What Wondrous Love

Like one of Walpole’s heroes of serendipity, while at the Nashville Southern Festival of Books, I happened upon the unexpected. I wandered into a session about folk music by the authors of Wayfaring Strangers. One of the songs they chose to illustrate about how music travels with immigrants was the old hymn, “What Wondrous Love.”

When I was a teenager, I found a letter in our old family Bible dated 1840 from an ancestor about her sister’s death in Dardanelle, Arkansas. The dying woman made a last request: “Bring my neighbors to my bedside and ask them to sing my favorite hymn, "What Wondrous Love," around my bed as I leave this world.” According to the sister, the neighbors came, sang, and her sister died peacefully.

My ancestor’s request in faded ink haunted me until I found the old song. (Not an easy task before the Internet.) What a delight to hear a Scottish singer, backed by a fiddle, singing “What Wondrous Love” at the book festival.