Category Archives: #201-#250

Hymn #213: The First Noel

It’s simple, it’s short, and it’s impossibly beautiful. For a long, long time, this was my very favorite of the fourteen Christmas hymns in the LDS hymnal. (It was replaced a couple of years ago by “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” because, seriously, come on.) The soaring soprano part intertwines with the equally beautiful tenor part during the chorus of “Noel! Noel!”, bringing goosebumps to my flesh every single time I hear it.

The simplicity of the tune is wonderful, but the simplicity of the message is equally lovely. The King, the Lord of all, came to earth not in glory and splendor, but in a humble stable, laid to rest in a manger surrounded by animals. Here He was, the Savior of the world, the focus of ages past and ages to come, and His coming was relatively unheralded. I say relatively unheralded, but in honesty, His birth was heralded in a way very few other events are; His coming was literally announced by heralds. In keeping with the quiet nature of the event, though, the heralds didn’t appear to kings, rulers, or anyone of particular prominence. They appeared to “certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay keeping their sheep.” These were ordinary men, tending to their flocks as they did every night when angels appeared to announce what was, without question, the greatest event in the history of the earth. I imagine they were terrified, not only because of the unexpected nature of the announcement (I’d be terrified of an angelic appearance), but also because they, meek and lowly men, had been appointed to witness this event.

They made their way to Bethlehem, and they bore witness to what they had seen. The King had come to His own. He had come to the poor, the humble, the lowly, and the ordinary. He had come to redeem them from their sins, and He had come to give them hope.

He came not only for those in Jerusalem, of course, but to the whole world. His star was seen by the wise men coming from the east, and it was seen by those in the Americas. The signs were there, made clear to anyone who cared to read them. His coming was not a secret, no more than His gospel is a secret today. It was freely available to anyone who listened.

The chorus of “Noel! Noel!” is beautiful in its simplicity. We sing the same word over and over, rising to a D in the soprano part and that towering E in the tenor part. The word means Christmas, but more specifically, it refers to a Christmas carol. We sing about his coming in the most simple and distilled way we can. We sing that one word, the word that tells us that He has come, He is here, and we sing it jubilantly, as directed. We sing full of joy, full of hope, and full at His coming.

Born is the King of Israel. He has come to His own, and He comes to His own still.

Hymn #210: With Wondering Awe

the-second-coming-39618-print

 

Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to his name!

The word “hosanna” is used to express adoration, praise or joy. It is most often used as an exclamation, almost as if the speaker cannot hold back his or her excitement about the topic at hand.

We are told in the book of Luke that after the angel announced the birth of the Savior to a group of humble shepherds

“[That] suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-14). 

I like to imagine that when the Savior was born that I was allowed to be in that choir, heralding his voice. I imagine that I was so full of joy that even if I wasn’t an official part of the choir, they couldn’t have stopped me from singing as loudly as I could the message that our Savior was here. I imagine myself, tears streaming down my face, singing for all to hear excited praises of this little boy. I imagine practically shouting with my friends, my brothers and sisters, the words of Isaiah 9:6

“For unto us a child is born… and his name shall be called Wonderful! Counsellor! The mighty God! The everlasting Father! The Prince of Peace! (emphasis added)”

 How truly joyous was this moment! From the beginning of God’s plan, everything hinged on Jesus. Because we chose the path of agency, the only way to return to our Father’s presence was if our older brother came to earth, atoned for our sins, and defeated the grave through resurrection. With the arrival of this precious baby, this wondrous event had begun. I often think of the painting by Harry Anderson of the Second Coming, with angels trumpeting the way for our Savior’s arrival, and imagine that his first coming must have been something like this for the heavenly choir.

But it wasn’t just those in the choir of angels who could not hold back their voices from singing praises of the birth of this precious baby.

We are also told in 3 Nephi that when the new star shone and the skies refused to darken, announcing the Savior’s birth

“[That] it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies. Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God. And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction” (3 Nephi 4:31-33).

