Be still, my soul
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: 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.
My grandma, my last surviving grandparent, passed away last week, and we sang this hymn at her funeral. The day after we put her in the ground, I found myself playing it over and over at the piano and singing its solemn lyrics, and the heaviness of them gave my feelings a suitable weight and balm.
We had lost her slowly, not all at once, but a bit at a time. Not a big death, but many little deaths of attrition, as she lost her memory, then her speech, and finally her breath. It was painful to see her change, and what the song longs for is for this stasis, for a place and time where time is no more, and change and tears are past.
We are all awaiting that great change, that step beyond the threshold from life to death, and what lies beyond. But we are also constantly changing, sometimes with the violence of a budding shoot thrusting into light like in our adolescence, when everything rages within, and then later on that gentle slope of the greying, when youth is left behind and things begin to fail. I am too young to know that yet, I suppose, but I do feel it, the calmer waters I’ve arrived at since being that nightmare teenager, past the turbulence of my twenties when I feel my energy levels dip. It is a pilgrimage, life, one which we are to walk through at a set pace and one on which there is no turning back. A day, once lived, cannot be lived again.
And how she lived it, so well! All because she had her sights fixed on a constant star, the one unchanging thing amidst the world that roils and boils about like a psychedelic cartoon. “Leave to thy God to order and provide/ In every change, He faithful will remain”
God is surprising, but He is always the same. How can He surprise when He is unchanging? Perhaps because we are conditioned to expect so little of Him, that His generosity and love and abundance catch us unaware. But He was always there, the light source in the movie of her life. How she took the first step of faith to become the first Christian in her family when she heard the message in her school, how she chose the impoverished rubber tapper with the burning desire to build God’s kingdom for her husband, how she supported him and their children on her nurse’s salary and was unfailingly kind to those she met, and how she patiently bore with him when he left for Malaysia and did not come back. And how she, in her illness, never lost the sweetness of her spirit, or the optimism of her heart, or the love of her God even as she forgot everything else. She was herself a picture of faithfulness, and she could not have been without the faithfulness of her God to her through everything she suffered. I do not know how she bore with it all, or how such a sweet and humble lady should be made to suffer so much, but she did.
When I heard she had left, I felt panicked for a while that I did not know enough stories about her. But then I realized, when talking about her with the people from her life, that she was never one to be at the center of a story. She never drew attention to herself, always endlessly supportive of her husband (who thrived in the spotlight). Her grace was a quiet one, understated and self-effacing yet warm. She was incredibly self-controlled and long-suffering, never saying a bad word or complaining about anything, endlessly patient and kind. I wish I could say more than what sound like platitudes, but they are truly meant, with nothing of the glow of eulogy because they were so unadulterated and true.
When she had met my mum, she said to my dad that he would get $50 more a month’s allowance now, because he had a girlfriend. And in this way she showed that she approved of her. So gentle and understated and supportive. My best memory of her was when Grandpa told their love story to us during one of her birthdays, and then gave her four medals with their children’s names on them to honor her. She was flustered to be in the spotlight like that but accepted them graciously, and I thought she did deserve the grand gesture. She deserves many crowns, and will receive her rightful reward in the presence of God now, and it will be far richer than any she received on earth. It was a race well-run, and where she is change will not touch her, whether her body or her mind. There she awaits us too, and “all safe and blessed we shall meet at last”.