Posted by: rcottrill | September 3, 2018

Be Still, My Soul

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Words: Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (b. Oct. 22, 1697; d. circa 1768); translated by Jane Laurie Borthwick (b. Apr. 9, 1813; d. Sept. 7, 1897)
Music: Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius (b. Dec. 8, 1865; d. Sept. 20, 1957)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Katharina von Schlegel belonged to the court of the local duke in Kothen, Germany, a court where master composer Johann Sebastian Back was the music director for a number of years. It is quite likely she knew him.

Some think she was the head of a Lutheran ladies seminary in Kothen. But she is not listed in any of their records. The “von” in her name suggests she belonged to an aristocratic family. By her money and influence perhaps she became a supporter of the seminary, and was involved in an unofficial way.

Katharina’s spiritual life was influenced by the Pietist movement, a group that believed that renewal would come through the study and preaching of God’s Word, the exercise of the priesthood of all believers (I Pet. 2:5, 9), and emphasized practical Christianity lived out in daily life. The Pietists also believed in the importance of congregational hymn singing.

Unacceptable behaviour, or actions inappropriate to the setting, may result in a directive to “Settle down!” When children begin a boisterous game of tag or dodge-ball in the house, imperiling the dishes, mom may say, “You can’t do that in here. Settle down! Or, go outside and play!”

The Bible has its own version of “Settle down!” It’s “Be still!” We read in Nehemiah, “The Levites quieted all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for the day is holy’” (Neh. 8:11). And David advises, “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Ps. 4:4). “Be still [cease striving in your own strength], and know [recognize] that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Other related injunctions indicate the need for a calm and quiet (still) faith in the face of trials. We are to “rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7).

In the New Testament, we read of the Lord Jesus showing His power over the natural elements, when He and His disciples faced a storm on the Sea of Galilee. “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” cried His men (Mk. 4:38). In response, “He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm” (vs. 39. “Be still” is literally be muzzled. One translator has, “Hush up, and stay that way!”

Similar thoughts led to the creation of a truly great hymn. Katharina von Schlegel wrote twenty-nine hymns. Be Still, My Soul was produced in 1752. Scottish translator Jane Borthwick gave us the English translation about a century later. The strength of faith and depth of feeling it expresses put it in the top rank of our hymns.

Borthwick ably translated five of the six stanzas in the original. The last two lines of the second stanza were a special blessing to me personally, at a difficult point in my life. And, unfortunately, many hymnals omit the third stanza, which speaks God’s comfort in the loss of a loved one.

CH-1) 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.

CH-2) 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.

CH-3) 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.

CH-4) 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 blessèd we shall meet at last.

1) If our souls are “still,” what will that look like  to others, observing our daily lives?

2) Various kinds of trials are mentioned in the hymn: grief and tears, pain, change and disappointment, fear, an uncertain future, thorny ways and storms, loss of loved ones. Which of these is the most trying for you at the present time? (And do you find encouraging truths in the hymn?)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


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