When you hear It Is Well With My Soul (When Peace Like a River), it’s typically slow, serious, meditative, and even mournful – which is understandable given the hymn’s history.
Horatio Spafford, a Chicago attorney and devout Presbyterian elder, wrote the text in 1873 when his four young daughters died in the horrific Ville du Havre shipwreck. Spafford’s friend, Phillip Bliss, composed the tune – named Ville du Havre after the ship – creating a beautiful and beloved hymn.
But there’s more to the story.
Despite their heart-wrenching loss, Horatio and his wife, Anna, later had three more children. One – their only son – died very young of scarlet fever. But the family remained strong in their Christian faith and moved to Jerusalem to build a new life – where they left a second lasting legacy. One of their daughters, Bertha Spafford Vester, founded the Spafford Children’s Center, a non-profit healthcare center in Jerusalem. The center still operates today – an oasis in a strife-torn area of the world – providing non-sectarian physical and psychological care to children and families.
It Is Well With My Soul may have been written as an outpouring of grief but I was impressed with how resilient faith could flourish in the face of tragedies and make a positive impact for children of future generations. So instead of another mournful rendition of the hymn, I created a buoyant piano arrangement. One with joyous, uninhibited, childlike confidence that celebrates the strength of faith and boldly proclaims, “Dagnabbit, it IS well with my soul!”
Hope it is with yours, too. 🙂
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.”