Is this the spirit we approach Christmas with? Do we revere “with wond’ring awe… the wondrous little Stranger?” Do we shout hosannas in our homes, at our jobs, in our cars, to our friends and family? Do we seek him as the wise men did? In our lives, is “the old and hallowed story… still sung in every tongue?” May I challenge you to do so? I imagine that most, if not all, of us were clamoring to be in that choir, that we were bursting with joy, and like the Nephites, gushing with tears, at the great goodness of God. His goodness truly is great. May we “with delight” relish in Him this Christmas season.

Hymn #209: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Shepherds in the Fields

When I picture the hours after Christ’s birth, I imagine a peaceful setting. An open-air stable is set into the side of a hill, lit by a couple flickering lamps. Mary gently rocks the newborn child in her arms while Joseph moves about making Mary comfortable. The night sky, free of clouds, is a deep royal blue and full of bright stars. The shepherds, if they have arrived, are quietly looking on from one side, kneeling in reverent worship. My imagination may not be historically accurate, but it serves well as a focal point of contemplation.

What doesn’t appear in my imagined Nativity, though, is the joyous song of angelic hosts. While the scene of the birth itself is a quiet, peaceful one, the annunciation to the shepherds was a triumphant rejoicing event:

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!

How must those angels have felt, sent to announce the birth of Christ himself, the cornerstone of Redemption and Exaltation for all mankind. Perhaps some of these angels were ancestors of Christ. Perhaps among their number were prophets who had foretold of his coming centuries earlier. Perhaps there were many who had not yet come to Earth, rejoicing to see the author of their own salvation they knew they would so desperately need. We don’t really know who they were, but we do know they were thrilled to be there.

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

I love this hymn, because it tells us why we should rejoice. It leads us not only to his birth but to the Redemption, Healing, and Restoration that he brings us. The angels say “Hark!”, which means “listen” or “pay attention!” The angelic news is not simply that Christ was born—their message is we should seek him out, follow him and listen to him. Let’s not limit our Christmas thoughts to Luke chapter 2, for we are not here just to find him, but to follow him.

Hymn 206: Away in a Manger

We are often asked, in LDS theology, to give more attention to our hymns. Music can invite the spirit, and careful contemplation of the lyrics can add to our understanding of the doctrine. Indeed, there are some doctrines that we hold as true that are rarely mentioned outside of our hymns. And of course, this blog is based on the fact that the hymns have spiritual, doctrinal merit.

On the other hand, this hymn was once given to me as an example of how the hymns are not always doctrinally sound. Let me share the argument.

In this hymn, we have an idyllic version of the Savior’s birth. Sure, Christ has a manger instead of a crib, but everything seems to be still and peaceful and beautiful.

The cattle are lowing; the poor baby wakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.

Were we to analyze this hymn, or accept it as unvarnished truth, we might come to some interesting and erroneous conclusions. Since one of Christ’s big accomplishments was living a sinless life, pointing out things he didn’t do suggests that that those things might be sins. But is it a sin to cry? Gosh, I hope not. Otherwise, I’m an even bigger sinner than I had previously thought.

Or perhaps it’s just a sin when a baby cries? But that seems to be confusing annoyance and inconvenience with sin, which is dangerous too. The guy at the bus station next to me isn’t a sinner because he’s got a sniffle, nor is the woman at the checkout in front of me a sinner because she thinks the price at the register wasn’t the advertised price, and it takes longer than I expected to get through the line because of her.

Plus, isn’t that part of the beauty and necessity of Christ’s mission? He came as a human, subject to human pains and desires and feelings. Babies feel those too, and communicate them with their cries and giggles and gurgles. If he never cried as a baby, I would suspect he wasn’t feeling the same things the rest of us do. The great and important thing is that he was, he did, and he still triumphed over it all so that we can, too.

