words by Katharina von Schlegel
translated by Jane Borthwick
1 Be still, my soul! for God is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain:
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
Who through all changes faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul! thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
2 Be still, my soul! for God will undertake
To guide the future surely as the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be clear at last.
Be still, my soul! the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
3 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.
“Spiritual revivals have always been accompanied by an outburst of song. This was especially true of the sixteenth century Reformation Movement when, following centuries of dormancy during the Middle Ages, congregational singing was rediscovered. However, by the seventeenth century the church was once more cold and non-evangelistic. Again God lit the fires of revival in the latter half of this century with a movement known as Pietistic revival in Germany, which was similar to the Puritan and Wesleyan movements in England.Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories
The leader of this German movement was Philipp Jacob Spencer, pastor of a Lutheran church in Berlin, Germany. Although not a noted hymn writer himself, Spencer’s encouragement of singing gave birth to a great revival of hymnody in Germany during this time. All of the hymns coming out of this movement were characterized by genuine piety, depth of feeling, rich Christian experience, and faithfulness in Scriptural expression.
Katharina von Schlegel was the outstanding woman of this revival movement. Little is known of her other than that she was a Lutheran and may have been the canoness of an evangelical women’s seminary in Germany. She, however, did contribute a number of lyrics to a collection of spiritual songs published in 1752. She wrote many additional verses for this particular hymn, but not all were translated. Most hymnals use just the three stanzas included above.
This hymn was translated into English approximately one hundred years after it was written by Jane Borthwick, who ranks second only to Catherine Winkworth for excellent translations of German hymns into English. Miss Borthwick was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on April 9, 1813 and was a member of the Free Church of Scotland and a noble supporter of home and foreign missions.
Jean Sibelius was Finland’s best-known composer. His music is generally characterized by a nationalistic fervor. This hymn tune is an arrangement of one movement of ‘Finlandia,’ a tone poem written in 1899 depicting the majestic natural beauty of the composer’s native land” (38).
“Be Still, My Soul” is easily my favorite hymn to play on the Native American style flute. In a world of chaos, this is a wonderful reminder to take a step back out of confusion and to simply be still with the Lord. This hymn reminds me of being alone with God in a solitary quiet time. It reminds me of an image Jonathan Cahn has used in his sermons, like the high priest entering the Holy of Holies of the Temple once a year. There is enough room for you and the Ark of the Covenant, you and God; not you and God and your iPhone or you and God and your TV or you and God and your job or your school or your responsibilities, just you and God. We have to strip away all the distractions of the world and just be still. With todays digital entertainment, it is so easy to sustain ourselves in a state of adrenaline with the shows and video games out there, let alone the stress and drama going on in our own personal lives.
I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, it’s pretty much just with my kids and my husband. When my husband and I watch a drama or suspense film, or even a regular TV series, I can feel my body filling with adrenaline. TV shows are structured to keep our emotions high and engaged. Maybe it’s like salt. When you have a lot of salt in your diet, you don’t notice it as much as someone who rarely uses it. I do not salt food or eat pre-salted food like I used to. I eat out maybe once or twice a month on average, and one day I ordered chicken strips at the fast food Jack’s, and it was unpalatable. The salt was too overpowering. That’s because I had not built up my taste buds to tolerate that much salt. What if we unplug from entertainment media and realize just how much it is affecting our minds and our body chemistry? I believe that’s one reason why anxiety is such a big problem in the rising generations.
When we are at peace, it is easier to gain clarity. When we are in a state of adrenaline, our fight or flight emotions override our logical part of our brain. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” Confusion is a curse God puts upon His enemies (Exodus 23:27, Deuteronomy 7:23, 1 Samuel 7:10, 1 Samuel 14:20, Psalm 70:2, Isaiah 19:14, 34:11, 45:16,) and a judgment upon Israel when they rebel (Deuteronomy 28:20, Isaiah 22:5, Isaiah 34:11, Micah 7:4). It can also be a demonic attack evidenced through historical human events (Nehemiah 4:8, Esther 3:15, Acts 19:29, 19:32, 21:31). An ancient Middle Eastern symbol for chaos is the ocean or great bodies of water. Genesis begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, and then He speaks and brings order to the world, creation. He separated light from dark, waters from the dry land, the heavens above from the earth below. He segmented his creatures according to kind and gender. He has set the boundaries of all we see. The opposite of chaos is order.
But today we see a confusion over what is truth, what is God and what is not God, what is male and what is female, what is marriage, and what is even life. We are attacking the things of God and fighting each other today just like how “every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great confusion” when the Philistines tried to attack the people of God (1 Samuel 14:20). The world is plunging headlong into darkness and chaos and confusion, devolution, un-creation. If we do not get alone with God and be still with him and know who He is as revealed in His Word and by His Spirit, we will be submerged in these metaphorical waters covering the earth.
“Be Still My Soul” is a beautiful hymn also on that it is an international intergenerational collaborative effort. With words from a 16th century German Lutheran, an English translation from a 17th century British supporter of missions, and a melody by a 19th century Finish composer. What I play in my video is a 21st century adaptation of the melody to Native American style flute. It is a beautiful example of God’s people being used together across space and time, building upon each other, to glorify God. God creates and we who are made in His image can create beautiful things together to give back to Him.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 Hymn Stories. Kregel Publications, 1982.
“Be Still My Soul.” Flute Tree Foundation, http://flutetree.com/songbook/contemporary/BeStillMySoul.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2021.
“Be Still, My Soul.” Hymnary.org, https://hymnary.org/text/be_still_my_soul_the_lord_is_on_thy_side. Accessed 21 Feb. 2021.
The Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.