As the Shadows Fall is one of the “evening hymns”—a hymn whose lyrics are set at the close of the day, and which fulfills the admonition in Alma 37:37:
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”
I want to focus on the phenomenon of singing a hymn in the evening, and what it might mean to “lie down unto the Lord” like Alma counsels.
In verse 1 we address the Savior and ask:
As the shadows fall, O Savior
Turn our thoughts and minds to thee.
Help us, Lord, that we may strive for
Peace, and find our rest in thee.
First, it’s interesting that we sing this hymn “as the shadows fall,” not after they’ve fallen. Hymns are frequently sung at times of transition as a way of focusing our minds and hearts. We open sacrament meeting with a hymn to transition from chatting with our friends to focusing on the meeting. We precede the sacrament with a hymn as we move from opening remarks to the central ordinance. We close the meeting with a hymn to signal the move from passive listening to the more active work of chasing toddlers around nursery. This hymn fulfills a similar function—it signals the transition from day to night.
Second, we pray that the Savior will “turn our thoughts and minds” to him. Evening is not a time when I naturally focus on the Lord. Although certain commandments help me remember God throughout the day (studying scriptures in the morning, praying over meals, etc.), by nighttime I’ve already completed those and a million other little tasks besides; the Lord has slipped my mind. What’s more, I usually treat evening as my time—the kids are finally in bed, the dishes are (hopefully!) done, and now I can talk to my spouse, read a book, or watch TV. This hymn counsels us to take that under-examined time of our day and consciously consecrate it to the Lord. Evening is a perfect time to settle down, refocus, and reconnect with the “peace” and “rest” the Lord offers.
In verse 2 we address the Father with a request to protect our families:
Father, please watch o’er our loved ones
As the evening round them flows.
Lord, accept our supplications;
Be with us in our repose.
Sleep is a time of uncertainty. It’s dark, you can’t see, and you’re unconscious for eight straight hours; who knows what might happen in that time? In sleep, we don’t know what’s going on around us. Sleeping is an act of trust and surrender, in particular, trust that the Lord will take care of things in our absence, including the well-being of our family.
It’s almost as if sleep is a kind of mini-Sabbath for our day. Like the Sabbath, sleep forces us to stop our frenzied work pace and let go of our concerns; when we do so, we are reminded that the Lord is in charge, and that despite our self-important opinions to the contrary, our labor is not so crucial. In the end, it is God’s grace that upholds creation and maintains our lives.
I love this hymn for its gentle reminder that God ought to be found in every part of our day, even its very last moments, and that when I surrender my daily concerns into his care he exchanges them for a tender breath of grace.