I spent nine months in hospital; the first month on hourly observation, in and out of consciousness on the critical list. During this month period, I had what I can only describe as ‘an out of body experience’, which following full consciousness was followed by a ‘calling’; a ‘re-conversion’ (or) 'strengthening’ in my belief of God’s power, presence and grace.
During my first month of hospitalisation, my parents were daily prepared by the medics for my imminent death. After I had regained full consciousness and had lived through my initial ordeal, my damaged spine led the doctors to tell me and my parents that I’d never walk again. Over the following 18 months, I was to have over fifty operations breaking and resetting my legs (not to help me walk again), but to enable me to look more normal in body appearance. I didn’t walk for three years but never stopped praying and never stopped believing that I’d someday walk again.
When I did walk again, the newspapers called me ‘miraculous’ and the hospital medics found my ability to walk again ‘inexplicable’. I was annually placed on display and used as a specimen of curiosity and inexplicable improvement by conferences of hospital specialists between 1957-1960. I have no doubt whatsoever as to the true explanation of my recovery, and that is why my belief in God’s grace, power and presence in my life has strengthened daily ever since.
Back to today’s song, ‘Amazing Grace’.This is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807). Newton wrote the words of ‘Amazing Grace’ from personal experience. He grew up without any religious conviction, but his life's path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by others' reactions to what they took as his recalcitrant insubordination and refusal to accept certain aspects of life. He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755 when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian Theology.
Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. ‘Amazing Grace’ was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year's Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper's ‘Olney’s Hymns’ but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States, however, ‘Amazing Grace’ was used extensively during the ‘Second Great Awakening’ in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than twenty melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named ‘New Britain’ to which it is most frequently sung today.
With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from struggle and despair through the mercy of God, ‘Amazing Grace’ is one of the most recognisable songs in the English-speaking world. Author Gilbert Chase writes that it is "without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns”, and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually. It has had influence in Folk Music and has become an emblematic African American spiritual song. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. ‘Amazing Grace’ saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s.
The one thing I know that I share with John Newton is the message of this musical acclaim and vocal testament of God’s constant presence, His saving grace, His infinite power and His eternal love for each of us.
Love and peace Bill xxx