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 heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

As I think about the many hymns I’ve looked at throughout this year, there are a few common themes that come up again and again. One of these themes is pain and the desire to find a peace that can bear it. Over and over I’ve read words that must have emerged from great challenges, fears, disappointments and deep grief. Over and over the authors of these words have stressed that there is something greater than the pain. That there is hope.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning 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.

This hymn speaks to this theme. It came to my list via someone who admitted that many hymns stirred feelings of awe and occasional tears. He shared that his feelings varied when hearing the same hymn in different contexts and occasions. I found that interesting. Particularly with this tune, written by Jean Sibelius in 1899/1900 for a symphonic poem, the theme of which became a song (Finlandia) that has been used like a national anthem in Finland and a hymn in many churches. A beautiful melody that can evoke different emotions depending on the context.

These particular words predate the tune by many years, written originally in German by Katherine von Schlegel in 1725, and translated into English by British poet Jane Borthwick in 1855. What a history. Crossing nations, languages and musical forms. For me therein lies one of the great beauties of hymnody. It spans so much. It gives glimpses into both the challenges and inspirations searched for and found by those who wrote the words and the music.

So we have difficult themes and we have hopeful responses. And we discover that we all have and need both, and that it’s been this way forever. Sometimes we are lifted up. Sometimes we are not. But we are not alone. The experiences of pain and hope are shared by us all – now, in the past and in the future. Despite our differences, we are all just souls in search of stillness. There is comfort in that knowledge. There is joy, and there is peace.

Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.