I have a significant visual impairment, and I was interested to hear and read recently about the 19th century American hymn-writer Fanny Crosby, who was blind for most of her long life. I was listening to the sermon on Sunday Worship on Radio 4, while also thinking about starting this blog, when suddenly Fanny Crosby was mentioned as the writer of ‘Blessed Assurance’. On looking her up, I found that she had been encouraged when a child to learn long passages from the Bible by heart, and that she was also the author of ‘To God Be The Glory’, with its rousing chorus: ‘Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice’.
Fanny Crosby seems to have been quite resigned to her blindness, and grateful for the gifts of a good memory and an ability with words. I can truly identify with this gratitude: although I can’t claim to have learnt much of the Bible, or to have written any hymns as yet, I do have a good memory, and I feel there is at least one hymn (and maybe even a sermon!) somewhere within me. In the meantime, this blog is a start! I’m far more influenced by words than images – you’ll see me referring to the radio more often than to television, for example – and, of course, I pay a lot of attention to what I can hear.
St Thomas’ Vicarage is situated on a fairly busy road junction, and is also very close to a railway bridge, so there’s always plenty to be heard (not all of it particularly welcome, I must admit!) I love trains, and find their sound quite comforting at any time of day or night, but someone driving past in the small hours with music blaring isn’t quite so pleasant – I often find myself praying for their ears and their neighbours in equal measure.
When we say Evening Prayer or Compline here, or in periods of silence during Community meetings, there’s such a contrast between the quietness inside and the noise outside, and it’s a reminder of the inner peace which is available to all of us through Christ in the midst of a turbulent world.
I woke up very early one Sunday morning recently, when it was still dark and there was less noise than usual, and I could hear a blackbird singing. The song went on for a long time, and although the sound was temporarily lost to me when a car or train went past, I knew it was still there and that I would soon be able to hear it again. My parents were also visually impaired, and always loved listening to blackbirds in London when I was a child. My father has died now, but my mother still gets excited when she hears one, and I completely understand why. Their song is full of such beauty, serenity and comfort, and is easy to hear and recognise – if only we listen for it!