The Story of Amazing Grace
John Newton was born in London in 1725. His mother died when he was six years old. He went to sea with his father at age 11 and was pressed into service with the Royal Navy at age 18. His seagoing career was marked by headstrong disobedience. He had a reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery which even shocked other sailors. He was known as "The Great Blasphemer". He did not simply stop practicing religion - he actually denounced his faith.
Newton eventually left the Royal Navy and went to work on a slave ship. His insubordination continued and caused him to be removed from duty in Sierra Leone, West Africa where he was forced to work on the plantation of a slave trader - practically a slave himself. He was finally rescued through the intervention of his father, but he continued his career in the slave trade.
His profane reputation continued during his time working on the ship Greyhound. On one voyage the Greyhound was caught up in a violent storm. A man was washed overboard at the spot where Newton had stood moments before. He tied himself to the pump he was working to keep from being washed overboard himself. Later he steered the ship for eleven hours - the whole time all were sure the Greyhound would be lost. At some point during the ordeal John Newton cried out for God's mercy - even though he thought he had lived a life too wicked to receive it. He survived the storm - looking back later he realized he had truly experienced grace.
After this, Newton slowly began to change. He continued to work in the slave trade, becoming the captain of a slave ship. But he came to believe that God had sent him a profound message and had begun to work through him. He married Polly Catlett and sought seafaring work outside the slave trade, but finally had to leave the sea due to serious illness.
John Newton studied religion, eventually becoming an Anglican Minister. He became a devout and respectable person, and yet still headstrong. He leaned toward evangelism and even socialized with Methodists - controversial within the Anglican community. He also lent his support and pulpit to the abolitionist movement. The blasphemer and slave trader had come full circle.
John Newton also became a writer of hymns. His most famous hymn is Amazing Grace, published in 1779 - a reflection of his life. It is one of the most recognizable songs of the English speaking world. Its appeal has endured more than 200 years, performed about ten million times annually and has been recorded thousands of times.
A Memorial Service for a Friend
Seven years ago my daughter Jessica and I performed Amazing Grace at my mother's memorial service. It was was a favorite of my parents. Since then Jess and I have been asked to perform the hymn at several funerals and memorial services - and every time it brings to mind the story of John Newton's life.
Jess and I recently performed Amazing Grace at the memorial service of a family friend - Larry. Larry's father-in-law delivered a touching eulogy followed by the hymn. Jess's voice is just beautiful for the song, but her haunting fiddle piece just takes my breath away. There was not a dry eye in the place - the first verse was repeated at the end and everyone there joined in. This was the cathartic moment so needed for such an occasion, followed by the feeling of release - with tears turning into smiles. A song of redemption written more than two hundred years ago still resonates to this day.
Jessica Almand and Her Guitar Player
Rehearsing Amazing Grace before the Memorial Service
Do you Want to Change Your Life
Most of us do not have to bear the burden of John Newton - but many of us do review our lives from time to time. Even people who have lived fulfilling, productive lives sometimes reach a point where they want something different. This often happens as we approach what used to be called retirement. These days most people want something more than the easy chair and puttering around the house. We have a lot of living to do, and - with the financial crisis - many still have a living to make.
I have never believed in the purely "geographical cure" - that simply changing locations can change your life. But it can be a part of an overall plan to change your life - to try a new culture, a new language, a new way of living in a place of interest to you. I also don't think it makes sense to make an international move only to save money. But again, if it is part of an overall plan of renewal it can be a way to deal with reduced income brought on by the financial crisis.
Ecuador has been a great for Dalynda and me. We do not live there full time - we maintain our home in Hampton, Georgia as well as our apartment in Quito. Like many, I thought I had retired a few years back. Now I am consulting, which allows time for Ecuador - and The Ecuador Chronicles. Dalynda has studied painting and has become quite an artist. We have changed our lives - take a look at Ecuador:
Mount Imbabura - Northern Sierra
View from Our Teraza on a Rainy Quito Afternoon
What a beautiful View of Creation
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