Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just As We Are

The hymn, "Just As I Am, Without One Plea" (pg 693 in The Hymnal 1982) is often associated with the Rev. Billy Graham, who used it for decades as a kind of “theme song” for his altar calls. 

But the hymn was actually written by an Anglican woman in 1834 named Charlotte Elliot, who was granddaughter of a priest of the Church of England. She wrote more than 150 hymns in her lifetime, but none perhaps more well-known than this one. From the age of 32, Ms. Elliott was home-bound. She wasn’t able to attend church services anymore, which sometimes left her feeling depressed and doubtful about her own usefulness and ultimately about her faith.  

Her brother, the Rev. H.V. Elliott, had this plan for St. Mary's Hall at Brighton: to build a school that would offer (at a nominal cost) an education for the daughters of clergymen. To support this work, the parish was in the process of holding a fair. 

Different century to be sure, but as I imagine St. Mary’s Hall in the week before the fair I suspect it looked something like the parish I serve looks right now as we get ready for the Church Mouse Fair this Saturday. Such events require a lot of volunteer hours and hard work. St. Mary’s was no exception: everyone was preparing for it as the "church mice" were all scurrying to and fro, and baking pies and making crafts and all the rest. 

Everyone except Charlotte Elliott, sister of the vicar, who was physically unable to help.

The night before the fair she tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep because she was feeling so useless. It became for her a dark night of the soul. As she wrestled with all of these emotions, however, she eventually came to the realization that God’s amazing grace and steadfast love were for her too, even in her isolation.  

So it was that at the age of 45, thirteen years after being confined to her home, she wrote this poem as her own way of preparing for this church fair. In it she expressed her faith that God’s grace was stronger than her fear and that she was accepted and beloved of God, just as she was. 

Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt; fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come. I come. 

Her biographer has noted that “though weak and feeble in body, she possessed a strong imagination and a well-cultured and intellectual mind...”  Indeed she did. May her prayer lead us to courage and hope, knowing that we are beloved of God just as we are.

Just as I am, thy love unknown has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea, thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come. I come.

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