elation and absolute assurance that went perfectly with the beautiful melody of the song’s chorus.

I know there are a lot of people who have mostly negative views of religious faith.  I can understand to some extent how people could feel that way, given the wars and violence done in the name of various religions, and the unfortunate stereotypes of believers that are often perpetuated by the media.

My own experience of faith, though, has been almost completely the opposite.  For a lifetime I have been watching believers whose faith in God has defined their lives and blessed the world around them.  I have seen people weather unbelievably tough times with a peace that truly passes understanding.  I have been strengthened and upheld by knowing that people are praying for us.  And the sadness of losing loved ones who die is tempered by the belief that their souls live on, and the hope that we will someday see them again.

To some, of course, this sounds like foolish wishful thinking.  But I’m reminded of one of my favorite Woody Allen quotes:  “What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”  As funny as this quote is, he does have a point. If it’s cold, hard evidence you’re after, I think most of what seems like “proof” is just as illusory, if not more so, than truths that cannot be seen. I’m not sure we have any more reason to trust what we see as “realities” that appear only to our senses, than we do to trust in the unseen, and perhaps Einstein would agree.

In any case, I am profoundly thankful to have this song among the ones that play inside my head when I need them most.  I love it even more now, after sitting beside Jeff in church this morning, hearing him sing the words of the final verse and knowing he meant them.  The world is a very tough place at times, and it’s unspeakably comforting to hold to an unchanging hand.

One year ago yesterday*

Hidden inside

*the post from one year ago today was linked in yesterday’s post

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

2 Comments

  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Your words today nourish me Julia. They help make me stronger, more resilient in the midst of the concerns that these long days bring.

    I too remember singing that old hymn in church but I didn’t know it was written during the Civil War. My great-great grandmother was devoted to her Brethern Church and must have sung it many times. Her first husband died at Andersonville Prison, leaving her alone with a young child. Her second husband was wounded 4 times in various battles but his faith in God brought him through it all, and he married her a year or two after returning home. They went on to raise 9 children in their log cabin. Their faith carried them through many hardships.

    I later had the warm experience of going to church with some of those children, who by then were in their 70s and 80s. They had survived life’s most frightening times — more wars, deaths, sicknesses. We sometimes sang that hymn together during worship services. I now realize that it had a very deep meaning for them. Like you, I love it too. It still speaks to our spiritual heart.

    • Judy, thanks so much for sharing these stories with us. Andersonville was said to be one of the most atrocious horrors in a terribly horrific war; what a heartbreak to lose one’s spouse that way. I am sure that she and her second husband shared a level of grief that others, even many of their own generation, could hardly imagine. Perhaps it brought them closer.

      It stuns me sometimes to think of how much our grandparents and great-grandparents suffered. Not just from war and poverty, but even the absence of basic medical care we take for granted. No antibiotics for scary infant infections, nor timely surgery for emergencies. My grandmother’s younger sister died at 18 from appendicitis. She died on the train en route to a hospital that was too far away to save her. However hard we think life is today (and it is hard), I still think it pales in comparison to what past generations endured. Perhaps it’s no accident that the hymns that mean most to me are rarely the contemporary ones. There are exceptions, but my favorites tend to be the “high church” music of past centuries, or the humbler songs of faith from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. It’s a rich heritage that too many young people are missing today.

      Thanks again for being here and sharing your thoughts and stories with us.

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