2018 January 28: Jesus Loves Me
Reflections on "Jesus Loves Me" W. Zeitler
The verses to ‘Jesus Loves Me’ were written by Anna Bartlett Warner (1827–1915). Anna’s father was Henry Warner, a wealthy New York City lawyer. When he lost most of his fortune in the 1837 depression, the family was forced to move to their summer home (Good Craig) on Constitution Island in the Hudson River. It was then that Anna and her sister Susan Warner began writing to earn money. They also conducted Bible classes for cadets at the nearby fledgling Military Academy at West Point. (Perhaps you've heard of it.)
The lyrics to ‘Jesus Loves Me’ first appeared as a poem in the context of a novel called Say and Seal, written by Anna's sister Susan and published in 1860, in which the words were spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child.
In 1862 William Batchelder Bradbury (1816–1868) supplied the tune and added his own chorus "Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus Loves me..." Bradbury was born in Maine, studied music in Germany, and returned to the U.S. to become a professional organist and choir director. In 1854 he founded the Bradbury Piano Company with his brother. He died aged 52.
When composing "Reflections on 'Jesus Loves Me", my thinking was to take a childhood memory such as this song and reflect on it through the lens of the joys and sorrows that have intervened over the decades. Some childhood ideas, dreams and experiences are of course left far behind. But others end up defining the course of our lives – although perhaps reframed and deepened by a more mature and hard-won perspective. As I write this as a mature man, I still say "Yes, Jesus Loves Me", but my understanding of what that means is very different from what it meant to me as a child. Yet both understandings are still equally true.