All now mysterious shall be bright

I photographed this sculpture inside Cologne Cathedral, May 2007.

I photographed this sculpture inside Cologne Cathedral, May 2007.

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. — 
Katharina von Schlegel

In seventh grade, I played clarinet in our school band, and we learned to play what became one of my favorite pieces of classical music, the beautiful theme from Finlandia by Sibelius, to which these lyrics were written. I’ve always thought the hymn comforting, particularly for one such as I, who often has to remind myself to be still amid the crises and anxieties of life.

One Saturday night in September 2012, the song became especially dear to me, as I sang it to myself while driving alone at 11:00 pm on the dark and unfamiliar roads to the hospital. Jeff was in emergency surgery for appendicitis, after having called me with the devastating news that they had found tumors on his liver and suspected metastatic cancer. I was beside myself with shock and fear, but singing these words gave me an anchor in the storm, and somehow helped me get to the hospital safely despite being far too upset to drive.

Perhaps my distraught emotions that Saturday night were not so very different from those felt by the friends and loved ones of Jesus on that Saturday nearly two thousand years ago. More than once I’ve heard it said of them, “Sunday was coming, but they didn’t know it yet.” The shock, grief and uncertainty of what might lie ahead must have been overpowering. Did they, like me, cling to a hope that felt more desperate than logical?

I’m sure most everyone reading this has faced something similar, a time of great sorrow, fear and inner turmoil. Perhaps some are facing such a dark night of the soul right now.  If so, my prayer for you is that you will find the balm of peace, and rays of hope that joy will come in the morning.

 Last year on the day before Easter:

Divine surprise


  1. Kathy

    I have read several Eric Liddell biographies and I remember that this is the hymn he requested as he lay dying. He was a young man, held prisoner by the Japanese in China, and suffering a brain tumor in a hospital with primitive equipment. The song never fails to remind me of his faith remaining strong in the worst of circumstances. The reflections you shared seem to match perfectly with Eric Liddell’s desire to draw comfort from this hymn. Now I’ll remember both you and Eric when I hear this song.

    • Kathy, Eric Liddell has been hero of mine ever since the movie Chariots of Fire told his remarkable story. I was never able to find a biography of him, but when I was in library school, I found some articles about him from Chinese newspapers in our international database. There’s a monument to him in China, and survivors of the concentration camp where he was held had told some touching and inspiring stories about how he worked to keep up morale among the prisoners. One man who was interred there as a boy told of how Liddell helped him and others to survive, through his example of strength and faith. I never knew that song was a favorite of his, but now I do! I appreciate you telling me about it. As you know, he could have capitalized on his Olympic gold-medal fame to have a much different kind of life had he stayed in Great Britain, but he chose to devote himself to China and refused to leave even after the Japanese invaded (though he sent his wife and children to safety). Thanks for reminding me of a favorite inspiration!

  2. Beverley

    Yes, Julia – many “dark night of the soul” experiences and I can’t imagine how I would be sustained if not for the awesome strength given only by the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. You have penned my inner thoughts and prayers very well. Sincere blessings to you, your family, and others reading this post as we look forward to a day set aside to celebrate in a more tangible way, THE RESURRECTION.

    • Thank you, Beverly! “He is risen indeed!”

  3. sarvjit

    Happy Easter, Julia! Enjoy your day! Thank you for the light!

    • You’re welcome, Sarvjit! Thank you for being here and sharing the light with us!

  4. Sheila

    Julia, your Easter blogs have been full to overflowing of faith and hope. Thank you, once again. I have read so much since the death of Bill’s beloved Dad in February. I found great comfort as I read somewhere, “Death is at once the end of the body’s old journey and the beginning of the soul’s new journey.” I wish you a wonderful Easter weekend! 🙂

    • Thank you, Sheila! I love the words of Carly Simon’s song “Life is Eternal” – “Death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.” I have been thinking of all of you since Dr. Vann died – and in fact, I have a little something to send you that I’ve never gotten around to sending yet – but hopefully it will be better late than never!

