Saturday, May 14, 2016

What "Amazing Grace" Means to Me

Judy Collins writes the Introduction to “Amazing Grace:  The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song,” by Steve Turner.  She writes that in the late 60’s she was going through a difficult time in her life, protesting the war in Vietnam, facing difficulties in her marriage and  trying to maintain custody of her son.  For help she joined a support group.

“One night after a particularly argumentative meting I was asked to sing a song that might bring us all back together; a song we could all sing and relate to.  I chose ‘Amazing Grace.’  Instantly, all disquiet faded from the group.  We stood together, singing. Everyone seemed to know at least part of the song.  We were transformed to a lace that was calm and serene, peaceful and loving.
My producer, Mark Abramson, with whom I was working on my current album, was at the meeting that night and called me in the morning to tell me ‘Amazing Grace’ was a song that should be included on the album.  I quickly agreed.

In 1970 I recorded the song at St. Paul’s chapel on the campus of Columbia University in New York.  The chorus singing was comprised of many close personal friends, including Stacy Keach, Harris Yulin, Yafa Lerner, and even one of my brothers, Dinver John.  The recording was truly a coming together of family and friends, kith and kin.

The song swept across the country, becoming an instant hit and for that reason, creating room for other spiritual songs in the poop repertory. 

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
'Twas blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Then when we first begun.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
Was blind, but now I see.

 John Newton (1725-1807) was a slave trader for 20 years, and then he became an Anglican Cleric, serving Olney, Buckingham, for 20 years.  For his Sunday sermons, he often wrote hymns to supplement his readings.  During this time he underwent a conversion experience, overcoming the guilt he experienced as a slave trader, and in December of 1772, he wrote “Amazing Grace,” expressing how grace overcame his wretchedness.

“John Fawcett, a Baptist minister, was so impressed when he heard Newton speak of his dramatic conversion that he asked him to write his story so that it could be passed around.  This was done in a series of letters to Fawcett, completing the last letter with this comment, ‘I pray God this little sketch may animate those who shall peruse it to praise the exceeding riches of His goodness to an unworthy wretch.”
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I selected this song because I, too, felt like a wretch for a good part of my life.  In time, I came to learn that it was not my effort that saved me, it was God’s Grace, and I know precisely when and where that occurred.  

On August 7, 1997, Christine and I crossed the threshold of Endeavor Academy.
Looking back, I see that moment as an apex:
Everything I had experienced in my life, came to a point here, and then opened up, and is till opening.
Always looking ahead in my life, I thought if anything were to get done, I would have to do it.  Looking back, I realize that all along I was being guided, and the way was constantly narrowing.
The sports, he degrees, the studying, the reading, the writing, the failed marriage, the failed jobs, drinking and smoking pot and partying, even the apparent successes in teaching and coaching and writing, and the clear-cut crossings, meeting Christine in the fall of 1985,coming across the Course in the fall of 1986, sitting in the closet of my classroom in the late 90’s during my Free Period, meditating, pleading, “God, please get me out of here,” encountering brothers on the 4th of July Weekend, 1997, and finally crossing the threshold of Endeavor Academy, “just for 30 days,” and meeting Master Teacher.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
'Twas blind, but now I see.

Salvation’s time has come.  Today is set by Heaven itself to be a time of GRACE for you and for the world. (Lesson 131, No one can fail who seeks to reach the truth.)

The power that this song has held for 250 years is because it is the perfect blending of sound and sense, medium and message, form and content.

First, the sheer poetry of it;  its rhythm is iambic.

a MAZ/ ing GRACE,/ how SWEET/ the SOUND
that SAVED/ a WRETCH/ like ME./
i ONCE/ was LOST,/ but NOW/ i'm FOUND/
'Twas BLIND,/ but NOW/ i SEE./

As far as sound and sense, listen to the assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds:

amAzing, grAce, sAved
swEEt, mE, sEE
hOW,sOUnd, nOW, fOUnd, nOW
lIke, I’m,blInd, I

Listen to the consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds:

amAZing, grACe, SWeet, SOund, SAved, wretCH, onCE, wAS, loST, T’wAS, SEEE

Whenever Christine and I did Session, the last song we played before we began talking was Ronnie Earl’s, “Amazing Grace.”