Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

CLIP

It Is Well with My Soul

Hugh Bonneville narrates "It Is Well with My Soul," written by David Warner, and set to music by Mack Wilberg. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and "It Is Well with My Soul" are performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as part of the piece. The story of Horatio and Anna Spafford is one of determination and faith amid devastating, crippling tragedy.

AIRED: December 17, 2018 | 0:16:35
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TRANSCRIPT

- Christmas is, of course, a time for celebrating new birth.

It's a time for family, for giving,

and, in my house anyway, we always raise a toast

to absent friends, to those we have lost.

And we share stories about them,

bringing them back to life in our memory.

And the account I want to share

with you this Christmas season is just such a story.

It's about a family who, in the darkest moments of life,

found the hope and peace we associate with this season,

the true spirit of Christmas,

how it transformed them,

and also has blessed this world.

("Oh Little Town of Bethlehem"

by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir)

♪ O little town of Bethlehem

♪ How still we see thee lie

♪ Above thy deep and dreamless sleep ♪

♪ The silent stars go by

♪ Yet in thy dark streets shineth ♪

♪ The everlasting Light

♪ The hopes and fears of all the years ♪

♪ Are met in thee tonight

- In mid-November 1873, an ocean liner, the Ville du Havre,

set sail from New York bound for France

with 313 passengers on board.

One can imagine their festive Atlantic crossing

with ribbons of red, swags of evergreen,

and Christmas carols wafting through a dining room

sparkling with candlelight.

In a few days, they would make landfall in Europe,

just in time for Christmas in Paris.

Anna Spafford and her four little girls

were among the delighted passengers.

They had come from Chicago.

Annie, aged 11, Margaret Lee, nine,

Bessie, five, and little Tanetta, age two.

Their father, Horatio, had intended to sail with them,

but was detained on business.

Not to worry, he assured his wife and children.

He would book his passage in a few days

and soon they would be reunited

in Paris, the City of Light,

celebrating the season of good will.

And good will is what they needed.

Two years earlier, the Great Chicago Fire

had all but destroyed Horatio's business interests.

So, this journey was intended to restore hope

and bring healing into their lives.

Once on board the ship, on the evening of November the 22nd,

Anna and her girls knelt down,

said their prayers, and fell asleep

dreaming of the Yuletide festivities to come.

But, at about two o'clock in the morning,

they were suddenly jolted away in their berths.

Despite a clear, starry sky,

the Ville du Havre had inexplicably collided

with the Loch Earn, an iron-hulled Scottish clipper.

Lifeboats quickly filled with people.

Many passengers leapt into the icy waters.

Anna tried desperately to keep her children together,

but the two eldest became separated in the confusion.

Just 12 minutes after the impact,

a wave washed over the deck and Anna was drawn under

together with her two youngest daughters.

She held on to five-year old Bessie

until her strength gave out.

Her last memory was of two-year old Tanetta

in her lace nightgown, torn from her grasp,

getting smaller and smaller

until she, too, finally disappeared.

Later, the crew of the Loch Earn found Anna unconscious,

floating on a wooden plank.

When the ship docked in Wales,

Anna sent a telegram to her husband.

It read, "Saved alone.

"What shall I do?"

Horatio immediately sailed from New York.

He wrote to a friend, "There is just one thing in these days

"that has become magnificently clear.

"I must not lose faith."

Four days into his voyage, on a Thursday evening,

the captain summoned Mr. Spafford to the foredeck.

By the crew's calculations,

they were nearing the very place

where Anna's ship had gone down,

taking with it their four daughters,

now resting some three miles below.

But Horatio refused to look down.

"I did not think of our dear ones there,"

he later recounted.

Instead, he gazed out across the rolling waves

and up into moonlit sky.

There and then, he began to formulate

a simple expression of his faith.

A verse that would become a hymn.

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.

Only a few weeks earlier in the same place on the open sea,

Anna had experienced a similar awakening.

After her rescue, when she'd regained consciousness,

she was overcome with despair,

and simply wanted to throw herself back into the ocean.

What was life worth now?

What could it ever be without her children?

But then, it was as if she heard a voice

in her mind and her heart:

"You are spared for a purpose, Anna.

"You have a work to do."