So the lyrics of hymns, I think, are not infallible. Yet as an English teacher, I must bring up the fact that I have read many fictional books that ring true to me. The truth isn’t the truth of facts, but of feeling. And in that way, I can still get behind this hymn.

I can see the peace of the manger scene here as a metaphorical reference to the peace of God, that he offers to all through Christ. I can see tranquility of baby Jesus as an example of the tranquility we can feel, even in less than ideal or even in alarming circumstances.

For me, though, the best part of this hymn isn’t the still life with baby Jesus, anyway. It’s the abrupt change, where suddenly we are the infants, and Christ is the parent. We ask him to stay by our cradle, and to love us. But most important of all is the last line. What we really want isn’t just God’s affection, but his help. We want to become fit to reunite with him after this life. Improvement is better than comfort, and a permanent fix is better than a temporary one.

We know we’re immature and needy, fussy little babies in an eternal sense, but we know the Father and the Son have the whole picture, and we trust them to help us succeed, whatever that entails. Christ’s birth is a hugely significant event, but the reason we care more about his birth than anyone else’s is because Christ would fulfill the Atonement and save us. This hymn, by creating a version that probably isn’t quite true to the actual events of Christ’s birth, honors not just His condescension, but also His great accomplishment.

Hymn #207: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heav’n's all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

My favorite part of the Christmas story as told in Luke 2 has always been the bit with the angels and shepherds. I love to imagine the shock that must have been on those poor shepherds’ faces, and bewildered conversation that must have occurred afterward. “Did you just…? Did that really…? An angel???”

But not just one angel: an entire multitude! It’s as if they could scarcely wait for the first angel to announce the “good tidings of great joy” before they suddenly burst of the scene, “praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14) The day had finally come! The Only Begotten of the Father had been born! What excitement there must have been on the other side of the veil!

And yet “the world in solemn stillness lay.” Yes, some noticed the signs of His birth: wise men in the East (see Matthew 2), Nephites in the Americas (see 3 Nephi 1), and I’m sure there were others about whom I hope to someday learn. On the whole, though, the Christ-child came into the world pretty simply and quietly.

Still thru the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav’nly music floats
O’er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hov’ring wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

The world continued on as it always had, and Jesus “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). He was eventually rejected, accused, crucified by the people He was born to save. The Son of the Everlasting God lived and died and lived again, and so few even knew He existed at all. His name is known throughout the world, but the “babel sounds” of busyness, selfishness, pride, and fear frequently drown out His message of love, hope, faith, and forgiveness.

But the blessed angels sing on. They know who He is. They know what He has done. And they know what is to come.

For lo! the days are hast’ning on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heav’n and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Someday the entire world will know Him too. All will join the heavenly throng in singing glory to God. Joy and peace and love will abound. The “weary world” will be renewed and the “sad and lowly plains” will be exalted. Christ will be King.

Until then, we will add our humble hallelujahs to those of the heavenly host. Just like those angels who simply had to share the good news with someone, we know who He is. We know what He has done. And we know what is to come.

What a glorious song to sing.

new star

Hymn #208: O Little Town of Bethlehem

new star

Now that it’s getting to be the Christmas season, we turn our attention to the Christmas hymns in our hymnal. There are fourteen of them, and my decision to write short essays about each of them on my personal blog last year ended up inspiring this project.

This is far from the only hymn to be written about the events of Luke 2. It’s not the only hymn to mention Bethlehem, nor is it the only one to mention the time of night or the stillness of the scene. It is, however, so far as I can tell, the only one of the fourteen Christmas hymns to mention the word “years:”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy dark and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

Jesus was born, depending on your calendar, anywhere between 6 B.C. and A.D. 1. Mankind had been around for at least four thousand years before that (and possibly as many as ten thousand, depending on how you define “mankind”), and all the while, they had been waiting for this moment. Prophets had long foretold the moment their Savior would come, and it’s not unrealistic to suppose that for each of those four to ten thousand years, someone was looking to this very moment.

