Hymn Story of the Week: Be Still My Soul

I have several favourite hymns. It would be hard for me to say which one is my favourite, although I have said in the past that Its Just Like His Great Love is my favourite hymn. However, it is not my only favourite hymn. There are other hymns that God has used to touch my heart at different times. Be Still My Soul is one shining star at the top of the list.

The lyrics were originally written in 1752, as Stille meine Wille, dein Jesus hilft siegen, by Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel. Von Schlegel wrote over 20 hymns in Germany during the Pietistic Revival, which was a related movement to the Wesleyan revivals in England. She lived in Köthen in Central Germany. Music students will recognize that small city as the place in Johann Sebastian Bach served as a music director from 1717 to 1723, and the city in which he wrote his Brandenburg Concertos.

The hymn was translated from the German in 1855 by Jane Laurie Borthwick. It didn’t become associated with the famous tune Finlandia until 1899, for the simple reason that Finlandia was written between 1899 and 1900!

Jean Sibelius was one of the greatest Finnish composers. He wrote Finlandia as a symphonic poem. The first section is full of restless movement, symbolizing the distress Finland felt under the occupation of Nazi Germany. At the end of the piece, the now-famous tune is heard, flowing calmly and serenely. To avoid Nazi censorship of the piece, it had to be performed under various innocuous titles, such as “Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring.” Truth’s enemies are often well-aware of the secret power of music! How often truth’s friends are ignorant of this same power.

Finnish lyrics were written for this music in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi. It became one of the most famous national songs of Finland. Literally translated, the first verse reads:

O, Finland, behold, your day is dawning,
The threat of night has been banished away,
And the lark of morning in the brightness sings,
As though the very firmament would sing.
The powers of the night are vanquished by the morning light,
Your day is dawning, O land of birth.

Besides being the music to which Be Still My Soul is normally sung, Finlandia is the music associated with three other hymns: We Rest on Thee, A Christian Home, and This Is My Song. We Rest on Thee is the last hymn sung by Jim Elliot and the other martyrs of Operation Auca. The hymn’s inspiration was apparently I Chronicles 14:11: And Asa cried unto the LORD his God,and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.

The first verse reads:

"We rest on thee" - our shield and our defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
"We rest on thee, and in thy name we go."

Be Still My Soul has been a hymn of encouragement to me. Reading the wonderful lyrics and experiencing the powerful music is a feast of the choicest foods; a balm of the most precious ointment; a calm during the roughest storm. What help, what comfort, what joy, and peace have been brought to my soul while my little bark had been tossed about by waves of discouragement and sorrow! I leave the words of the hymn itself with you to encourage and bless:

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: 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.

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.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, be leaving, 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.

Helpful links:

Wikipedia 2
Blessed Quietness


Scott and Jaclyn said...

I did not know that- found it very interesting. I also have several favourite hymns, "Be Still My Soul" is definitely one of them... Thanks. :)

outport said...

I've always loved this hymn! What truth and depth of meaning! I don't think I've ever seen the third and fifth verses before though. Since this was Pastor Baker's favourite hymn, seeing those verses makes it even more special. Thanks for posting it; it's a blessing.

robert said...

I'm with you when it comes to singling out one hymn as my all-time favourite. Having made a study of hymns for decades (I'm pretty ancient!) I find that I just keep adding to my list! "Jesus Loves Even Me," by Philip Bliss is one I love, and "It Is Well With My Soul."

"Be Still, My Soul" is another that has blessed me. I can recall being back to church (for the first time, I think) after surgery, and listening in my weakness to the congregation sing this hymn. Especially meaningful to me at the time were the words:

Be still, my soul;
The wind and waves still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below.

If you love hymns, you might enjoy my daily blog about hymn history, Wordwise Hymns. God bless.

Brent Karding said...

Thanks for commenting, Robert. I visited your blog, and had a great time there. I will be a regular visitor now! I especially enjoyed the post about George Mueller, the story behind Near to the Heart of God, and the poem by John Quincy Adams.

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