The first time Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe, he half-heartedly said, “So you’re the little lady who wrote the book that started the war.” Stowe is famous for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), a heart-wrenching portrayal of the plight of slaves, credited for sparking the Civil War and England’s abolitionist movement.
But Stowe’s celebrated novel was only one of her many works. Her social activism was merely an outgrowth of a deeper passion.
Stowe’s work was driven by her faith, and her public life fueled by her private devotion. This woman habitually rose early to enjoy the freshness of a new day and time alone with God. Not surprisingly, the hymn she wrote is one for morning meditation, titled “Still, Still With Thee.” Four of the hymn’s six stanzas are in the box, right.
Daybreak symbolizes new life, fresh mercies, the beauty of sunrise, songs of wakening birds, flight of night’s shadows — “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee . . .” (Song of Solomon 4: 6; 2:17, NIV). But there’s something “lovelier than daylight.” It is waking to the “sweet consciousness” of God’s abiding presence: “When I awake, I am still with thee” (Psalm 139:18, KJV).
For context, Psalm 139 is David’s exploration of God’s omnipresence and omniscience, divine attributes whereby He is everywhere present all at once and is intimately acquainted with all His creation, including those made in His image. These are anchor points for the sanctity and dignity of human life, encouragement for those who spend themselves defending these inalienable rights.
They were for Stowe, and the hymn they inspired was deeply meaningful to fellow activist Booker T. Washington. Having fallen gravely ill while traveling in New York and sensing death was imminent, he requested (against medical advice) to be brought back to the Tuskegee, Alabama campus. Arriving there at dawn, and gazing across the sun-crowned landscape, Washington requested that the chapel choir sing “Still, Still With Thee.” As they did, he closed his eyes in death (November 14, 1915).
This hymn is sung at Tuskegee chapel services to this day. Don’t miss the resurrection theme in the final stanza. Morning is symbolic of resurrection, fadeless day, life’s shadows gone, forever with Him.
Until then, don’t let today’s microwave culture squeeze you into its mold. Take the crockpot approach — slow, unhurried. Do it early, day still unsoiled by life’s toils and cares. This was Stowe’s secret. Make it yours.
Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee:
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.
Alone with Thee, amid the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with Thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.
When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath the wings’ o’ershading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.