The hopes are simple enough to understand; anyone looking to Jesus’ birth trusting that He would redeem them from their sins would certainly take hope from that thought. But what of the fears? Assuming they correctly understood the message, who would look to that day with fear?

Well, the Nephite people in the Book of Mormon, for one. Prophets in the Americas had also long foretold Jesus’ coming, but unlike in the Old World, those believers had a death threat hanging over their heads as a result of their belief. From 3 Nephi 1:

And it came to pass that [those who did not believe] did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.

But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.

These were people of faith, but there was fear in their hearts. They had waited five years since a particularly notable prophecy in which the date of Jesus’ birth was foretold, and while they trusted that those words would be fulfilled, it’s easy to see why they would have been afraid. Yet despite that fear, they kept their eyes to the heavens, clutching their children a little tighter, watching for the star.
As the hymn says, “How silently the wondrous gift is giv’n.” The star didn’t appear in an explosion, but probably simply appeared in the sky for all to see, announcing the birth of that wondrous gift. And so too, He does not shout for our attention, but knocks softly, waiting for us to respond:
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.
Image credit: Arnold Friberg, “Christ Appears Among the Nephites”.

Hymn #229: Today, While the Sun Shines

Today is an important day. It’s the only day I have any control over. I can use it to mourn the mistakes and trials of yesterday, to “eat, drink, and be merry” in the present, or to prepare for tomorrow. What I do today might not make much difference to anyone. I might even forget everything I’ve done today before tomorrow comes. Or I could do something monumental that will affect many people for a long time. The choice really is up to me.

As we learn from the scriptures, we are currently in our days of probation. We are being tested, and every decision we make is being evaluated. And there’s not much room for error. In D&C 64:23-24, we are told that those who choose to be selfish and wicked will be burned up as stubble. It’s true that we have been provided with a Savior and have the ability to repent. However, we do not know when this today will be our last one on Earth, and it is extremely dangerous to procrastinate the day of our repentance.

Today’s hymn reminds us to be safe by making wise choices, working hard, and being true. I think the very hardest thing it says that we should do is to “call the world fair.” Especially with all that has been going on in the media lately, it’s very easy for anyone on either side of an argument to claim that the world is simply unfair. It can be exhausting trying to continue to do what you know to be right when everyone around you is doing what you believe to be wrong. I think the best we can do is remember that most people, whether or not we agree with their actions, are trying their best. And because we have a loving Heavenly Father, He gives everyone a fair opportunity to do it in the best way they know how.

As difficult as it is to work today when the battle seems to be going up ever steeper hills, I take courage and remember that my effort is always important because of these words in D&C 64:33

Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

wheat

Hymn #216: We Are Sowing

wheat

Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.

And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Mark 4:3-9)

The parable of the sower is an easy one to understand, even if only because the Savior himself laid the symbolism bare shortly after teaching it. The seed is the word of God, which is given to all of the world. Some do not receive it, others receive it but with no depth, and some receive it only to be overcome with adversity and difficulties. But others receive it gladly, and bring forth good works and faith. Simple enough.

Who is the sower?

It’s easy enough to think that the Savior Himself is the Sower, as He’s the One telling the story and is the source of the gospel light. But as we sing in this hymn, we are the sowers, called to spread the word daily to all we meet. “We are sowing, daily sowing countless seeds of good and ill,” we sing at the start of the hymn, and it’s worth considering that despite our intentions and our constant scattering of the seeds, not all of those seeds are good. We want to be good examples, and we want others to see us and be inspired to draw unto their Savior. The sad truth, though, is that all of our actions are seeds. We can just as easily sow a good seed with a kind deed as we can a bad one with an unkind deed. We are daily, hourly, and moment by moment sowing. If you’ve been baptized, you’ve taken upon yourself the name of Christ, and as such, you are always sowing seeds in His name.

