Soothing strains of ‘Nearer my God, To Thee’ still able to move

Published 7:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2018

The amazin’ blonde and I spent last Wednesday morning watching the life celebration of George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States. Many moments during the ceremonies could not help but cause a lump to pop into your throat, but one in particular stands out.

In a most solemn, respectful moment— with the Bush family standing nearby with hands over their hearts — the soldiers carried the body of the president down the steps of the Capitol, 0ne slow step at a time, having left the Rotunda where the president had lain.

As they began the journey down the steep stairs, the band began to play one of the greatest hymns ever written: “Nearer My God, To Thee.”

“Still all my song shall be, nearer my God to thee …”

As the band played, the cameras captured the faces of all the Bush children and their spouses standing in solidarity nearby. At the playing of the song, the president’s son, George W. Bush — the 43rd president — struggled to hold in his emotions, a struggle he would lose at the end of his speech two hours later. Laura Bush, too, choked back the tears.

It is at such a time, despite the sadness, that we feel nearer to our God than at any other.

That lovely hymn, written by Sarah Flower Adams in 1841, has a sublime history. Robert J. Morgan writes about the great hymn in his book, “Then Sings My Soul.”

“It was reported,” he writes, “that the band aboard the Titanic gallantly played ‘Nearer My God, to Thee” as the great liner sank to its watery grave on April 14, 1912. A Canadian survivor told of being comforted by its strains.”

What a song, and what blessed, eternal strains. They were worthy enough to soothe the dying souls in the icy North Atlantic more than a century ago, and they were worthy to soothe a former president and his family today.

But that song soothed another soul, too, and that one in this Georgia-land many years ago.

On Oct. 6, 1973, family members, co-workers from the Callaway cotton mill, loved ones from our little Southern church and neighbors from all around the town of LaGrange gathered at the Murphy Avenue Church of Christ to celebrate and mourn the life of a mother of four: Ms. Fanny Louise Bowen, daughter of Preacher and Zona Belle Miller.

Ms. Louise died far too young — at 42 — but left behind such trail of godliness and grace that her influence would be felt for many, many years — even t0day.

As they have done a hundred times, Larry Thompson and the Prince-family singers provided the beautiful, four-part harmony and hymns of comfort and blessing for the elegant Georgia lady.

Two songs often still stream through my mind today — one, “All Things Are Different In Heaven” — how true we know that to be — and “Nearer my God, To Thee.”

I have not heard that song in the 45 years since without thinking of mama and all the lessons she taught on that blessed red soil, beneath these tall, elegant pines.

Emotions always tug down inside at the hearing and singing of the song. How fitting it is, I thought this morning: Ms. Sarah Flower Adams’ hymn was worthy to help escort a great president to his final place of rest today.

And it was worthy to escort the greatest Southern lady I ever knew to hers almost half a century ago.

So, still — both for yesteryear and for today — I can say with assurance: All my song for now, and forever, shall be, Nearer my God, to Thee.