Archive for the ‘The Back Story’ Category

On Deep Faith: It is Well With My Soul

January 31st, 2011 No comments

At my church yesterday, we sang a hymn I’ve always found very beautiful: It Is Well With My Soul.

On a whim, I decided to do a little digging to see what I could find out about the person who wrote the lyrics. I was astounded by what I learned.

stormy oceanHoratio Spafford was a prominent attorney and real estate investor living in Chicago in the late 1800s. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 ruined him financially, as most of his holdings were destroyed. Devastating.

Tragedy was not finished with him, though. Two years later, while he stayed behind to attend to some business, his wife and four daughters sailed to England. En route, their ship was struck by another vessel, killing 226 people on board – including all of Spafford’s children.

As Spafford sailed to England to join his wife following the accident, he wrote It Is Well With My Soul – crossing the ocean where he’d just lost his daughters (and probably passing near the same area).

Now – knowing that back story, consider the lyrics anew:

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.

Refrain: It is well (it is well),
with my soul (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 His 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 pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

What a testament to deep faith; Mr. Spafford certainly seems to have had it in spades. Something to aspire to.

(By the way, there was even more heartache in Spafford’s life. Following the loss of their four daughters, he and his wife were blessed with three more children – one of which, their only son, they lost at age four to pneumonia.)

The Spaffords and their two surviving children emigrated to Jerusalem where, joined by other Christians, they founded the American Colony – providing all manner of charitable support to the people of the area. He continued this philanthropic work for the next seven years until his death from malaria days before his 60th birthday.

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“…To Touch the Face of God”

January 29th, 2011 No comments

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the terrible accident that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger and killed her crew. I was watching the launch that Tuesday morning in 1986; maybe you were too.

That tragedy is something people who saw it will never forget. The other thing from that day that has stayed with me was the speech President Reagan gave that night. It was truly touching – and after all these years, brought tears to my eyes when I heard it again yesterday.

If you recall it, I’m sure you remember how it ended: We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”  

spitfireThat beautiful imagery was exceprted from a poem entitled High Flight, written by pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr.  Magee was an American who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II (before the United States entered the war effort). He was killed at the age of 19 while on active duty in England. Shortly before his death, he penned the now-famous poem after a spectacular Spitfire training flight in which he flew to 33,000 feet.

When I visited the Air Force Academy with my father in 1990, I came across the poem in their gift shop. I was so moved by it, I purchased a copy.

Read it, and you’ll understand why it’s become a favorite of pilots and astronauts alike:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…. 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.  

In memory of all the astronauts who have lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration:
Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, El Onizuka, and Christa McAuliffe (crew of Challenger), Gus Grissom, Roger Chafee, and Ed White (crew of Apollo 1), and Rick Husband, William McCool, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, and Ilan Ramon (crew of Columbia).

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How Great Thou Art

January 28th, 2011 No comments

How Great Thou Art – a hymn just about everyone is familiar with.

As an outdoor photographer, I’m struck by how one of the verses speaks to the beauty that surrounds me as I’m out in the field working:

How Great Thou Art

View of Lake Winnipesaukee from the summit of Mount Major (NH)


The hymn is based on a poem written by Carl Gustaf Boberg; the tune is a Swedish folk song.

Interestingly, the poem is supposed to have been inspired by Psalm 8.  If you read that Psalm, you’ll see the continuity of imagery.

Over the years, verses have been added and different variations have been published; the hymn gained wide recognition and popularity when it was used in the Billy Graham Crusades of the 1950s.

We included it in the funeral service for my dear father last month.


When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the words of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:3-9


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“That’s What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown”

November 30th, 2010 No comments

It’s about time to break into that treasure chest of Christmas movies and specials…whether on DVD or TV. Even after what seems like a million viewings, they never get old!

A lifelong Peanuts fan, my all-time favorite is A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Did you know the show almost didn’t get made? 

Among the many things television executives didn’t like was that wonderful scene in which Linus takes the stage, ever-present blanket in hand, and recites from the Gospel of Luke.

Producer Lee Mendelson later recalled the reaction of the guys in the suits over at CBS: “The Bible thing scares us.”

(They also didn’t like the idea of using jazz music for the sound track, voicing the characters with real children, and the absence of a laugh track. Clearly, these execs were batting 1000!)

 Happily, Meldelson and Charles Schulz held their ground on all counts, prevailed, and production moved forward.

The show went on to win both an Emmy and a Peabody, and of course has become a much-loved classic. The music Vince Guaraldi wrote and performed for A Charlie Brown Christmas is universally recognized.

Most importantly, this little program’s message hits the nail on the head – especially in today’s hyper-commercialized environment, with Christmas decorations up in stores as early as September and Christmas ads running before Halloween. (Ha – and Charlie Brown thought it was bad in 1965…!)

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” 


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