“Praise the Lord o my soul”—Jane Austen sampler
In Part 1, we introduced the sampler claimed to have been sewn by Jane Austen when she was 12. (See my update on the end of that post, which indicates the sampler may have been done by a different Jane Austen.) I have hung my copy of the sampler in a place where I can see it and meditate on the verses while I exercise each day.
Let’s untangle the verses, and reflect on them.
Praise the Lord o my Soul and all that is within me Praise his holy Name
Ps. 103:1 (The verse is stitched as it appears in the Psalms, Coverdale version, in the Book of Common Prayer.)
What a blessing to start and end each day with praise! Experts tells us that thankfulness is a key to happiness. When we praise God we are thanking him, which brings us out of ourselves and our problems, and lifts up our hearts.
I want to praise God with “all that is within me.” Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. So “all that is within me” means praising God with my feelings, with my soul, with my body (perhaps in standing, raising my hands, bowing my head), and with my thoughts.
“Praise his holy Name” A name represents who a person is; all of their character, their actions, their being. We can praise God for for his goodness, mercies, and provision for us day by day. We remember that he made us and loves us. He is faithful; he has promised never to leave us.
as long as I live will I praise The Lord I will give thanks unto God while I have My Being
Ps. 104:33 says “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live : I will praise my God while I have my being.” Austen’s wording is a little different, but the meaning is the same. Perhaps she was writing from memory rather than looking at the prayer book.
“As long as I live” . . . “while I have my being” By God’s grace, I hope to praise the Lord, to sing to him, all my life. One friend told me that when her father was dying, in his 90s, he could no longer speak. But when his family began to sing the hymns he had sung all his life, he could sing right along with them. Words of praise were engrained deep in his heart. My own mother, when Alzheimer’s had taken away her speech, loved to hear me sing “Amazing Grace,” and I believe it touched her soul. At some level we can always praise God. Doing it throughout our lives will help us continue praising in old age.
In the epitaph over her grave, Jane Austen’s brother wrote that she died “after a long illness supported with the patience and the hopes of a Christian.” May we have such patience and hope to the end of our lives.
sing unto the Lord o ye Kingdoms of the Earth o sing praise unto the Lord
Ps. 68:32 “Sing unto God, O ye kingdoms of the earth : O sing praises unto the Lord”
“O ye kingdoms of the earth” In one of the prayers attributed to Jane Austen, she prays, “May thy mercy be extended over all Mankind, bringing the Ignorant to the knowledge of thy Truth, awakening the Impenitent, touching the Hardened.—Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.”
May all the peoples of the earth praise God, each in their own beautiful and unique ways. Every language and culture contributes, like the panes of a stained glass window, to the full worship of God.
Give the Lord the Honour due unto his Name worship the Lord with holy Worship
“The honour due unto his name” Romans 13:7 says to give honor where it is due, including to earthly leaders. God is due, or owed, far more honor than any authorities on earth, because of all that he is and does.
“Holy worship” God is holy, set apart, different from all others. He never does wrong. So we worship him as one who is holy. To come near to him, we have to confess our sins and ask his forgiveness, so that our worship will also be holy, with the holiness that comes from him, not from ourselves.
in the Time of trouble I will call upon the Lord and he will hear me
Ps 86:7 “In the time of my trouble I will call upon thee : for thou hearest me.”
Ps 50:15 “And call upon me in the time of trouble : so will I hear thee, and thou shalt praise me.” Austen may be paraphrasing one or both of these verses.
“In the time of trouble” Probably this is when most people are likely to call on God; when they are in trouble. Our difficulties, challenges, dangers, fears, often call us back to God. We realize how little we can control in our lives.
“He will hear me” God promises to hear us. He doesn’t always do what we want him to do, but he always listens, and promises to do what is for his glory and our good, if we know and love him (Rom. 8:28).
Turn thy Face from my Sins and put out all my Misdeeds
In her prayers, Austen asks God to “Look with Mercy on the Sins we have this day committed, & in Mercy make us feel them deeply, that our Repentance may be sincere, and our Resolutions stedfast of endeavouring against the commission of such in the future.” She asks that she might see her sins, repent of them, and change. Several of her heroines had such changes of heart. Austen prayed “through the mediation of our Blessed Saviour,” recognizing that our sins are forgiven through faith in Christ.
Returning to Psalm 103, where Austen started, a more modern translation (ESV) tells us that God “does not deal with us according to our sins . . . For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (103:10-12). God’s love leads us back to the first verse Austen stitched: “Praise the Lord!”
How can we stay in an attitude of praise and thanksgiving?
Quotes from Austen’s prayers are from Later Manuscripts, edited by Janet Todd and Linda Bree (Cambridge University Press 2008), p. 573-576.
The Coverdale Psalms are available in most editions of the Book of Common Prayer, and at Coverdale Psalms.
Update, March 2020:
A genealogist and embroidery specialist, Alden O’Brien, has now found strong evidence that the sampler was not by the novelist Jane Austen, but by another Jane Austen of a lower social class. Read about it at Jane Austen’s World and in detail at “Is This Jane Austen’s Sampler?”