Sunday, November 29, 2009

"...While in God confiding, I cannot but rejoice"

Last week on the anniversary of his birth in 1731 Conjubilant With Song recognized William Cowper, the author of two of my favorite hymns: "Sometimes a Light Surprises" [see below] and "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," both influenced by Cowper's experience of depression but recalled in the context of his certainty about God's good providence. From Conjubilant:
He was educated for a career in law, but felt unequal to the pressure of the necessary examinations for a position as a clerk to the House of Lords and attempted suicide three times. This led to his first confinement in an asylum for the insane at St. Alban's. Modern diagnosis of his condition generally supposes it to be manic depression or bipolar disorder. Upon his recovery, he moved to Huntingdon to be near one of his brothers, and took lodgings with the Unwin family. .... During this time, Cowper and the Unwins met John Newton, who suggested that they move to Olney, the parish where he was now curate.

Cowper and Newton shared an interest in hymnwriting, and each helped to encourage the other. Their influential collection, Olney Hymns, was eventually published in 1779. Cowper's sixty-eight contributions to that volume include a good number that are still sung today. Today's hymn takes its themes from the Sermon on the Mount (today's Gospel reading for Thanksgiving in my church) and from Habakkuk 3:17-18. Though this one may not have remained among his most popular, it is still one of my favorites.

Sometimes a light surprises
The child of God who sings;
A light from One who rises
On gentle, healing wings:
When comforts are declining,
God grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God's salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow
Bring with it what it may,
It can bring with it nothing
But God will bear us through:
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe all people, too:
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And God who feeds the ravens
Will give all children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their usual fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet, God the same abiding,
Whose praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in God confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.
[more]
Conjubilant With Song: William Cowper