144 years ago a major disaster occurred mid Atlantic, when the Ville du Havre en route from New York to Britain collided with another ship and sank within minutes, claiming the lives of 226 passengers and crew. Among these were four young girls, whose mother, Anna, was later discovered by rescuers drifting unconscious, but alive, on a plank of wood. Days later, when landed in Cardiff, the distraught Anna cabled her husband, Horatio Spafford, in New York “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
This really must have been the last straw! So much had gone wrong all at once. The couple had but recently lost their 2-year old son, and then, facing financial ruin following a major fire in Chicago, had decided to relocate to Europe. And now this! I often wonder how I might have reacted had I received such a telegram at such a time. For most of us, I guess there’d have been anger and a temptation to lash out at anyone and everyone, and most especially God.
But Horatio Spafford, took the next ship to Cardiff to join his grieving wife, and on 8th December, yes precisely 144 years ago, the captain called him to his cabin to explain that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. How poignant that must have been. How difficult for us to understand. But instead of lashing out, Horatio Spafford harnessed his grief and natural anger by writing words that have subsequently helped so many others in times of hurt and suffering, not castigating God as we might have expected, but praising Him and accepting His absolute supremacy. So, just two verses from this great hymn, born out of such torment and anguish are:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with 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.
Such moving words, especially when we consider the circumstances which created them!
Duncan Burr is Licensed Lay Reader for the Anglican Chaplaincy of Costa Almeria and Costa Cálida (further detail available at www.mojacarchurch.org) and may be contacted at [email protected]