That’s a lot to take in, once you think about it. Spreading His gospel in His name is a daunting task, especially when you consider the magnitude of that calling. All of the sheaves must be gathered in, not just the ones that are especially ripe or especially close to the silo. There’s an awful lot of work to do. Fortunately, we aren’t asked to do it alone. In fact, we’re only asked to do a relatively small portion of the work. If you read through the lyrics of this hymn, you’ll notice that while we do an awful lot of sowing, we don’t cultivate the crops, plow the fields, uproot the weeds, or gather in the sheaves. We just sow. Our job is to spread the seed far and wide, let it fall where it may. Stony ground? That’s fine. Amid thorns? Sure, sow away. Good ground? Of course, put it there, too. We are asked to cover the earth in seed. The Savior will take responsibility for nurturing those tender plants, helping them to grow in whatsoever ground they may find themselves. We are to sow, and we do not do so alone. We have the companionship of “[He] who knowest all our weakness.” He walks the fields with us, helping us to scatter seed far and wide, until the whole earth is “filled with mellow, ripened ears, filled with fruit of life eternal.” We don’t judge any plot of land to be better or worse. We don’t tell our Gardener where He should plant His crops. We simply sow them, far and wide, here and there, as He asks us, and we leave the cultivation of the crops in His hands.

Image credit: “Wheat field / Weizenfeld II,” flickr user Christian Schnettelker (http://manoftaste.de)

Hymn #250: We Are All Enlisted

army of helaman

When most of us hear the word “enlisted,” we probably think of someone who has been enrolled in the military. However, to enlist also means to engage in something. If we look at the word enlist this way, as a synonym for engage, what does this hymn look like?

 We are all [engaged] till the conflict is o’er
Happy are we! Happy are we!

 This interpretations says that we have chosen to be a part of this battle against evil and will be a part of this battle until it is over. Unlike the military, the gospel is an eternal commitment, not a contractual agreement for a specific number of years. If we choose to enlist with the Lord, we are choosing to be in his army until that day when Satan is put to rest.  Not only have we committed ourselves to service, but we are happy to do so and are finding joy in the journey.

 ”Happy are we”
“We’re joyfully, joyfully marching…”
“Glad to join…”

Make no mistake about it, this is war. We are constantly battling the slings and arrows of the adversary. We are at war in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at our jobs, and Satan is using everything he’s got against us, from politics to pop culture. Here’s the important thing to remember, though. We are happy. This battle is a battle of good versus evil, and since we are on the Lord’s side, we are ensured a “bright crown” and eternal happiness. And in the meantime, we can find joy in the journey. We will “sing as we go,” in fact, because “Jesus, our Leader, ever is near./ He will protect us, comfort, and cheer.”

We are going to win this war. God says so, and as per my knowledge, God has never been wrong. He knows it’s going to get rough, and He knows it’s going to be dangerous, but He knows the outcome. “We shall gain the vict’ry by and by” (emphasis added). 

So what exactly are we being asked to do in this battle? We aren’t lobbing hand grenades, we’re not digging trenches, we’re not flying fighter jets, and physical loss of life is nonexistent. Unlike the Israelites, the Nephites or the Jaredites, we aren’t asked to pick up weapons of war to defend “Our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Alma 46:12).

We are, however, asked to defend these things with our mouths. I find it interesting that when Joseph Smith was offering a simple prayer in what is now known as the Sacred Grove, Satan attacked him by exerting, ”such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak” (Joseph Smith-History 1:15). Jeffrey R. Holland stated that, “[Satan's] effort to stop the work will be reasonably well served if he can just bind the tongue of the faithful” (We Are All Enlisted, October 2011 General Conference). It is the words of others that, by and large, attack the Lord and His faithful soldiers (or disciples) and it is the words we speak that are our protection against such evils.

