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EBON PINION

by Mary Ellen Evans 


My mother sung her way through her days. She often would sing, whistle or hum a particular hymn she liked from worship that week but she also had particular hymns that she favored as she did her housework. As I walked out the door each morning, she was standing at the sink full of dishes singing “To the Work.” She mopped the floors to “Bringing in the Sheaves” She had many favorites that spent the day with her.

While I don’t sing aloud as much as Mother did, I have a hymn or two in my head most days. I often wake up with one spinning about in my head. Like Mother, I find they give me comfort and joy, they sometimes guide me (“Each day I’ll do a golden deed…”) and even in despair, they lift my spirits (“Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin…”). I find I favor “the old songs” more than the ones of the last twenty years. I love the harmony and poetic imagery that seems to be missing in many “new songs.” The “new” songs seem to all be praise songs. There is nothing at all wrong with that, but sometimes I need a song that sooths and comforts me, that quiets my spirit, that calms my soul.

Oddly enough, one of those songs, “Night With Ebon Pinion,” is disliked by many and is rarely sung today. I think that is because it is so steeped in an imagery that few understand. It was first published in a hymnal in 1871 and J.P. Powell, who wrote the music to Jameson’s words, was a follower of Alexander Campbell. It had a long run in our brotherhood hymnals until the 1980s when it had fallen out of favor.

“Night with Ebon Pinion, Brooded oe’r the vale;

All around was silent, Save the night wind’s wail,

When Christ, the man of sorrows, In tears and sweat as blood,

Prostrate in the garden, Raised His voice to God.” (1st verse of Night With Ebon Pinion by L. H. Jameson and J. P. Powell, 1871)

Who is Ebon Pinion anyway? Ebon Pinion is not a person but a description. Ebon or ebony describes the blackness of the spirit, mood and hope; a dark brooding place and time (Christ praying in Gethsemane Mk. 14.32-41).

Pinion has two definitions, both applicable here. Pinion is the name of the wing feathers that allows a bird to fly. It also means to pin someone or something down, as well as the instrument used to do the pinning. The night in the garden of Gethsemane was the Prince of Darkness pinning down the Prince of Light and trying to suck out all hope for mankind from him. It was Satan’s attempt to clip Christ’s symbolic wings to be able to fly to heaven. The silence shows all have forsaken him and he fights this battle alone. The wail of the night wind is symbolic of the cries of those in Satan’s domain letting Christ know he must soon join them to complete his next step in the battle for the souls of mankind. What a haunting picture these few words paint and how beautifully the music fits the words.

This is the song that most often filters through my head as I take the Lord’s Supper each week. It helps me to remember what Christ went through for me.

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Won’t you share with us one of your favorite hymns? Tell your sisters why it is meaningful to you.

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