The music grabbed me before the words. Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” touches me at a very deep place. The melody slides into my soul and resonates there.
Years ago, when I first identified the melody, I told a friend, Marsha Johnson, and she said there was a hymn set to that music. It is “Be Still My Soul.” Marsha played the piano at Chatham Baptist Church, and one of my most distinctive memories of that wonderful church body is the Sunday morning when Marshall played “Be Still My Soul”/”Finlandia” as the offertory. This music leads me to worship as no other.
The music is powerful but so are the words, written by Katharina A. von Schlegel in 1752 and translated from German to English by Jane Laurie Borthwick in 1855.
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.
This hymn is said to have been the favorite of Eric Liddell, the runner who became famous in the 1924 Olympics for refusing to run on the Sabbath. (The movie “Chariots of Fire” tells this story.) CyberHymnal.org says: “Liddell later became a missionary in China and 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).”
When listening to this music, I often think of the biblical story of Elijah where God came to him in a “still, small voice.” Often, it is such a voice that can speak to the deepest hollows of our souls.
The verses of the song take the hearer through the varied pains of life but end with the hope that comes from praise of God.
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.
We do, indeed, see the brightness of God shining through the passing clouds of life.