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Thursday, July 21, 2005

I couldn't resist

Across the parking lot from our office is a beautiful old church. I’ve walked by it lots of times, but never stepped inside. They open their doors at lunch time, and I’ve often been tempted to wander in, but always had some other destination or deadline.

Today, when I wandered past, I couldn’t resist going inside. They have instrumental music piped outside, and it was the music that drew me in. They were playing “It is well with my soul” and if you knew the history of that song and its connection to my family, you’d understand why I was drawn inside.

My dad loved hymns. Not that he liked ALL hymns – he was rather discriminate in his tastes - he loved hymns with depth and meaning and some thought put into the words. He loved hymns that came from some place of deep understanding on the part of the songwriter. He loved history and he loved stories. This particular hymn has all the right elements – good writing, depth of meaning, and a story behind it.

Sitting there in that magnificent church, gazing at the stained glass windows and fine architecture, and listening to that hymn, felt like a holy moment. It felt like Dad was sitting there right beside me, his head bent slightly over the hymnal.

We sang that song at Dad’s funeral two years ago. As we sang - the tears rolling down our cheeks - my family stood to our feet, united by our love for Dad and our belief that he would want us to say “It is well with my soul,” even in the midst of our tragedy.

Here’s the story behind the song…

In 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. When it was all over, 300 people were dead and 100,000 were homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown Chicago real estate, he'd lost a great deal to the fire. And his one son (he had four daughters) had died about the same time. Still, for two years Spafford--who was a friend of evangelist Dwight Moody--assisted the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken ruined by the fire.

After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They were to go to England to join Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades, then travel in Europe. Horatio Spafford was delayed by some business, but sent his family on ahead. He would catch up to them on the other side of the Atlantic.

Their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio's wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage (one of only 47 survivors among hundreds), their four daughters--Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie--were killed. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: "saved alone."

Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and the two finally met up with Dwight Moody. "It is well," Spafford told him quietly. "The will of God be done."

Though reports vary as to when he did so, Spafford was led during those days of surely overwhelming grief to pen the words to one of the most beautiful hymns we know, beloved by Christians lowly and great.

And here are the words to the song…

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

6 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

I've heard the story before but am glad to be reminded of it. It's a great hymn.

Linda said...

What a powerful story and although I too have a bit of baggage when it comes to hymns, this has always been one of my favourites.

R&B said...

What a great post. I really needed that.

I love hymns. I love modern praise music too. Our band did this hymn not long ago a capella. It was wonderful just to be a part of ...

Thanks ...

Accidental Poet said...

I like to sing hymns because it feels like my Dad and your Dad are there singing with me ...

Dale said...

Great post, Heather. Thanks for purging my tear ducts.

Judy said...

I love that hymn too.

We have a lady at our church who several times a year tells a 'hymn story'. This one is my favorite.

And, the WAY she tells it would cause Osama bin Laden to weep tears of repentence and call off all bombing of innocent and guilty peoples.

Really. She's that good.