When my grandfather died, my three brothers and I sang at his funeral. My grandfather was a professional singer and had a divine voice, well suited to liturgical music. He would have been a little critical of our diction no doubt – getting those consonant endings crisp enough was a pet peeve. We acquitted ourselves in our parts well enough, until three of us broke down in tears. It came to my youngest brother to hold the piece together with these words, “When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past…”
Sixteen years later, these words never fail to bring me to tears and remind me of the great power to be found in quiet and stillness.
Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertakeTo 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 hast’ning onWhen 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.
This past year (or ten) stillness has been very, very elusive. I thrive on accomplishment, on ambition, on getting a lot of things done. I’m a natural multi-tasker and find my satisfaction in knocking out to-do lists and operating at full throttle. 2014 was an extraordinary year for me.
I had some bucket list experiences like:
- being able to take my family to Australia and work down under for a few weeks covering the Y20 Summit and International AIDS Conference
- curating and project managing the Global Moms Relay to unlock matching funds from corporate partner Johnson & Johnson, for three UN Foundation campaigns benefiting mothers, girls and kids — MAMA-Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, Girl Up and Shot@Life ($300,000 was raised for the three campaigns in a digital relay that ran from International Women’s Day to Mother’s Day with contributors like Annie Lennox, Victoria Justice, Toyin Saraki, Monique Coleman and Arianna Huffington)
- collaborating on social media strategy for EngenderHealth’s “Where’s the Family Planning” campaign (#wherestheFP)
- curating “Blogust” for global vaccines campaign Shot@Life that led to 60,000 vaccines donated by Walgreens
- being called by my church community as the Stake Public Affairs and Community Relations Director for a chunk of south-east Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley in New York
- and being chosen as an International Reporting Project Fellow to Mozambique, reporting on global health issues around vaccines, HIV and AIDS, girls education, maternal health and community impact
But 2014 also almost did me in. I ended the year depleted in energy, spirit and health. I was running on empty. It’s taken me several days, some binge movie watching, not enough sleeping in, and a lot of snuggles and games and time with my family to regroup to the point of coherence. In searching for my guiding theme for 2015, I knew instinctively my word, my mantra, my focus, had to be to reclaim stillness in my life.
I need more stillness to hear and feel the presence of the divine. I need more stillness to see the hearts of my loved ones, especially my Beloved and our children. I need more stillness to find the best and most creative solutions for my clients. I need more stillness to find the joy I know and believe is the purpose of life. I need more stillness to see and act on the needs of those around me — near and far, great and small. As I reread the words of the hymn I sang with my brothers at my grandfather’s funeral, I need more stillness so I can go out into the world with substance to share and contributions to make.
The tactics to find the stillness my soul craves are not new, to me or to you. But they are essential. Daily prayer and study from words that matter, meditation, a life generally free from refined sugar, back to my running and swimming, and some simple extras like singing in my church choir more often, reading for pleasure for a few minutes each night before sleep, focused playtime with my family (scheduled if there’s no other way!).
My eldest becomes a teenager this year. My youngest moves into second grade. We have the next twelve years jam-packed with milestones, and then they will all be gone. If I don’t infuse those years with moments of noticing and being present, I will miss the whole thing.
This post joins a series on reflections of the past or hopes for the future.
Be Still My Soul, Text: Katharina von Schlegel, b. 1697; trans. by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897
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