Hymn text by Isaac Watts , 1674-1748. View the full text of this hymn.

I am not what I (or Nephi) would call “a visionary woman”. I seem to remember more of my dreams than the average Peter or Molly- that is true. Usually I know they mean nothing, like the ones that have more in common with a Dali painting than real life. But once in a while, I have one that just… feels important. I think the best test is your waking emotion, and how long it lingers, especially if the feeling is positive. I do believe the Lord communicates with us through dreams, from ancient times through today.

And just as Christ shared many of the same parables to teach His followers on separate continents, I believe that the Father can share the same visions to His children across time. Take as a special instance the case of the vision of the tree of life. We have at least three instances of it- Lehi and Nephi, and also Joseph Smith Sr., who was of course the father of a rather well-known man inclined to revelation. That makes me wonder how many faithful men and women, seekers of Christ across the years, have seen the plan laid out in this way. Here are a few of the elements of the symbolic vision of the Tree of Life, in my own words:

At the end of the long path through the darkness, grows a great and beautiful tree. It bears fruit such as is beyond comparison for taste and value. It is so delicious and so quintessentially Good that any partaker would want to share it with his or her loved ones. (And that is the only way to increase our capacity to feel boundless joy, no?) Many who journey in the direction of the tree stay true to the path and the iron rod along it. And yet, some are delayed, dismayed and deterred by the darkness. Some wander, lured by the decadent artificial lights of a great distant Babylonian city. Some wallow in a filthy river, and some fight its current. Some jeer from their city towers at the travelers… and maybe some of the pilgrims, to block the sound, raise their voices in prayer or in song.

I think of this allegorical scene when I review the lyrics for “Great God, Attend While Zion Sings.” I wonder if its author, scholar and Protestant minister Isaac Watts (who was a prolific hymn-writer and psalmist, publishing an astounding excess of 800 of such in his day), was not also privy to it at some point. The second verse, “No tents of ease nor thrones of pow’r / Should tempt my feet to leave thy door,” avows that the singer shall not be persuaded by the false, temporary glory of men. The fourth, saying that “[God] gives us all things and withholds / No blessings due to upright souls”, verbalizes the faith had in the destination by they who walk the path.

The Lord is our sun, our shield, our King. He speaks to us, He protects us, and He keeps His promises. Zion has every right and reason to sing, with such a great God at her center.

One comment on “Hymn #88: Great God, Attend While Zion Sings”

    I enjoyed your editorial on this not so familiar hymn to me. I was pondering yesterday on the dreams God has sent to me through the years. There have been 5 of them. Sent for comfort, teaching, direction to stay on the path and the fruit at the end of it, that I am a pioneer in the church and many were and are counting on Mr as the first member. I do not know if this makes me a visionary woman, but has helped form my eternal perspective and firm testimony. This seems like a worthy project. I love singing the hymns.

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