Marty Haugen wrote “My Soul in Stillness Waits” for Advent in 1982. Haugen is a composer of hymns about my age. He was brought up Lutheran in Minnesota, but his music is sung in both Catholic and Protestant churches.
I am usually not a fan of hymns from the 1980s, but this one has a lovely, haunting tune. The words, like those of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” are inspired by the ancient “O Antiphons.”
For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
truly my hope is in you.
1. O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,
Your radiance shines in all who look to you,
Come, light the hearts of all in dark and shadow. (Refrain)
2. O Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits,
Our thirsty hearts are yearning for your Word,
Come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts. (Refrain)
3. O Root of Life, implant your seed within us,
And in your advent draw us all to you,
Our hope reborn in dying and in rising. (Refrain)
4. O Key of Knowledge, guide us in our pilgrimage,
We ever seek, yet unfulfilled remain,
Open to us the pathway of your peace. (Refrain)
The theme of waiting is natural for Advent, and this hymn has the familiar idea of God’s people waiting for comfort, wholeness, and peace. This song was intended to be sung responsively, with the congregation singing the refrain and the cantor singing the verses.
Tonight I and my fellow new Ruling Elders had our Examination by the current session. We were to present something we had learned from the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order. I presented on music and idolatry, because it seemed like an intriguing pairing from the list, and possibly new to the examiners.
But the Book of Order also says that when the choir sings in church, we are singing intercessory prayers for the congregation. Clearly, that is true in this case. Haugen says that this call and response pattern can encourage singing in congregations that may not be accustomed to much congregational singing, and that the dialogue structure can be just as valuable as the communal singing of a hymn.
Certainly, this is a meditative song that can be part of personal devotions or a way to keep that awareness of waiting for God in a busy day. Yet the plaintive tune makes it clear that we are waiting for something that may be long in the future.