Let us remember this, and remember that our biggest advantage is to open our mouths, and thusly, fight with all we’ve got. As such, let us indeed “sing as we go,” let us “rally round the standard” and “Hark! [to] our Captain.” Let us remember thatthe sound of battle [is] sounding loudly and clear.” Let each of us who is enlisted, or engaged, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, happily join the battle and speak up for the winning side, the side of the Lord, and let us do so now. There is no time to wait! To battle, with a smile on our faces!

Hymn #231: Father, Cheer Our Souls

Early on in the Church’s history, members endured trials that are difficult to imagine today. The persecution they faced made even everyday life seem dangerous, and those who crossed the plains were put through physical challenges that took several lives. In spite of all this, their faith was strong. They were humble and knew where to look for the comfort and strength. Even at times when it seemed that all was lost, they remembered the Lord’s promises to His children, like the one given in a vision to William W. Phelps in Doctrine and Covenants 61:36-37:

 36 And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you;

37 And inasmuch as you have humbled yourselves before me, the blessings of the kingdom are yours.

With the knowledge that they would never be left alone, they found the courage to live through things that would seem impossible otherwise. The early Saints knew that they could survive anything, and they knew that it was only with the Savior’s help that this was true.

The writer of this hymn, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, certainly knew the trials and faith needed in these circumstances. After crossing the plains as a young child, many of her family members died and she faced much adversity as she worked to become one of the first female doctors in Utah. This hymn is a strong example of the faith that she had. In it, she acknowledges that her strength comes from the Lord and that He can ease our burdens and bless us and those we pray for. She also acknowledges that sometimes life doesn’t seem fair, but that our faith can help to “Let us know [His] ways are just.”

I’m grateful that I have never been faced with the trials of the early Saints, but I know that I can also entreat my Heavenly Father to bless me and “cheer my soul” when life is hard.

Hymn #226: Improve the Shining Moments

Improve the shining moments;
Don’t let them pass you by.
Work while the sun is radiant;
Work, for the night draws nigh.
We cannot bid the sunbeams
To lengthen out their stay,
Nor can we ask the shadow
To ever stay away.

Well. This is awkward. Of course I would write about a hymn vilifying procrastination after having slacked at my regular posting responsibility for a month or more.  Of course. (see 1 Nephi 16:2)

When I hear this hymn, I can’t help thinking of Alice misquoting Isaac Watts while trying to sort herself out in Wonderland. His poem–which is remarkably similar in theme and phrasing to Brother Baird’s hymn–reads thusly:

 How doth the little busy Bee / Improve each shining Hour / And gather Honey all the day  / From every opening Flower!

The subsequent stanzas explain that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop and express a desire to give a positive account for each day’s work at the Day of Judgement.

Worthy sentiments, no?

It is good to busy ourselves in the Lord’s work. It is even good to busy ourselves in our own work, provided our work is honest and our motives are good. We shouldn’t procrastinate our efforts or our repentance, and should use the time we’re given wisely. After all, as Amulek teaches us, “This life is the time for men [and women] to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men [and women] to perform their labors.” (Alma 34:32)

But I think there are other, more immediate benefits to improving the shining moments as well. In verse three we sing:

As wintertime doth follow
The pleasant summer days,
So may our joys all vanish
And pass far from our gaze.
Then should we not endeavor
Each day some point to gain,
That we may here be useful
And ev’ry wrong disdain?

Since we’re talking about “shining” moments, I assume these are the days when all is well. Because there are days when all is not so well. We face challenges, stresses, doubts, and losses, and the moments don’t shine quite so brightly.

These not-so-shiny moments are when we can rely on the points we’ve gained during the good times. For example:

  • If read our scriptures diligently in our spare time, we will have words of peace and wisdom to rely on when we need answers to prayers….and we will be in the habit of turning to our scriptures regularly even when our schedules are especially tight.
  • If we pay our tithing faithfully when our bank accounts are full, the Lord will continue to bless us when they are emptier than we’d like…and it will be easier to continue paying because we will be in the habit of doing so.
  • If we strengthen our testimony in Jesus Christ right now, we will be able to draw near to Him when we need succor…and we will be in the habit of standing on His sure foundation no matter what may come in the future (see Helaman 5:12).