      • Sheila

        Julia, thank you so much. I shared so much about your blog, you and your family, with Dad. He was always interested in all aspects of life and the people in it! The card was so special, especially today! You are such a blessing to me…. today and everyday. 🙏😍

        • Thank you Sheila! I am honored to know you shared the blog with Dr. Vann. You are a blessing to me too! ❤

  5. Oh, Julia. My heart goes out to you. You’ve been through so much. What a lovely way to sooth and comfort yourself. Music is a powerful gift in our lives. Sending love.

    • Thank you Alys. Music is indeed a gift, one that keeps so many of us going!

  6. Just writing a blog post now about that long dark hour of the soul. I have been spending a lot of time this weekend just “thinking” about life and humanities relationship with God and how sad we have become by distancing ourselves from his grace. I don’t know that I would have had the strength to drive to the hospital like you did. I think I would have become another statistic but your focus on the hope in that song got you through. I, too, wish you a wonderful Easter break 🙂

    • Thank you so much! I got to that hospital on grace, not on skill 🙂 which is also how I got through the long night in the deserted waiting room while the surgery was going on. I have found from my experience and that I hear about from others, we are given what we need to get through each trial as it comes. I had to learn long ago not to try to get through more than what is right in front of me. Not a bad lesson to learn, actually. Thanks so much for you visits and comments here! I appreciate your encouragement so much!

      • Its good to know that perfect strangers can truly empathise with us. I might live in Tasmania, Australia but in real terms I am your next door neighbour. We all have to look out for each other in this world. I am really glad to have met you Julia :). I don’t know how I would cope if something like that happened to Steve. I think I would turn into a hermit crab/turtle and would hide away and try to process it all. You are very brave 🙂

        • Thank you so much! I love having a next door neighbour in Tasmania! I am so grateful for the way the internet has made it possible for people all over the world to connect with each other. That will bring peace faster and more effectively than any state talks or treaty negotiations. In high school I was an officer in the American Field Service (AFS) which was the sponsor of exchange students. My role was to be the student liaison between the organization and the visiting students. During my senior year our exchange student was from Australia – small world indeed! 🙂 I still have a key chain of a gold wallaby that she gave me forty years ago.

          Regarding bravery: I think most of us have it in us somewhere to be able to get through most anything, because we have no choice NOT to– besides which, ultimately I think living in hope and joy day to day, no matter what comes, is also an act of bravery that prepares us for the crises. So often it’s the little annoyances that take a cumulative toll worse than the giant challenges. That’s why it’s so important to look out for each other, as you say. We are all entitled to be a bit of a hermit crab now and then – I have become one to a great extent myself – but the online world has made it possible for even hermit crabs to become sociable!:-) I’m glad we met too!

  7. MaryAnn

    Yes, Hope is what makes us able to continue. Jesus was in your car driving right along your side in Sept. 2012. Praise God for His ever-Present guidance!

    • Thank you Mary Ann. I know you have kept us in prayer all these years and will continue to do so. Love you!

  8. maryellen davis

    Julia, Today at 2:15 Central Time my Mom took her last breath. I prayed this to her before she died. It gives me comfort still. I had never heard it before but will find the tune. You may have no idea how many people you have encouraged through Defeat Despair. Thank you. MaryEllen

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Oh Maryellen, I am so sorry. I will be thinking of you and praying for you at this time of grief, and I believe many readers of this blog will do the same. I have never known the sorrow of losing a parent but I think it must be one of the most difficult passages in life. I am happy to know you found comfort in praying with your mother before she died. I appreciate so much your kind words and encouragement; they mean more than I can say. Thank you for being here today and sharing with us such a personal message. I pray this Easter will bring you comfort with its message of victory over death.

      • Beverley

        Maryellen, I unite with Julia in extending condolences and prayers your way.

  9. Journeys like that stay with you, don’t they? How terrible for you. And yet it’s strange how singing to ourselves helps calm us at such times. Happy Easter to you and your family, Julia.

    • Thank you Julia – I suppose there would be those who say singing in the dark isn’t much different from “whistling in the dark” – but it works for me! I’m glad those journeys stay with us, because they help us realize we CAN survive! Thanks for being here today.

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