In the middle of this past week, between Carol's celebration and the turmoil of moving my uncle (a task which thankfully was completed on schedule), we shared in the 80th birthday of a remarkable lady who served as Principal's Secretary at Spurgeon's for 25 years. During my tenure she was at the top of her game, holding encyclopedic knowledge of the college and its supporters. From day one I relied on her wisdom (and hard work).
Sadly, she now suffers from an unusual kind of dementia that prevents her from speaking or showing expression. When I have shown her photographs in the last couple of years she recognized people and events, and clearly followed conversation. But, tragically, she is expressionless....except.....
At her birthday party she mouthed the words when we sang 'Happy Birthday'. The group then went on to sing some of her favorite hymns. She joined in soundlessly but word perfect! 'Great is Thy faithfulness', 'How great Thou art', 'Thine be the glory' and 'Just as I am'. Apparently, the last one was a particular favorite. Before she came to Spurgeon's she worked for the evangelist Eric Hutchings and this was a great response hymn at his crusades (as with Billy Graham). Verse, after verse, we all marveled at her total involvement with us. Someone commented how extraordinary it is that hymns can connect like nothing else.
A day later, when I was clearing my uncle's attic room after many years in this Abbeyfield home, I noticed on his bedside table a radio, magnifying glass, Bible and (have you guessed?) two well-thumbed hymnbooks. He can still speak (though weakly) but again I saw the power of hymns in his life. I know it's not just with the elderly that hymns are important spiritually but this week I have seen how powerfully they can work.