("It is Well With My Soul"

sung by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir)

♪ When peace, like a river, attendeth my way ♪

♪ When peace, like a river, attendeth my way ♪

♪ When sorrows like sea billows roll ♪

♪ When sorrows like sea billows roll ♪

♪ Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say ♪

♪ Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say ♪

♪ It is well, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ It is well, it is well with my soul ♪

- Once they had returned to Chicago,

Horatio sought the support and prayers of his congregation

to help him face the dire financial straits

in which he found himself.

Anna gave birth to a boy and then a girl,

but, sorrow upon sorrow, that son, Horatio, Jr.

succumbed to scarlet fever at the age of three.

Then, a year later, another daughter was born.

Only two of their seven children lived to maturity.

But the Spaffords never yielded hope.

♪ Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come ♪

♪ Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come ♪

♪ Let this blest assurance control ♪

♪ Let this blest assurance control ♪

♪ That Christ has regarded my helpless estate ♪

♪ That Christ has regarded my helpless estate ♪

♪ And has shed His own blood for my soul ♪

♪ And has shed His own blood for my soul ♪

- Through that harrowing Christmas season of 1873,

the Spaffords became even more certain

that God loves all His children, whoever they are,

and whatever tribulations they may suffer.

In 1881, the family moved to Jerusalem

and established there an American colony

not far from the little town of Bethlehem

we celebrate at Christmas.

Although deeply religious,

their purpose was not to proselytize,

but to serve people of all backgrounds,

relieving the effects of poverty, disease, and strife

wherever it was found.

Seven years later, Horatio himself died.

Grieving once again, Anna Spafford

had every reason to give up, but she did not.

Every life has contradictions and imperfections

and hers was no exception, but when it mattered most,

in her most profound spiritual crisis,

when all seemed lost,

Anna found the strength to move forward

and to turn outward to continue the work

she and her husband had begun.

And the seed of service which they had planted

bore sweet fruit indeed.

In time, their daughter Bertha

expanded the Spaffords' humanitarian work

with the simple intent of rescuing those

who had experienced the shipwrecks of life as they had.

During World War I, she led the way

in organizing soup kitchens for refugees.

She also oversaw hospitals for wounded soldiers

on all sides of the conflict.

One Christmas Eve, on her way to Bethlehem,

Bertha met a Bedouin man, his ailing wife,

and their newborn son, traveling to Jerusalem by donkey.

Later, Bertha wrote, "Here stood before me

"a rustic Madonna and babe, and similar to Mary's plight,

"there was no place for them to stay."

By the next morning, the mother had died,

and Bertha was asked to take care of the child.

She agreed.

She named the little boy Noel, and within the week,

she had taken in two more orphaned babies.

And so began the Spafford family's

most enduring charitable work, a hospital for children.

She explained, "We make no distinction

"in nationality or creed.

"The only requirement being

"that people absolutely need our help."

Some of the Spaffords' charitable work continues to this day

in the Children's Center that bears the family name.

♪ But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait ♪

♪ But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait ♪

♪ The sky, not the grave, is our goal ♪

♪ The sky, not the grave, is our goal ♪

♪ Oh, trump of the angel, oh, voice of the Lord ♪

♪ Oh, trump of the angel, oh, voice of the Lord ♪

♪ Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul ♪

♪ Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul ♪

- For nearly 150 years, millions have sung

and have been lifted by Horatio's hymn,

but most have not been aware

of the circumstances in which it was written.

But they have been strengthened by its universal message.

Horatio's words echo with the story of Christmas.

A child was born in Bethlehem,

bringing peace on Earth and good will toward men.

Because of Him, and through His example,

the human spirit can rise above tragedy.

Whenever, however we suffer our own night of sorrow,

God's love does shine in the darkness,

hope can heal the wounded soul,

and the Christmas work of giving,

of loving, serving, and of rescuing

is ours if we choose to make it so.

And as we do, we join with saints and angels

to rejoice and sing

it is well,

it is well with my soul.

♪ And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight ♪

♪ And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight ♪

♪ The clouds be rolled back as a scroll ♪

♪ The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend ♪

♪ The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend ♪

♪ Even so, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ Even so, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ It is well, it is well

♪ With my soul, with my soul

♪ It is well, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ It is well, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ It is well, it is well

♪ With my soul, with my soul

♪ It is well, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ It is well, it is well with my soul ♪

♪ With my soul

♪ With my soul

♪ With my soul

♪ With my soul

(audience applauding)

♪ Fa la la la la la la la la


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