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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

March 12, 2008

Song of the Week: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

My favorite guilty pleasure in posting the Pax Plena Song of the Week segment is the quiet aside I get to spend traipsing among memories past, listening to the songs I select.

For many who grew up and attended church in the south, I suspect this song of the week will surely bring an abundance of memories all their own. Written during the golden age of itinerant preaching, Ira F. Stanphill's 1950 hymn I Know Who Holds Tomorrow melds the delicate lyrics of contemplation with a soft melody that grows in strength and truth.

The legend behind the hymn according to a religious blog is that Stanphill wrote I Know Who Holds Tomorrow during the dissolution of his marriage. According to acquaintances, Stanphill's wife grew tired of his ministry during its zenith and left him to pursue a career of her own in entertainment. Sadly, she was killed in a car crash sometime thereafter. The lyrics aptly convey the emotions of listlessness and doubt Ira Stanphill encountered while going through such a difficult period in life.

What makes the song especially meaningful to yours truly is that it so accurately reflects the present nature of life's spatial plane. For the recovering poets among us, Stanphill's song may bring to mind of Yeats' reflections on autumn:
"Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us with a kiss and a tear on they drooping brow."
If Yeats reminds us that seasons of passion and love are perennially moving targets, then Stanphill simply extends the metaphor a bit further to say that all of life is a moving target; and the only certainty we have is vested in the One Who Holds Tomorrow.

The conclusion, then, for twenty-somethings, is that the most steadfast, bedrock, take-it-to-the-bank promise of life is uncertainty. Or to put it more abstractly, uncertainty is our only certitude. And it is exactly this certitude that is so beautifully captured in song by Stanphill. The lesson of I Know Who Holds Tomorrow is that even inasmuch as we try to figure it all out, we cannot know which course is the best in life until hindsight blinds us by the force of its illumination. The song simply communicates that this is as it should be, for all of life is trial and error.

Given my present circumstance, the reality of uncertainty as embodied in the Stanphill song is intriguing. So often, I try to micro-manage my life even down to the quarter-hour. But the reality is that I'm not guaranteed the next second much less the next 15 minutes, half-hour, or day - much less tomorrow. This is not to say that the particular message of the song is that we are without choice. Even while we may feel subject to the fates, we are in control of the choices we make between hither and yon. Indeed, it is somewhat reassuring in the song that we have been in control all along. What the song does is reassure us that this moment is not all there is, even though it is all we have been given.

The broader point of the song, then, is that we can never know what tomorrow holds for our lives unfold in a series of moments. And the Giver of Moments stands by, holds our hand, and tells us, 'this uncertainty is, ok.'

With this in mind, please enjoy the robust baritone of Gospel Music Hall of fame legend George Younce as he sings Ira Stanphill's I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.




I Know Who Holds Tomorrow
By Ira F. Stanphill

I don't know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don't borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.

I don't worry o'er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I'll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

Every step is getting brighter
As the golden stairs I climb;
Every burden's getting lighter,
Every cloud is silver-lined.

There the sun is always shining,
There no tear will dim the eye;
At the ending of the rainbow
Where the mountains touch the sky.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

I don't know about tomorrow;
It may bring me poverty.
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the one who stands by me.

And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood;
But His presence goes before me
And I'm covered with His blood.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand...
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5 comments:

joanchandler said...

I accidentally stumled upon this post. Ira Stanphill was married to my father's cousin. I grew up listening to Ira's music. This is a particular favorite of mine, in part because it was also a favorite of my grandparents. My granddad died a couple of years before I was born, and this was sung at his funeral. But I have vivid memories of my dear grandmother singing it, and any time I see a reference to this tune, I can still hear her sweet voice in my head as she sang it. Thanks for a wonderful walk down memory lane!

Chuck Maglaughlin said...

In person I heard Ira give the story behind "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow." Funny how what I heard five feet away from me does not exactly jive with what other websites show. Ira shared how his early ministry with his young wife had been fruitful, but the travel and the meager financial payback was not exactly lending itself to the betterment of his marriage with his wife, his accompanist and singing partner. Then came the birth of his baby boy. Not long after, the strain was beginning to get too much for his wife. She seemed distant. It all came to a head one day when she pulled up to Ira on the back of a motorcycle being driven by a "Hell's Angel." To Ira's horror, both began to laugh at and mock him for his undying faith in His Savior. They cried, "Where is your God now, when you need Him the most"? As they screeched the tires and burned rubber all the way down the street, Ira's heart almost gave way to their unbelief. He left to return home where he was living alone after his wife had left and divorced him. He was deeply crushed. Suddenly he heard loud sirens racing past, outside his door. He decided to see what all the ruckus was about, over the hill at the end of his road. There he was confronted with the most ghastly thing he had ever seen or imagined. There lying in a huge of pool of blood all twisted and broken with flesh and bone scattered all over the road was his little boy's mother and his once life long partner in ministry. Next to her was her HEADLESS driver! They had wiped out in their attempt to show off and mock God's truly anointed. As Ira turned to walk away and return home, the words to the song began to emerge for all eternity to enjoy...My Mom's all-time favorite, now in His dear presence.

Tory said...

@ Joan and Chuck - Thanks for your comments. I haven't been as diligent, of late, at checking my comments, but I did want to thank each you for sharing your connection both to Mr. Stanphill and the song.

It's a special piece of music with a powerful message of faith and trust in Jesus. I always feel uplifted whenever I listen to it.

Thanks again! Tory

Justice Man said...

This is a great inspiring background/history of this good song which I remember singing this back in school days.

Yes, the fact that Lord Jesus Christ holds my future gives me the purpose and hope for living the next day.

God bless!

Hai Vung Lian said...

This is one of my favorite songs since I was in college in Mandalay University in Myanmar but I could not sing all verses in that time.mi love it so much. We live in uncertain future but this song Gives me a great hope and a stronger faith in God who holds and knows about tomorrow for me.

Welcome!

Organic, free-range thought courtesy of your average, coffee-addicted, American Indian, academic. Program Manager @IGPatUA.


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