SPIRITUAL MATTERS: Shades of night to plains of light
COVID-19 certainly shines a spotlight on mental health. But so do many other circumstances in life.
In 1741, an old man wandered the streets of London – angry at life. George Frederick Handel was famous once, enjoying the affirmation of royalty and high status among the elite of London. But now his mind was full of despair. The future looked hopeless. Applause was a distant memory. Added to that, a cerebral haemorrhage had paralysed his right side. He could no longer write, and doctors gave him little hope for optimism.
After a while, the old composer travelled to France to soak in hot mineral baths. This seemed to help, and his health improved. Eventually, he was able to resume writing - and success followed.
But then he faced another reversal of fortune. Queen Caroline, who’d been a staunch supporter, died. At the same time, the English economy hit rock bottom and heating for large concert venues was banned. So his performances were cancelled.
Not for the first time, Handel began to wonder where God was.
Then one night, returning from a walk, he found Charles Jennens waiting to speak to him. Jennens explained that he’d just finished writing a text for a musical that covered both the Old and New Testaments - and believed Handel was the man to set it to music.
At first, the old composer was quite indifferent, but then the words he was reading began to make a surprising impact: ‘He was despised, rejected of men... he looked for someone to have pity on him, but there was no man; neither found he any to comfort him.’
Handel’s eyes raced ahead to the words: ‘He trusted in God. . . God did not leave his soul in hell; He will give you rest.’ And finally his eyes stopped on the words: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.’
At this point, Handel became acutely aware of the presence of God - aware in a new and profound way. He picked up his pen, and the Spirit of God moved him. The music just flowed – majestic, beautiful music that captured the power of the biblical text - encapsulating the timeless message in all its strength. He finished the first part in only seven days. The second section was completed in six.
Handel’s classical work was subsequently performed in London in the presence of the reigning monarch – King George II. When the strains of the majestic ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ finally died away, and a great hush descended, the King was so moved that he spontaneously rose to his feet – followed by the rest of the audience - amid resounding applause.
From that day to this, people still rise to their feet as the great chorus is sung in praise to God.
George Frederick Handel knew the reality of the words of that old Christian hymn: “From sinking sand, he lifted me; with tender hand, he lifted me; from shades of night to plains of light; O praise his name, he lifted me”.
That was Handel’s experience. He discovered a new peace in his heart; a new love for God and for life; new inspiration to give life to his considerable talents.
We all need something beyond our own, ingrown world, to lift our spirits and encourage us to fulfil our God-given calling. And when we do open ourselves to the presence of God, we will always discover a new certainty and a new trust, as well as a new peace that will enable us to face the future with a calm mind and a thankful heart.