Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It is well with my soul

As I've mentioned before, I have the privilege of accompanying three of the able-bodied young adults who are assistants to our L'Arche core members with disabilities. Basically, that just means that I listen to the assistants, appreciate them, and encourage them on what is sometimes a very difficult journey. And as I've mentioned before, often I find that in the listening and sharing, I inadvertently receive really beautiful gifts.

Last week during an accompaniment session, I heard about Mariette*, a core member who is struggling with pain that the doctors are unable to identify at present. The team of assistants who are trying to help her are baffled, and things at the house are a bit chaotic as she is unable to communicate the problem, her schedule has become unpredictable, she doesn't sleep well at night and just isn't like her usual self.

L'Arche assistants consistently amaze me with their patience and love as they live with their core member friends, and the mutuality of their relationships flow both ways -- assistants often share anecdotes about how the ones they care for care deeply for them in return. My concern as an accompanier is always with the wellness of the assistants in their roles as caregivers. Though it had been a particularly taxing week for the young woman who shared with me about Mariette, when I asked her how her spirits were doing in the midst of the struggle, she played me the song below on her phone and told me, "I listen to this song every night before I sleep, and it really is well with my soul."

The video below isn't the exact version that she played for me. Providence led me to this version, which just came out just this week, with an album to be released Friday by young mom and singer-songwriter Andrea Assad. It gives me goosebumps with its simplicity and beauty. Her voice is a treasure, don't you think? And I really wish her well! (You can find her website here.)


The hymn's lyrics were written by a man named Horatio Spafford, a well-to-do Presbyterian businessman who suffered several serious calamities in his life, the worst being the loss of 4 daughters in the collision of two ships at sea. As he travelled near the place where the disaster occurred while on his way to catch up with his grieving wife, who was the only one to survive the original journey, these words came to him. In the following years, the Spaffords' losses were seen as divine punishment by their church, but that didn't fit with their understanding of God, so they sold everything and went to Jerusalem to help found a Christian group who provided soup kitchens, hospitals and orphanages for poor Muslim, Jewish and Christian people there.

Coming from a Catholic background, I had never heard Horatio Spafford's hymn before (every Christian denomination seems to have developed its own hymns and ignored all others, somehow, which is another good reason for ecumenism!) The melody is gorgeous, and while I struggle a little with some of the lyrics, I find it deeply moving, especially knowing about the Spaffords' struggles, the struggles in Mariette's situation, and the strength and solace the song has given in both cases. My young assistant friend had no way of knowing what a gift this song was to me in the week that I missed my godfather's funeral. We all come up against "sorrows like sea billows" on occasion, but worship music's potency can bring us healing and hope.

Whatever struggles and challenges you may be facing, may it also, somehow, be well with your soul -- simply because God loves you and never leaves you, no matter what. Have a good Lent.

*I use pseudonyms for all my L'Arche friends.

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