Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn written in 1779 and is one of the most recognizable songs in the English language. With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, the message has crossed over from Christian hymn to more popular folk music.
The author of this hymn, John Newton, lived a life that vacillated between sinner, soldier, sailor and Christian. At one point, he deserted the British Royal Navy and began a career as a slave trader. Newton rebelled against his captain and shipmates by crafting dirty songs and poems. This insubordination landed him in chains, imprisoned at sea and eventually led to his own enslavement and was forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone. Harrowing circumstances brought near death experiences to Newton, during which his faith in God grew to overshadow his propensity for debauchery and profanity. He showed a new commitment to God and Christianity and began to craft poems and hymns. Newton’s poems emphasized his love for Jesus, the concept of eternal salvation, a wonder at God’s grace, and joy in his renewed faith.
“Amazing Grace” was a song that we sang at the opening of our dear friend’s funeral this weekend. No one needed to read the written lyrics, the entire congregation sang the song from memory. One of the amazing things at a Samoan service is that almost everyone in the church, from the Pastor to the attendees, can BLOW. The song sounded beautiful, I think I even stayed on key throughout the verse, save for the times when tears were flowing down my cheeks.
The lyrics of the first verse are simple:
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see
The original song actually has multiple verses that emphasize a message of losing and regaining faith in God or living a less than pious existence throughout one’s life. It talks of renewal. It reminds us that no matter what our sins or or bad traits or less than holy actions have been, we can repent and accept God into our lives, for ever-lasting life in heaven. I write these words as a person who took CCD classes throughout elementary school, not as a woman who attends Catholic Mass regularly. The messages of living as a Christian are so pervasive in Western society that even receiving whispers and hints of the Word from when I was only six and seven years old have stayed with me. And the notion that accepting Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior means going to heaven after death on this Earth. I think one of the speakers or the Pastor said that our time on Earth is just borrowed and only God knows when we will be called. Dear Pam was called very early from this Earth. Her death leaves a hole in so many people’s lives and hearts. And the testimonies and Pastor’s sermon stay with me, after attending the family service last Friday.
A theme that resonated throughout the speeches was one of forgiveness, don’t let petty disagreements fester, especially amongst family members. The Pastor suggested that a wise thing to do would be to squash any fights or heal bad blood with your brothers and sisters. No one intentionally wants to leave words unsaid to a loved one who dies. Imagine the guilt and suffering that may grow out of that. No one should hang on to petty disagreements, especially with a family member. The Pastor’s words were to call your brother or sister and just say, “Let’s let that shit go. Life is too short.”
In the last two months, I have attended two funerals. Each service included testimonies from attendees and family members. One service spoke to how the deceased a life in full service to his faith. The other preached the message that life is short and we never know when God will call on us to leave our worldly existence on Earth. Both messages have been playing in my head, over and over on a loop.
I have no resolution to these messages as of yet. I am chewing on this idea of squashing petty shit with siblings and loved ones. Maybe in a few days I will have worked out a game plan…
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.
John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779