Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Be Still, My Soul" (Strength in Hymn)

"Be Still, My Soul"
by Katharina von Schlegel, 1697-?

Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Listen here: Libera Boys Choir

Why I Picked This Hymn
(And Thoughts Disillusionment, and Passivity vs. Assertiveness)

       While my daughter Julia was in labor last Friday with her sweet little guy, I stopped at the Christian bookstore down the street and browsed the bargain rack for a book to read in the waiting room.  I found Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by actress, comedienne, and screenwriter Susan E. Isaacs.  I bought it, knowing that it would fit right in with some of the themes of this blog like faith crisis and spiritual disillusionment.  I managed to polish it off pretty quickly.   She writes raw, somewhat akin to Anne Lamottbut not quite as "out there."  Particularly sensitive readers may not appreciate her candor or her language.   There is so much that the author experienced that I haven’t, such as prolonged singleness, alcoholism, eating disorders, and sexual promiscuity. However, there is so much I could directly relate to, like diverse church & friendship experiences,  recovering  from spiritual/emotional abuse, being angry at God (yes, me too, sometimes), or the frustrations of being a more fluid, poetic, creative, ADD thinker among those who tend to be more linear and boxy.  She quotes this first verse of the hymn near the end of the book, writing: 

“I dragged myself to church that Sunday.  I had to show up now and then since I worked at the church office.  The worship band played their usual 7/11 songs (seven words repeated eleven times). People raised their hands in bliss or triumph.  What did they feel that I didn’t?  What did they know that I didn’t?  I sat down in protest.  And then some guy walked up to the piano and started playing “Finlandia,” one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.  A singer came forward and sang, “Be Still My Soul,” a hymn I’d known since childhood.”

       Ms. Isaacs offers no other commentary about the hymn right then, but from reading the book, I sense that it was an anchor to her soul, or perhaps a life vest thrown forward from her Lutheran upbringing.  A beautiful hymn like this speaks to the heart, whether it is in a lush and haunting melody, or the deep words of comfort and hope amidst so much that is either crushing or trite or, worse yet, both.   

       In this hymn, it seems that most of the promise comes in the afterlife, when "All now mysterious shall be bright at last" and "When we shall be forever with the Lord, when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone."   This hymn seems to advocate passivity in suffering.  There is truth in her words, "Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to thy God to order and provide," when we are in situations beyond our control, where there is nothing to do but wait and trust.  However, that does not mean we sit by and do nothing if we can, in fact, do something.  Sometimes that "something" starts with asking others for help in our own sorry situations, or raising awareness about the sufferings or others.  Then we go forward from there.  We should never advocate passivity when it is used to further victimize the oppressed by keeping them under silent bondage.  That is essentially saying, "Gut it up, it will all be OK in heaven.  Until then, just shut up and submit to what you're given."   God forbid!  There are plenty of times to stand up and declare, "Enough!"  -- and then take real assertive action to stop the injustice, whether it is for yourself, your children, your friends, your local community, or even strangers halfway around the globe in Nigeria.   

       Where does the "be still my soul" come in then?  It comes in our foundation of trust in God, who cares for us and empowers us as we dare to do right.  I can do this (whatever "this" is) because, no matter what happens, God is with me and he can guide me as I pay attention.  Even if  I lose my life or my lifestyle trying to bring truth, justice, and compassion in a dark world, this is not the end.  There is still more for me in eternity, and it is bright.

The Story Behind the Hymn
       Katharina von Schlegel belonged to a Lutheran religious order in the 18th century.  You can read more about her at these sites and others:

       Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote “Finlandia” as a protest anthem against Czarist Russia.   Only a small section of this symphonic poem is used in the hymns  “Be Still, My Soul” and “We Rest on Thee” and several others.  It was also used as the tune of the national anthem of the short-lived African country of Biafra.

     This hymn is the 36th in my Strength in Hymn series.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. I took these photos in Baldwin Park, Florida, in a little plaza with a fountain, while we waited for my teens to get out of youth group, and just after this little Melody girl had helped serve at a monthly dinner that her big sister Julia organizes for our homeless friends.   Redemption action starts young.

I often link my posts to these blogs:

  • Still Saturday
  • The Sunday Community