Yes, improving the shinning moments will prepare us to stand blameless before God, but it will also make each day of mortality that much easier. It’s the little things we do today that help us endure to the end. As the fourth verse says:

Improve each shining moment.
In this you are secure,
For promptness bringeth safety
And blessings rich and pure.
Let prudence guide your actions;
Be honest in your heart;
And God will love and bless you
And help to you impart.

Hymn #224: I Have Work Enough to Do

When Alma and Amulek visited the land of Antionum, they found that the Zoramites there had perverted worship of God into a self-congratulatory praise of their own chosen status, as they supposed. They cast out the poor and turned worship of God into an exclusive club for only the “best sorts of folks.”

The poor who had been kicked out of the synagogues were frustrated. After providing most of the labor for the synagogues, they were not allowed to worship there. From the scriptural record in Alma 32, it seems they had been stewing on this for a while. When Alma (formerly the chief judge) showed up in town they may have hoped he would restore justice to the city.

When they asked Alma “what shall we do?“, though, he did not talk of organizing protests or establishing negotiations. Instead, he taught them to love God, to have faith in Him and serve Him, even in their trials. He taught them to believe in Jesus Christ, who would come to redeem them from sin.

Amulek followed Alma’s teachings with some of his own. He taught them of the Atonement of Christ, of obedience and repentance. And then he taught that the true measure of our worship is not how loudly or eloquently we pray, but rather how we act upon the instructions God gives us.

And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34:28)

Today’s hymn might apply to the Zoramites just as much as it applies to us. I Have Work Enough to Do, it says. I have no time to be distracted by envy, jealousy, or anger. I have work enough to so in serving God’s children.

I must speak the loving word,
Ere the sun goes down.
I must let my voice be heard,
Ere the sun goes down:
Ev’ry cry of pity heeding,
For the injured interceding,
To the light the lost ones leading,
Ere the sun goes down.

The world is full of distractions, things that can pull us away from Christ. Sometimes, it’s not even the bad things that distract us—if we focus on the good and better things, but ignore the best things, we may still be missing the point. Christ’s commandments are designed to lead us to happiness and joy, to peace and harmony. And there is, indeed, work enough to do in achieving those goals.

How often do we let the good distract us from the best? How often do we have time to watch a show, read a book, or play a game—but not have time to help a neighbor, visit a friend in need, study the scriptures, or pray earnestly?

Amulek concluded his teachings by exhorting the people to “worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth”. He instructed them to not get caught up in anger against those who had cast them out, but instead to simply seek after Christ at all times.

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. […] for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. (Alma 34:32-33)

There is work enough to do, work enough to change each of our hearts. I cannot do your work, and you cannot do mine, for our work is preparing ourselves to meet God.

As I journey on my way,
Ere the sun goes down,
God’s commands I must obey,
Ere the sun goes down.
There are sins that need confessing;
There are wrongs that need redressing
If I would obtain the blessing,
Ere the sun goes down.

Hymn #240: Know This, That Every Soul Is Free

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.

2 Nephi 2:27

The Plan of Salvation is one of the most profound, most enlightening, and most comforting truths the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to offer. It helps us to understand our individual nature, our relationship to God, the point of mortality and its myriad challenges, the finite nature of death, and the infinite blessing of eternal life.

Everything in this plan is based on two great principles. The first, of course, is “the wondrous and glorious Atonement,” described by Elder Neal A. Maxwell as “the central act in all of human history….the hinge on which all else that finally matters turned.” He then takes the nature of the atonement one step further, introducing the second great principle: “But it turned upon Jesus’ spiritual submissiveness!”

