“Be Still, My Soul”
Little is known about Katharina von Schlegel, the German author of this poem. Her words, joined with the haunting strains of FINLANDIA by Sibelius, have made this a classic hymn. It was widely sung during World War II when it comforted an entire nation. Virgil J. Bachman of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Port Huron, Michigan, is a good example. Writing in his church newsletter he said:
I had probably sung “Be Still, My Soul” many times before, but it was not until I sang it in a small stucco church in a tiny village in France during World War II that it became part of my life.
The war in Europe was going badly. The news from the front was disheartening. We had suffered reverses. We were edgy, confused, and discouraged. It was at this crucial time that some Chaplain arranged a service in this quaint church somewhere in France. It seemed the roof of that little village church actually opened up as we weary, dirty, GIs blended our voices under the leadership of that Chaplain and the church’s old pump organ.
Halfway through the service it happened. Softly the organ began and we sang, “Be still my soul, the Lord is on thy side.” How badly it was needed. It was as though the Lord was speaking to me in a very personal way. “Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain” – the cross of war with its hardships, misery, separation, and pain.
As we began the second stanza, “Be still my soul, Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as he hath the past,” God seemed to whisper, “Don’t give up, I’m still in command, yes, even here. I’ll guide the future as I have the past.”
The thoughts of dead and missing friends came as through a choked-up throat I sang, “Be still my soul, though dearest friends depart. . . . “ Soothing, personal assurance came at that moment and in that spot. With renewed spirit I was able to sing the final stanza, “Be still my soul, when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”
Peace! Either here or in eternity.
As we left that little church, the peace I felt among the horrors of war was nothing but a gift of the Holy Spirit. God did spare me and allow me to return to my loved ones and His service and still preserves me.