Good for you. Instead of swallowing two eggs whole, gulping down a few news bites on drudge.com, and rejoining the maniacal rat race, you’ re actually sitting still for a few minutes, sipping coffee and taking time to read this column. Smart move.
We all need to be still at times. We all need to take a deep breath and remember that God is in control. Especially when the road gets rough.
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.
Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel wrote those words in 1752. Born in 1697, Katharina became a poet in Kothen, a small German town near Leipzig. She was of Lutheran persuasion and significantly influenced by the Pietistic revival sweeping Germany at the time. Some historians believe that she was attached to the ducal court in Kothen, and was likely also canoness of an evangelical women’ s seminary there. She was very sharp theologically. Yet her theology wasn’ t just textbook stuff. It worked for her in life. It carried her through what may have been times of real trial.
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.
Her most famous hymn was translated into English in 1755 when von Schlegel was 58. It was one of at least 20 German hymns that she wrote during her 71 years on Earth. The original version included additional verses that were never published. I anticipate her singing them to me some day in heaven when I personally meet Katharina and others of my friends and family who have already graduated to Glory.
Be still, my soul: when 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 sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
The hymn’ s music came long after the words had been penned. For a while the lyrics were sung to a tune written by William Henry Monk (1823-1889). But the fit was unimpressive. Then, in 1899, nearly a century and a half after they were first published, someone combined those powerful lines with a stirring symphonic tribute to the Finnish homeland called Finlandia, written by Finland’ s greatest composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). This time the match was perfect.
A strong Finnish heritage exists today here in my own hometown of Monson. Rousing foot-stomping accordion music remains a part of the traditional summertime Saturday night dances held at our local Finnish Farmer’ s hall. But in the old country, music also often reflected the anguished soul of a land that had seen hard times.
Stories are told of how people would weep openly when Finlandia was played at public gatherings, so strongly did the turbulent strains evoke the Finns’ national spirit and sense of struggle. In order to avoid Russian censorship, the piece was actually, sometimes, temporarily renamed at musical concerts.
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.
Eric Liddell loved this hymn. Liddell was the athlete who became famous in the 1924 Olympics for refusing to run on the Sabbath. Liddell went on to become a missionary in China where he was imprisoned during World War II. He is said to have taught this hymn to others in the prison camp where he eventually died of a brain tumor.
Be still, my soul: Begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: The Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.
May your soul be enriched today for having been still long enough to read this brief account.
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and associate pastor of the Monson Community Church. He may be reached at the Web site AIIA.ChristianAnswers.Net or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.