Beauty for Ashes


Isaiah 61:3 “(God will) provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (NIV)

Like a haunting coda, a piece of Dvorak’s life comes back to me. Most know him for his New World Symphony, a musical depiction of hope and inspiration. The work is a lyrical masterpiece.

My favorite work, and, in my opinion,  the most haunting,  is his Stabat Mater. This choral piece captures Mary’s suffering as she watched her Son die.

Dvorak bought that piece at a great price.

In the space of about three years, Dvorak suffered. First, an infant daughter died. Shortly after, his eleven-month-old son contracted smallpox and died. On top of this, a terrible household accident killed a second daughter. Three deaths in three years devastated the composer–as they would anyone, and we can relate to the horror of loss in these pandemic years.

When his first child died, he had been working on the Stabat Mater. His tragedies stalled the work. In his shoes, I’d be furious with God and paralyzed with grief. Job, a righteous man, experienced pain most of us never will see.

We live in a time when we believe we deserve a charmed life. We believe we deserve: healing, prosperity. ease, immunity from Covid or flu, or dying before we reach the ripe old age of Methuselah.

However, God never promised us these things. He simply promised the grace to get through anything life throws at us. Once we’ve seen God’s faithfulness, it’s up to us to make something beautiful from it.

From Dvorak’s life came the Stabat Mater.

What can you make from yours?

Lord, help us, especially we believers, to understand suffering and your grace. Help us to knit our sorrows into a beautiful coat of many colors. Your grace is sufficient, and we understand beauty comes from ashes. Amen.


Shameless self-promotion

Meredith Jaynes in Borrowed Lives suffers an unspeakable tragedy. Her choice is to wallow or to overcome. The book is unforgettable (check out the reviews on my book page.

Twitter link


  1. Carol, I like your Twitter links. I’ve wondered who Dvorak was/is and have been too lazy to research him. Thanks for doing it for me! When we believe our life should be a bed of roses, we need to remember roses have thorns. We will always have thorny moments, or longer periods, in our lives here on earth. Great reason to look forward to Heaven! (Revelation 21:4) Keep up your great work! Peggy

    • Carol McClain says:

      I love classical music. I played bassoon for a while–but have little talent with it.
      Dvorak is one of my favorites. It Is Well With My Soul, too, was composed from great loss. Thanks for your reply.

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