Saturday, November 13, 2010

You are our rest, You are our peace

"...although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this passage, "They shall not enter My rest." Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His." (Hebrews 4:3-10).

I have to start this entry with a bit of a disclaimer on biblical hermeneutics. Taking elements from popular culture as a starting point and then working these into biblical texts is never a good idea, and this strategy often ends up as interpolation and eisegesis. Furthermore, it is generally a controversially issue as to whether popular texts can (or should) be appropriated for, say, devotional use, and, to be honest, I usually trend towards disfavoring such usage.

Notwithstanding (and a big 'notwithstanding' at that!), I wanted to share a poem by Friedrich Rückert that was transposed by Franz Schubert entitled Du Bist die Ruh ("You Are the Peace"). I think many, if not all, of us have genuinely experienced a time when we became utterly enraptured at hearing or seeing some work of art or other. For me, one of these experiences was the first hearing of Schubert's Du Bist die Ruh when listening to a classical music broadcast on the local public radio station. There is often disagreement as to whether this was originally written as a divine poem or if it was penned for a lover. Taking the latter position, the author of a June 2008 article from Harper's online magazine writes that "Rückert's language wells with passion and is plainly a composition of temporal love." Still, the article goes further, describing the composition as such:

Schubert has transposed the work into an ethereal world of spirit and faith with music which is a marvel of simplicity, classical and romantic at once–music that soothes like a balm applied to an open wound. The song is haunting.

But, you need to listen to the song for yourself in order to appreciate how unmistakably apropos this characterization actually is. Then listen again, and again, and again, and again...well, you get the picture.

The first link above to the original Harper's article has a great 1932 performance by soprano Elisabeth Schumann, conducted by Carl Alwin (available on iTunes). Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau also performs this song quite well. Below are the lyrics in German, as well as the translation that Harper's provides. Again, I suggest listening to it first, then reading the lyrics (for example, while listening to it a second time).

Du bist die Ruh,
Der Friede mild,
Die Sehnsucht du
Und was sie stillt.
Ich weihe dir
Voll Lust und Schmerz
Zur Wohnung hier
Mein Aug und Herz.
Kehr ein bei mir,
Und schliesse du
Still hinter dir
Die Pforten zu.
Treib andern Schmerz
Aus dieser Brust!
Voll sei dies Herz
Von deiner Lust.
Dies Augenzelt
Von deinem Glanz
Allein erhellt,
0 füll es ganz!

You are the calm,
The restful peace:
You are my longing and
what makes it cease.
With passion and pain
To you I give
My eye and heart
Are yours to live.
Enter here and close
Quietly behind you
the gates of your
Gentle embrace.
All other grief
You dispel from my breast:
My heart swells
With the love of you.
Your brightness alone
Lights the canopy of my eyes
Oh, fill it fully!

I'll briefly conclude with why I post this in association with Hebrews 4. The theme of God's "rest" resonates throughout this chapter (the word 'rest' occurs 8 times in the first 11 verses). The title of Schubert/Rückert's work has various translations, for example, as "You are the Peace" and "You are the Calm" are both mentioned above. But, the phrase is also often translated "You are the Repose" or "You are the Rest." Considered in any (and each) of these aspects, it is intriguing to me how suitable this notion is, along with the poem in its entirety, in light of the fact that Christ, our Bridegroom who "Himself is our peace," beckons us by saying, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Ephesians 2:14; Matthew 11:28, emphasis added). I won't labor to try and convince you of this, but, to me this song expresses verbally what I have before communicated to God as an unuttered prayer. Whether it is truly proper to appropriate this song in such a manner, I won't address here, but for now I am content to know that God is our peace, He is our rest, and He is both our "longing and what makes it cease."

1 comment:

  1. beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! the angels must marvel that we do not rest in such a magnificent Person!