This autumn the Poor Clare Sisters are releasing a song based on a prayer composed by the Sisters called Calm the Soul. This prayer was the basis for a book the Sisters published in 2012, also called Calm the Soul. It is a wonderful book, presenting the love of God, and the beauty of prayer in a humble, and heart-warming manner. The humble approach is reflective of the fact that the Sisters never intended to write a book. They had simply written down the prayers and spiritual advice which they gave to those who came to their door on Nun’s Island, to put on their website for the benefit of others. All of it was real advice, and real prayers, based on genuine lived experience. It was fate that brought a researcher for a publishing company to their website, and once they recognized how inspiring the content was, they suggested to the Sisters that their prayers and counsels should be made into a book. The refreshingly humble and straight forward writing style seems in keeping with the Sisters’ attitude of avoiding acclaim.
The book was extremely well received. It was the best-selling non-fiction, hardback for 15 weeks in 2013. And people found the prayer particularly inspiring. The Sisters felt they should try to make it accessible to a wider audience, and so, being a musical bunch, they decided to set it to music. They came up with a tune based on the motifs of an old Irish love song which fitted the metre of the prayer, and seemed to convey the intense longing of a soul praying for healing, wholeness, forgiveness, mercy and peace. The Sisters sang their creation for a professional musician friend of theirs, accomplished composer Ian Callanan, and he was so taken by it that he wrote an arrangement for their choir. Soon enough arrangements were being made for a professional recording, and world class artists began rowing in to be part of it. Vocalists Aoife Ní Fhearraigh and Emmet Cahill, flutist Ronan Browne, and harpist Siobhan Armstrong all contributed. I was involved in the recording, a little bit. I was part of a group of Franciscan Friars who visited the Sisters to hear talks on the writings of St. Clare and got roped into singing the baseline of the third verse. You would think the Sisters would be able to sing their own baselines! But the Sisters were so kind to us that it would have been impossible to say no, so we happily agreed.
It has been a lot of fun to be involved in the process. But I was first exposed to the prayer in the context of preparing for the recording. I didn’t take the time to reflect much on the meaning of the prayer until later. It is amazing that so much has come from this simple prayer. World renowned musicians, at the top of their respective fields, have wanted to be involved in the recording. I think that speaks to the common human experience which is captured by the prayer. The words are:
When my boat, Lord, is storm tossed and sinking, When fears in my heart take control, Say ‘Be not afraid’ to my spirit, And Your answer will calm the soul.
When I flounder around in deep waters, When the stresses of life take their toll, A sudden deep hush steals upon me, Your gentleness calms the soul.
When my life seems too full of confusion And I have lost sight of the goal, As I stumble about in the darkness May Your gentle light calm the soul.
I often live life on the surface, Sometimes I'm playing a role, Help me cherish my own inner beauty, May Your tender love calm the soul.
When sinfulness tugs like an anchor, When guilt has me caught in a hole. I turn to You Lord for forgiveness, And Your mercy calms the soul.
When I struggle with sickness and sorrow, And eagerly long to be whole, I call on Your name to bring healing And the touch of Your hand calms the soul.
It is so true. We have all felt, at different times, those feelings of fear, hopelessness, stress, confusion, meaninglessness, guilt, or grief; even famous musicians, bright smiling Sisters, and goofy Friars. (I’m allowed to make fun of myself, but I apologize to my confreres). Yet whatever our difficulty, distress, or grief is, God always, somehow, takes it away. He always calms the soul.
I wonder if we are capable of turning to God without at least some distress in our lives? Our lives cannot be full and perfect on our own. Our destiny lies in God, in uniting with Him, in returning to His embrace, and walking hand-in-hand. Lives lived in the arrogance of self sufficiency are empty. True happiness, without acknowledging dependence on God, or trust in His providence, is not possible.
The message of Calm the Soul is important. We are in need of God’s peace, love, healing, and help. It is good to feel that need. It means we are alive, and our hearts are not made of stone. Now we can give them over to Him, and be loved, comforted, and freed. The words of the prayer are beautifully simple. They don’t call for any action on our end, just to trust God for help. He does the work. If you read the prayer, He comes to our aid, saying “be not afraid”, or calming us from within, or giving us light, or loving us in such a way that we feel and know our true, timeless, original self. Calm the Soul doesn’t tell us the things we need to do. It tells us “it’s o.k. to feel the way you do, now let God heal you.”
God does not just make problems go away. He leaves us happier and better than we were before. Grace transforms us into more gracious people. Every time we turn to God, in need, we are not just pacified, we are liberated a little bit. Our hearts are opened, and deepened. We become more loving and trusting. We become a little bit more child-like, more like a child of God. God is eternal. His touch can not have only a temporary effect.
I think that we are meant to become more child-like, and embrace our dependence on God. I am realizing, more and more, how little I am capable of in life. I see many others who are more virtuous and selfless than I am. But God assures me that it is o.k. I am loved. He is only asking me to do one thing: be with Him, and let Him love me. I don’t need to be great at anything else. Virtues come, on their own, when a person lets God’s love into their heart.
Calm the Soul, the song, is beautifully produced. The arrangement, the vocals, the instrumentals, and the way each contribution comes together……. This is not a vanity project. This is a sincere offering of love and gratitude from each of the contributors. The feeling of the tune is a tad somber. There is a YouTube video as well, and it is fitting that it includes imagery is of Ha’Penny bridge, crowded with people going about their daily lives. This prayer, song, and video capture the essence of the shared experience of humanity, searching for wholeness. The world is full of sad, scared, tense, guilty, lonely, and despondent people. Let’s spread the message of what God can do for them. Help them know it is o.k. to feel the way they do. It is part of our journey. They are loved. Call on God’s name to bring healing, and the touch of His hand will calm the soul.
See, listen, and share at www.poorclares.ie/calm the soul
The contemplative nun fulfils to the highest degree the first Commandment: "You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind", making it the full meaning of her life and loving in God all people. She moves towards the perfection of charity, choosing God as the "one thing necessary", loving Him exclusively as All in all.