Be still, my soul

    25 March 2015

    My favourite hymn is called ‘Be still, my soul’. It points to the fact that we all, whether we like it or not, most of us, have crosses to bear. There are things to deal with that we carry throughout our lives.

    John Savage

    It’s been there ever since childhood, as long as I can remember, so that it’s not a thing I can claim credit for – that I was sent as a young boy to a church school.

    My father had been killed at the end of the war and I think it was to get me out of my mother’s way on Sundays. I was involved in the Church from a very young age as a choir boy and as an altar boy. I was indoctrinated and took on a faith that God exists and must be served and its been with me pretty well ever since.

    I quickly absorbed the words, so I knew them, but it was a mystery of course to a child. By my teenage years, though, I understood it and what was expected, although for a while – I spent some time with a very fiery preacher – I couldn’t work out what my great sins were. I couldn’t find any that I’d committed by that time!

    The priest of my parish took extra care of me and convinced my mother and I that I was called, and the programme was that I would become a priest in the Anglo-Catholic church.

    I went to a grammar school so that I could learn Latin and Greek because you needed that then. That was my downfall because I clearly wasn’t bright enough to absorb those things. It was part of my clear intention to serve God as an ordained priest but by the time I got to 16 my mother couldn’t afford for me not to work and so I had to change my course a bit.

    I became involved in The Bristol Initiative about 30 years ago when I took some time out of my job which was in a big corporation in London.

    A Franciscan monk had approached me to come and do a job for a group of business people in Bristol who in the mid 1980s were very concerned about a great city not really going anywhere. We had the highest homelessness problem outside of London, there was no progress in sight, there was no ambition. This group of men and women from the largest businesses decided that they should do something about it. They weren’t all Christians but most of them were, which gave us the whole idea that we should turn our energies toward the benefit of the whole community, which was expressed in a very practical way.

    The thing that takes my time now is as chairman of the hospital and I’m deeply concerned in the practical, caring expression of love for one another. The caring professions are right at the heart of that. They need to know that they’re supported not just by the system but by what we believe in.

    My favourite hymn is called ‘Be still, my soul’. It points to the fact that we all, whether we like it or not, most of us, have crosses to bear. There are things to deal with that we carry throughout our lives. And that’s part of the job. You can’t get away from that burden but you’re not on your own.

    I’d had this natural thing: God was with me all the time… But there was a time – I was about 30 - a young man I knew was killed in a motorbike accident. The father and mother were very distraught and the father was particularly hurt. He came to dinner some months later at our house and he just attacked me. He said, “You believe in the biggest confidence trick that has ever been perpetrated on mankind.”

    And it was such a shock – the vehemence that he had – and I knew his loss, I felt the loss myself, the young man was a very fine chap. And I thought he may be right and I decided not to believe.

    It’s not as simple as that and this passed very quickly. It wasn’t in my hand whether I believed or not. I couldn’t get away from knowing that God is there. If you believe in the way that I do – faith as a gift – it makes a great deal of demands of you.

    I always regret that I don’t seem to be a better example but I won’t be coy – it has played a part in my decision-making throughout my life.

    Dr John Savage CBE is a leading business figure in Bristol. He has roles with many different organisations, including Executive Chairman of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative and Chairman of University Hospitals Bristol. John is also Canon Treasurer of Bristol Cathedral.

    This was adapted from a live BBC interview at Bristol Cathedral, which can be heard

    online here


    Contemplate now

    Have you felt called or that something would happen and it’s turned out differently?

    When has faith changed something for you or in your community?

    If faith is a gift from God, how do you feel your faith is given to you by God? What ways of you have of asking and receiving?

    Meditate through the day

    Today is the Feast of the Annunciation when we remember the angel Gabriel telling the Virgin Mary that she was chosen to bear and give birth to the one who was God. She would be hunted as a refugee and would see her son executed. She exercised her faith through submission to God's will, saying "Behold, the servant of the Lord."