When I Can Read My Title Clear

“When I Can Read My Title Clear” … that means I’ll have updated my bifocals prescription. LOL

On a more serious note, this Memorial Day weekend I have been hearing my grandfather sing (in my mind) the words of a hymn by Isaac Watts, published in 1707:

“When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes,
And wipe my weeping eyes
I bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.”

I can hear Papaw Robinette singing that hymn just as clear as day in his strong bass voice. He was a little crazy (more than a little, diminished by dementia) by the time I knew him, but I remember many things about him.

I did a little research on this hymn because I was curious about it. Here’s what I found in a book titled The Strawberry Story: When I Can Read My Title Clear by Willie H. Mallory (GoogleBook, Xlibris Corporation, 2008):

“Uncle Milledge was known for his ability to pitch a hymn. ‘When I Can Read My Title Clear’ and ‘Free at Last’ were two of his favorite hymns. He delighted in singing hymns reminiscent of the days of slavery. ‘When I Can Read My Title Clear’ took the memories of some back to the days of slavery–their titles were first read clear when they were set free from slavery–something they never failed to feel thankful for. It temporarily relieved others from their daily plight and made them mindful that all things early comes [sic] to an end. They put their hope in heaven because earth had seemingly let them down.”

And in Lyric Studies: A Hymnal Guide, Containing Biographical Sketches of the Authors by Isaac Doricott and Thomas Collins:

[John 14:2 is listed as the scripture reference.] ‘Headed “The hope of heaven our support under trials on earth.” It was composed by Dr. Watts, and published in his Hymns, 1709 [ok, so there are discrepancies in the dates this hymn was published].” [Other rather dull information ensues.]

I was interested to learn that this hymn was sung by slaves. My grandfather might not have sung it if he had known that. He was prejudiced, which was not uncommon for his time (born in 1874, died in 1975).

I had been pondering what all this “and wipe my weeping eyes” was about, since it followed the line “I bid farewell to every fear.” Now it makes sense to me that slaves would’ve sung this song as they toiled during the day, singing as they worked.  Compared to the dreariness of their life, the thought of heaven [ultimate freedom] kept them going … as well as the hope of being freed from slavery.

I don’t have any really deep thoughts here…just gratitude for music which, as the old saying goes, “washes from the soul the dust of daily life.” And deep gratitude for being raised in a family that cherished hymns.  I would venture that more of my faith and theology have been shaped by hymns than any sermon I’ve heard, though I’ve been fortunate to hear some excellent preachers in my lifetime.

Thanks be to God for a wonderful heritage, both my family and my religious heritage.

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