Thursday, June 01, 2006

Peace like a River

I was strolling through my blogroll last night when I arrived at Dawg on the Lawn and read how he drew strength from the words to his favorite much so that he has them posted in his work space. I found this uplifting and a neat idea. Those old hyms are not only set to beautiful music, but are some of the most insightful poetry one can read. When removed from the stanza format and read quietly, they sort of take on a new meaning. So I thought of my favorite hymn with it's powerful words, and then I thought of the story behind it and the man who wrote it. I'd heard it before and found the two, together, to be quite moving. This man, tried and tested, yet steadfast with the patience of Job, teaches a tough lesson to belly aching Christians everywhere. So if you haven't heard this story, take the time to read it. Maybe you too, will glean some ribbon of hope through it's sadness.

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.


When peace like a river, attendeth my way;

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, 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 hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

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

He lives--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, Oh my soul.

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

And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,

The trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend;

Even so, it is well with my soul...

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

~~Horatio Gates Spafford [1873]

I rose early this morning and that song was still in my head. So I left a comment for Dawg and decided I'd nothing better to do than share it with all of you. I love mornings like this. I'm the only one awake and the silence is golden. But today, quite different than most, I feel somehow privileged to watch the sun rise. The words of that song and the tragedy behind it have caused me to reflect on my good fortune and have given me strength, at least for today, and it's only 6:30 am. I like reading the words to this song to begin my day. Perhaps I shall do the same tomorrow...and then maybe the next. Thanks for the idea Dawg.

Do you have a favorite hymn?