Sunday, April 19, 2015

Brighten the Corner

Because today was the third Sunday of the month, it was my day to sing a song at church.  I'm the one who decided on the third Sunday because people were always asking me to sing, and I don't want to sing too much (I'm not that good, and besides, even Elvis would have had no business singing a solo at church more than once a month) so I'd put them off.  It got to be sort of a tussle, so I just said "How about once a month".  And that works.  Most times I've chosen some song I wrote myself back in my songwriting days of the 70's.  However, by now I've sung every church-worthy song I ever wrote, so today I chose one of my favorite old hymns instead.  I didn't even decide on the song until this morning.  I never bother to rehearse because it doesn't make me sound any better.  I usually don't decide what I'm going to sing until about 24 hours before church starts, and this morning I waited until the last minute.  

"Brighten the Corner" came to mind, and I knew that was the one I needed to sing.  My first memories of the song are from the Hepburn Church of Christ in Iowa.  I recall the congregation singing it when I was pretty small, and even then I loved it; I've never been able to sing it without smiling through the whole thing.  My mom, when she died, left behind four different Church-of-Christ songbooks, and this morning I searched three of them for "Brighten the Corner" to no avail.  Of course I found it on the Internet and printed off the words.  I also read how it happened to be written:   Words: Ina D. Og­don, 1913. Ear­ly in her life, Og­don had hoped to preach on the Chau­tau­qua cir­cuit. How­ev­er, her fa­ther’s ill­ness forced her to abandon her plans for an evangelistic career, in or­der to care for him at home. She wrote these encouraging words show­ing how one can serve the Lord in ma­ny dif­fer­ent ways and cir­cum­stanc­es. In other words, make the best of where you find your­self.

After printing off the words and running through the song once, I started wondering why it wasn't in any of the songbooks from churches I had attended with my parents.  I realized there was one hymn book I hadn't checked, the paperback hymnal from the little country church my grandmother used to attend... the Zion Church of Christ.  And when I checked the index, there it was.  I puzzled and pondered about why such a happy song wasn't in all those other hymnals.  I thought about the words and the happy, toe-tapping melody, and decided maybe it just wasn't "churchy" enough.  There's no mention of heaven or salvation or how hard life is this side of the Jordan... although these lines clearly have a place in any hymnal:  "Here for all your talent you will surely find a need, here reflect the Bright and Morning Star.  Even from your humble hand the bread of life may feed.  Brighten the corner where you are."

Before I sang the song this morning, I asked the congregation how many had heard of "Brighten the Corner".  Very few had.  What a shame.  

So I sang it for them, and as usual, I couldn't keep from smiling.  

Zion Church of Christ was about a quarter-mile down the road from Grandma Stevens' house.  When Big Creek got out of its banks, sometimes the little country church would flood, and all the songbooks got soaked a time or two.  Grandma took them to her house and put them on the clotheslines until they dried out.  I'm sure that's how those water marks got on the book. 

All Church of Christ songbooks have shaped notes, because the church doesn't use instrumental music in their worship, and believe it or not, shaped notes really do make it easier to read music.  They used to hold occasional "singing schools" teaching us how to read shaped notes.


Jon said...

I've never heard of that hymn, but I'm glad you got to sing it today. Your story brightened my day.


How wonderful that you got to surprise the congregation with this old song. It is nice you kept the vintage hymnals.

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

I don't believe I've heard that Hymn before either. How wonderful that you have that old hymnal from your grandmother too. I have an old hymn book here I'll have to check and see if that song is in it.