I grew up in church. Ours was a United Church of Christ church which I often described as “laid back Methodist.” It’s certainly one of the more liberal denominations and I would never have characterized our pastors or congregation as “bible-thumpers.” Nevertheless, my folks attended every Sunday (and still do), as did I through high school. I was baptized as a baby, confirmed as a teenager.
I’ve many memories of church retreats at a nearby campground (which seemed to me as a child to be a world away), of church picnics, of candlelit Christmas Eve services, of Lily-adorned Easters, of Sunday School, of “Bible Baseball” (the genesis — no pun intended — of my competitive approach toward trivia.) We had hymnals — two, actually, an older, more traditional one and a newer one that definitely had the 60’s vibe going on — and sang a variety of them each Sunday.
But I don’t recall singing “It Is Well With My Soul” as I was growing up. It’s possible that we did but if so, I certainly was not familiar with the story behind it. That is something I learned much more recently. For those not familiar with it:
This hymn was written after traumatic events in [Horatio] Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his son at the age of two and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died. Bliss called his tune Ville du Havre, from the name of the stricken vessel.
I’ve had my share of low moments in my life. Some that had me literally collapsed in a heap on the floor. Yet I can’t fathom the grief Horatio Spafford (and his wife) must have endured. Which is, of course, what renders this hymn all the more powerful. To suffer as he suffered and still be able to dig down deep and tap into that wellspring of faith is an amazing testament.
Last week, on Easter, I shared what I view as Love Notes from God. I included a link to the Easter service from the church I attend now. It was a wonderful service and reminded me why I need to get back to regularly attending. One of the highlights was the sharing of this video:
As the beginning of the video indicates, “Recently, people from various churches across the St. Louis area gathered to record our version of a song that has inspired us.” And inspire it does. It’s a beautiful rendition and a beautiful collaboration.
As someone who devours news and politics (have lost track of the number of sources whose alerts I receive on my phone), it’s so easy to become jaded. To look around at all of the pain people endure and often inflict on one another, even if I’m not in a particularly low spot personally, and despair. What have we done? What’s to become of us?
But then I hear these beautiful words and am reminded why we mustn’t despair:
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.
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 the 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.
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