Seeing and hearing a different perspective
We imagine Bible stories as we read. In the story of Jesus calming the storm, we see the waves, we hear the cry of the disciples, we imagine lightning splitting the sky. Music and art offer us an entirely different viewpoint. The musician writes calmer music than we expected; the artist uses pastels when we imagined bold strokes. The disciples don’t look like us; Jesus isn’t exactly as we thought. Various perspectives are important. It is through these that we understand all that God wants us to learn. Adventist World offers two hymns and three artistic perspectives in the next few pages. Scan the QR code for even more.
Saved From Trial
American Mary Ann Baker, who wrote the lyrics to “Master, the Tempest Is Raging!” faced many trials in early life. Her parents died of tuberculosis. Soon after, her brother contracted the same disease. She, along with her sister, contributed what little money they had to send their brother to Florida, so he could recover in a warmer climate than their Chicago, Illinois, home. At first, her brother showed signs of improvement, but suddenly took a turn for the worse and died almost immediately. The two sisters did not have enough money to travel to Florida for his funeral, or to bring his body back to Chicago.
Though raised in a strong Christian home, Baker struggled to keep her faith after the death of her brother. “I became wickedly rebellious at this dispensation of divine providence,” she said. “I said in my heart that God did not care for me or mine.”
As weeks passed, God began to calm the strong winds and waves of Baker’s trials. “The Master’s own voice stilled the tempest in my unsanctified heart and brought it to the calm of a deeper faith and a more perfect trust,” she said, referencing the story in Mark 4.
Her personal testimony was suffused throughout the hymn. The image of Jesus rebuking the wind and calming the waves eased her troubled spirit. Baker’s faith not only returned, but it flourished.
Her words were set to music by H. R. Palmer, who requested Baker prepare several songs to go with several themes, including Christ stilling the tempest.
“Be Still, My Soul”
Be Still, My Soul,” hymn 461 in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, is an outcome of the work of three people in three countries and different centuries. It was written in the 1750s by a woman named Katharina von Schlegel. Little is known of her, other than that she was born in Germany on October 22, 1697. She wrote a number of hymns, but “Be Still, My Soul” is the only one to survive.
The text, originally in German, was given the title, “Stille, mein Wille, dein Jesus hilft siegen.” One hundred years later in Scotland the words were translated into English by Jane L. Borthwick. Because of this translation the hymn has survived. It’s said that von Schlegel wrote six verses, but Borthwick translated only five, three of which are usually sung today.
Though little is known about von Schlegel, it is evident she was well versed in both the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the hymn she wove together a series of scriptural themes and references to different biblical events, including a reference at the end of the second verse to Jesus calming the storm.
The tune comes from the central melody of Finlandia, an orchestra piece composed by Jean Sibelius. Sibelius was born in Finland and the music mirrors portions of Finnish history. Finlandia was composed in 1899-1900, but wasn’t paired with Katharina’s words until almost three centuries after the words were written.
Much of the piece is turbulent in nature, reflecting the Finnish people’s national struggle. Eventually the vigorous music develops into sounds of hope and resolution, creating the serenity of the melody we know as “Be Still, My Soul.” It’s still considered a Finnish national favorite today.