from St Anselms Chapel Center @ USF
Writing poetry by the age of 8, as a child she was zealous in memorizing the Bible, usually completing five chapters a week. She became a student in the New York Institute for the Blind, remaining there afterwards as a teacher. Though the principal at one point asked her to give up the “distraction” of writing poetry, others recognized her gifts. As a visiting phrenologist said:
“Here is a poetess. Give her every possible encouragement. Read the best books to her and teach her the finest that is in poetry. You will hear from this young lady some day.”
And they did! As a young woman, she was addressing Congress and, throughout her life, knew all the Presidents.
She was under contract to write three hymns a week for her publisher but she often wrote six or seven in a day. She knew how to play a variety of instruments and occasionally set her words to music but more often musicians brought music to her and she wrote the words.
William Doane dropped by her house one day on his way to catch a train to an upcoming Sunday School convention. He needed words for a tune he had composed for the convention but he only had 35 minutes before his train would be leaving. He played the tune once. Fanny scribbled out some words immediately and said: “Your music says ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus.’ Read it on the train and hurry. You don’t want to be late!” It became one of her most famous hymns.
I am sorry to say that the 1982 Episcopal hymnal unfortunately includes none of Fanny Crosby’s hymns; however, those of us with Baptist roots (and Baptist grandmothers) have a great fondness for her writing.
It is particularly fitting that the selections today deal with sight and blindness. The Gospel reading is quite short but references a much longer story in the Gospel of John. The disciples had asked Jesus if a certain man, blind from birth, was born blind due to his sin or that of his parents? Confuting the commonly held notion that suffering is deserved because it comes from sin, Jesus replies that neither the blind man nor his parents have sinned causing the blindness.
And he heals the man.
What follows is a somewhat lengthy process of discovery for the formerly blind man. His neighbors question whether he is the man they knew as blind or just resembles that man. He tells them about his process of healing but admits that he doesn’t know who Jesus is or where he has gone.
The Pharisees question him since his healing has occurred on a Sabbath, breaking the Sabbath laws. They are divided in their response to the man’s testimony. How can this healer be a man of God if he doesn’t keep the Sabbath? But how could he accomplish this healing if he is not a man of God?
Unable to accept the witness of the formerly blind man, they call in the man’s parents for verification of his identity. The parents confirm the identity of the man but perhaps in fear say he is of age and can speak on his own behalf. What follows is a wonderful exchange of words and wits in which the Pharisees become increasingly more frustrated and the healed man more and more outspoken and also, a bit ironic.
Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.
I have told you already and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?
Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.
Lord, I believe….
I once was blind but now I see.
Three times the blind man humbly confesses his ignorance, knowing only the irrefutable fact that a miracle has occurred and he now has sight. Three times the Pharisees pass from awareness through a growing darkness, plunging into a spiritual blindness.
I wonder if that is not how we all come to know Jesus? We long for healing, we instinctively reach forward, to “touch the hem of his garment” as it were. Suddenly, from our blindness, we are blinking in bold daylight.
And, as tonight’s reading from 1st Peter says:
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”