Palestine Magazine Spring Edition 2021 - Page 23

True stories of faith behind the songs we love Story by PennyLynn Webb with contributed photos

Hymns — usually religious — provide a rich combination of poetry , scripture and music . Composers typically write these songs for the purpose of praise , adoration and prayer . Hymns can have a profound , long lasting effect and influence on a person . Listening to my mother play the piano and sing her favorite hymns remains one of my most precious childhood memories . Many times she and her brother and sister would gather around the family piano at my grandparents ’ house and sing songs for hours after the Sunday meal .

I continued the tradition , singing these same melodies to my own children in our day-to-day lives . The songs are so uplifting to me that I often cling to them in times of strife , anxiety or sorrow .
A few years ago , after the loss of a loved one , I found myself singing the hymn , “ It Is Well with My Soul .” A friend mentioned the background of the song , written by a man who knew great sorrows , but trusted in God ’ s infinite plan . The man continued to be grateful for all of God ’ s blessings . This made me curious about the stories behind other hymns , who wrote them and what inspired them .
While it seems hymns have existed since the beginning of time , composers have written Christian hymns using the Psalms and other poetic passages of the Bible . Some hymns honor special occasions and others instill reverence or celebrate Christian practices .
It Is Well With My Soul
Hymnist Horatio Spafford wrote the words for “ It Is Well with My Soul ,” and Philip Bliss composed the music of this popular song that appears in a wide variety of hymnals of Christian fellowship .
Horatio Spafford was a wealthy lawyer in Chicago with a thriving legal practice , a nice home , a wife named Anna , four daughters and a son . He was a devout Christian . At the pinnacle of his financial and professional success , Horatio and his wife suffered the loss of their young son . Shortly after , the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 destroyed almost every real estate investment Spafford owned .
In 1873 , Spafford decided to take the family on a boat trip to Europe as a vacation , a time to recover from the tragedies that plagued them . He sent his wife and daughters ahead , while he stayed in Chicago to finish some last minute business . Days later he received word the ship his family was aboard had wrecked and that all four of his daughters drowned . Only his wife survived . Spafford journeyed to England to join his grieving wife . It was during this trip that he would write , “ When sorrows like sea billows roll ; it is well , it is well with my soul .” Spafford ’ s life and lyrics impressed composer Philip Bliss so much that he wrote music to accompany the words . Bliss and Sankey published the song in 1876 .
Abide With Me Henry Francis Lyte was a pastor in the small fishing town of Devonshire , England when he penned the classic “ Abide With Me .”
In 1844 , Lyte received a diagnosis of tuberculosis and his physical condition deteriorated because of the illness . On Sept . 4 , 1847 , at the age of 54 , Lyte stood in the pulpit to deliver his last message . That afternoon , as he walked on the beach , Henry sat down and wrote the words to his song . He soon left on a trip to Italy to escape the damp , coastal weather . En route to his destination , Henry mailed the revised copy of the song to his wife . A few days later , Henry passed while resting in a hotel on the French Riviera . A fellow clergyman , with Lyte during his final hours , reported his last words were “ Peace ! Joy !”
Be Thou My Vision Dallan Forgaill wrote “ Be Thou My Vision ” as a tribute to St . Patrick ’ s whole-hearted loyalty to God . Saint Patrick was a zealous follower of Christ and defied an Irish king ’ s edict that restricted the lighting of candles on Easter Eve . King Logaire of Tara decreed under penalty of death that no one would light any fires until the pagan spring festival began with the lighting of the fire on Slane Hill . Patrick defied the edict and honored God with lighted candles at Easter . His brave devotion so impressed King Logaire , the king allowed him to continued his missionary work unharmed . Mary E . Byrne translated the lyrics from Irish to English in 1905 . Then in 1912 , Eleanor H . Hull arranged the song into verse most commonly found in hymnals today .
Blessed Assurance
Blind hymnist and composer Fanny Crosby wrote “ Blessed Assurance .” She is credited with writing some 8,000 hymns . Blinded as an infant at the age of six weeks , due to a surgical mishap , she became a teacher at a blind school and made friends around the world . According to history , the day she wrote “ Blessed Assurance ” she overheard her friend and fellow musician Phoebe Knapp play a new composition on the organ . Phoebe told Fanny the melody was called “ Assurance .” Fanny then composed aloud , “ Blessed Assurance ! Jesus Is Mine !” And the song was published in 1873 .
I Surrender All
Judson W . Van DeVenter wrote the famous hymn “ I Surrender All .” Raised in a Christian home , Van DeVenter accepted Christ as his savior at the age of 17 . He graduated from college with a degree in art and worked as a teacher and high school administrator . He traveled and visited all of Europe ’ s best art galleries , studied music