After working much of the day at my office today, I decided to attend the 5:00 PM Mass at a nearby church. I was a bit taken aback when the opening hymn was "Amazing Grace". How striking that it was there to greet me on the final evening of this Week of Grace.
As happens with so many things that become overly-familiar with time, the powerful words of this hymn may not stir our notice anymore. However, a fresh meaning emerges from this verse when we consider the life story of John Newton, its author.
John's early life was not an easy one. His father was a shipping merchant and often away at sea. His mother died when he was 6, resulting first in a stepmother who was not interested in him and then a boarding school where he was mistreated. After an apprenticeship on his father's ship at age 11, he was pressed into service with the Royal Navy.
John was known as a rebellious and disobedient young man. He quite publicly renounced God as "myth" and became known for his extremely profane language. After deserting the Navy, he began working on slave trading ships, continuing his outlandish behaviors by mocking his captain and antagonizing his mates.
It was not until one very long and turbulent storm at sea, during which he witnessed another sailor washed overboard, that John found himself crying out to God for mercy.
He did not change his life immediately. It was still a few years before he left the slave trade and began his study of Christianity. Although the moment of his plea to God remained in his heart, he struggled with whether he could possibly be worthy of His mercy.
Once accepting that mercy, however, he proceeded to be ordained to ministry in the Church of England. Though not the most polished of speakers, he involved himself in the lives of the poor people he served and preached to them from his own experience as one who struggled with sin.
Let us now experience anew the hymn that shares with us how amazing God's grace truly is - from someone whose life was transformed by it...
(You may read the words below or, by clicking on the play button beneath the text, listen to me read the words to you in a meditative fashion.)
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
(May you be blessed with this amazing grace, now and always, as we draw this special week to a close. Once again, I will take a brief break and then begin the Week of Mercy. Your comments and contributions are most welcome and may be e-mailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)