Marriages tend to work especially well when husband and wife have shared interests—and even more so if their shared interests have a creative bent. That was the case for Walter Stillman Martin (1862-1935) and his wife, Civilla (1866-1948). They had been drawn to each other, in large measure, because of their shared interest in music and their shared faith.
That turned out to be a blessing for the church, because the Martins wrote a number of hymns, some of which became quite well known. “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” is one of those. “God Will Take Care of You” is another. Civilla wrote the words, and Walter set her words to music.
Jesus’ words provide the background for this hymn. He said:
“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?
Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s will,
but the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Therefore don’t be afraid.
You are of more value than many sparrows.”
But the immediate inspiration came from a woman with a chronic illness. Civilla visited her, and was struck by the difficulties that were such a regular part of the woman’s life. Civilla asked her if she ever got discouraged. The woman responded with a question of her own, “How could I be discouraged?” She said that she knew that God loves every sparrow, and felt certain that God loved her—and would take care of her.
Inspired by the woman’s faith, Civilla went home and wrote this song.
Before researching this song, I had always assumed that it was an African-American spiritual—and was surprised to learn otherwise. I made that assumption, because Ethel Waters, an African-American woman, sang this song in a number of Billy Graham’s crusades. Her spirited rendition touched people’s hearts, and I grew up listening to her sing it. This song has also become a staple of African-American worship.
Google “Ethel Waters” and you will find YouTube recordings of this song.
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Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount
Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan