William Henley wrote that he was the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. In his famous poem, Invictus, Henley claimed that no matter how harsh the storms of life were, he would remain bloody but unbowed, strong in his unconquerable soul.
With all due respect, I beg to differ.
The soul is not unconquerable and there comes a time when, whether we want to or not, we will bow - if not before the onslaught of life's storms, then before the One who made the seas, made the soul, and who is the only one who can speak calm into the turbulence of life.
I hate to think where Henley ended up. Although it goes contrary to American thought, many times the very best thing we can do is bow the head and surrender because it is then that the still small voice can speak into our trials, it is then that He can calm the seas.
However, in order to do that - in order to hear Him speak amid the wind and the surf, we have to be still among other things.
Several famous Christians lived through one of the most corrupt, bloody, and cynical wars of all time - the Thirty Year's War which ravaged central Europe in the 1600's. At least two of my favorite hymns come from this hapless war.
Now Thank We all Our God by Martin Rinkert is one. I first heard it when I worked at Hendrix Library and we were required to go to the Thanksgiving service held on campus. That was over 30 years ago and I've loved that particular hymn ever since. It was years later, however, before I learned that Rinkert performed around 4000 funerals in one year, including that of his own wife. Towards the end of the year 1637 he was officiating at as many as 50 funerals a day because he was the only preacher left alive in the walled city where he was trapped. I challenge you to look at that hymn and find the depth of sorrow that he must have experienced during that time of war, of siege, of sickness, and of personal bereavement. It just isn't there.
Katerina von Schlegel's hymn, Be Still My Soul, is another beautiful song that speaks lightly of trials and deeply of God. I have no idea what she suffered in that awful war but I'm sure it's not accurately reflected in her lyrics. Instead her faith shines out of those years of darkness.
I believe that Martin Rinkert and Katerina von Schlegel found the key to weathering life's storms - at some point in their lives, unlike Henley, they vacated the Captain's chair and learned to lean not on their own understanding but instead to lean on the Master Navigator's. Did they slip and at times lose their footing? I'm sure they did. But as their own words testify, the compass of their hearts remained fixed on Him and they weren't disappointed, even amid some of the worst trials life could throw at them.
One thing that struck me in Shlelgel's lyrics was the juxtaposition of two phrases: "Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on..." If the hour is in fact "hastening on", then shouldn't we be busy? Shouldn't we be hastening on as well?
In one sense, yes. The Bible says that the days are evil and we should be redeeming the time. (Eph. 5:16)
In another sense, the answer is "no". Before the busy- ness comes the "being still". (Psalms 46:10)
Perhaps being still and giving thanks are two things that help us to keep our sea legs under us while our beloved Captain guides us through both calm and stormy seas.