I have heard the hymns of Zion sung across the world in several different languages, and I have to say that Americans sing the softest. Especially Americans in the West. My husband assures me the Germans sing the loudest, but I have yet to confirm that.
The first line of this hymn is a request: Hear thou our hymn, O Lord. This line becomes a true prayer when we sit and whisper along the lines of text, hoping our neighbors won’t hear us. I acknowledge my bias toward singing since I was born into a musical family, but singing with gusto doesn’t necessarily mean singing with precision.
As a kid I remember several times sitting next to my little brother in the pew during the opening hymn. He held his own hymnbook sideways, watching the pages fan open as he sang nonsense words in time to the music because he was too little to read. (I hardly need add this is one of my favorite memories of church.)
I don’t believe all the hymns have the same doctrinal depth or power or even musicality, but I do think they’re important. In July 1830 the Lord spoke a revelation for Emma Smith, wife of the prophet Joseph Smith, asking her to “make a selection of sacred hymns…to be had in my church.”
The Lord went on to emphasize how their importance to Him personally: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (D&C 25:11-12).
I find this entire section compelling on two fronts: one, that the Lord tasked Emma with the compilation with the final promise that if she “lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made…a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive” (verses 13 and 15).
Second, equating singing with prayer strikes home to me on a very personal level. There was a night I spent with my infant daughter in the emergency room after she had a febrile seizure, trying to comfort her as the doctors did a spinal tap to check for meningitis. The med student kept missing the spinal column and so for twenty never-ending minutes I stroked her face with one plastic-gloved finger and hummed every hymn and Primary song I could remember because I couldn’t speak for weeping. Amazingly my daughter fell asleep, still stretched out on the gurney and that was the first time I really believed that I could sing out a prayer and the Lord would answer it.