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Longing for God in a Railway Station

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A late evening in 2013. A group of young guys is standing in the central hall of a train station, somewhere in Germany: t-shirts, jeans, fashionable beards, one of them with a couple of bottles in his hands. Around them a few people enter and exit the station, the tannoy produces an unintelligible announcement, the last trains come and go. So far nothing unusual. 

And then the miracle happens. The men start to sing, and suddenly the station hall is filled with music, as if time stops and all that matters is this melody full of longing, these haunting harmonies and that bassline that warms the heart. People stop to listen, surprised by the beauty of music. 

I suspect that not many of the passers-by understood the words that were sung. What they heard was a 13th-century Icelandic hymn called Heyr himna smiður, “Hear, smith of the heavens”. It is a poem of great beauty. This is the first stanza:

Hear, smith of the heavens. The poet seeketh.  In thy still small voice  Mayest thou show grace.  As I call on thee, Thou my creator.  I am thy servant, Thou art my true Lord.

This is a prayer for divine inspiration. The creative poet seeks the grace of the creator, the wordsmith asks the smith of the heavens for sparks of insight. But there is another remarkable image in this stanza. The poet prays: “In thy still small voice mayest thou show grace.” Why does the Creator have a ‘still small voice’? Is it possible that this ‘still small voice’ is the voice of an infant, may be that of an infant lying in a manger? 

The poet prays a second stanza:

God, I call on thee;
For thee to heal me.
Bid me, Prince of Peace,
Ever I need thee.
Drive out, O King of Suns,
generous and great,
every human sorrow
from the city of my heart.

The poet finds new titles to address God: Prince of Peace, King of Suns. ‘Prince of Peace’ is taken straight from Isaiah, who prophesied about a child born for us, a Son who would be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6). Following Isaiah, our medieval poet uses titles full of wonder and awe for this child with his ‘still small voice’. It is this child that he prays to, “to drive out every human sorrow from the city of my heart”; it is this child upon whom depends the salvation of the world. It is the mystery of Christmas that God’s omnipotence appears to us in the vulnerability of a newborn child, that God’s overflowing generosity comes to us in a needy baby. In the midst of our ordinary daily lives God is present, in the midst of the sounds of a railway station, in the beauty of music, you can hear the silence in which God lives. 

From tomorrow onwards, we will sing the O-antiphons in our churches again, with the seven titles for Christ that lead us to Christmas. They are titles full of longing, the culmination of advent. They express that on our pilgrimage through life, we long for a Saviour, for someone to enter our hearts and lead us to happiness. Each year I look forward to hearing them being sung. But this year, this advent, my waiting for Christ has been given words by a 13th-century Icelandic poet, my longing for God has been given a melody by a group of guys in a German railway station. With them, I sing the third stanza: 

Guard me, my Saviour.
Ever I need thee,
Through every moment
In this world so wide.
Virgin–born, send me
Noble motives now.
All aid comes from thee,
Into my deepest heart.

Br Stefan Mangnus O.P.



Tonya commented on 18-Dec-2015 04:19 PM
Wow, Beautiful. Thank you!

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