Christ’s atonement was based on his eternal lifetime of choices. It was He who decided, of his own free will, to stand at the Grand Council and say, “Here am I, send me.” It was his mortal life filled with only correct decisions that made him the Perfect Lamb that alone was worthy of sacrifice to redeem us all. It was his perfect submission, even while begging the cup to be removed, to the entirety of the Father’s plan in his worst hours (the worst hours any person has ever or will ever endure) that allowed the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan. It was his decisive commendation of his eternal spirit into the hands of his Father (for no man took his life from him; he laid it down of himself) that allowed for the Easter Morn in which death forever lost its sting and the victory of the grave became eternally forfeit.

Christ made every choice right. He is our perfect example in all things, and use of agency is no exception. I think we sometimes lose track of that fact, thinking that perfection was no big deal for Christ. We’re quick to spout off that He was perfect, almost like it’s a factoid and not a profound, miraculous truth. He had the exact same capacity as you and I to make decisions. That agency is a universal gift from the Father to every single one of his children. That agency allowed for the fulfillment of the Atonement and the Messianic mission.

Interestingly enough, it is that same agency that allowed for the greatest of all downfalls, the birth, as it were, of evil and perdition. The rebellion of Lucifer, just as the Atonement of Christ, was not a forced matter. Satan and the spirits that followed him made their decisions with the same capacity with which Christ made his–and with which you and I make ours. And, just like Christ reigning forever over all His Father hath or Lucifer forever gnashing his teeth in misery and darkness, we will reach our final destination based on the paths we choose to get there.

Know this, brothers and sisters: Every soul is free. EVERY soul. Yours, mine, Christ’s, Lucifer’s. It is our agency, that immutable gift of God, that allows us to choose our lives and what we’ll be. God will never take that gift from us. He wants us all back with Him forever. He loves us each so very much and is deeply pained at the idea of losing any one of us. But He would rather allow that loss than force any of us to Heaven.

Let us all choose to use our agency for good. Let us choose to fulfill our covenants, to take upon us the name of Christ, and to be even as He is. When we fail to do these things, it is an abuse of the great agency our Father has trusted us with. Let us choose to repent of those failings and, with the grace of Christ, improve and draw nearer to God. He wants to bring us home, to share everything with us. His perfect love awaits us.  Let us seek it.

Hymn #230: Scatter Sunshine

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew 25:37-40)

This passage from the New Testament is oft-quoted, but also oft-ignored. As disciples of Christ, we have the opportunity to emulate him, to do as he would do. It’s fairly easy for us to take care of those immediately around us—members of our own family, for example—the truth is that we are surrounded by so many more people.

When Christ encouraged us to serve “the least of these my brethren,” he did not mean simply “the least of these who you see every day.” In a simple trip to the grocery store, a ride on the bus, or a walk in the park, we interact with dozens of God’s children. Surely among them is someone in need.

Of course, we cannot know the needs of every person around us. The Spirit may occasionally prompt us to reach out to a stranger in a specific way, but often we have no particular guidance. How can we lift the burdens of those around us when we know nothing about them?

This question, I would suggest, is at the heart of today’s hymn.

In a world where sorrow
Ever will be known,
Where are found the needy
And the sad and lone,
How much joy and comfort
You can all bestow,
If you scatter sunshine
Ev’rywhere you go.

Needy, sad, and lonely people are all around us, as are the disappointed, discouraged, and frustrated. Some people only have a hard day once in a while, while others seem to be constantly beset. We cannot solve all of their problems, but we can work to lighten the load.

Scatter Sunshine,” this hymn encourages. Scatter sunshine everywhere you go. Sunshine is not heavy. It is not complex. It is simply a ray of light from afar. We do not need to carry the entire burden of every person we see; that is the realm of Christ alone. But through simple actions, we can make someone’s life a little easier, make their world a happier place.

Slightest actions often
Meet the sorest needs,
For the world wants daily
Little kindly deeds.
Oh, what care and sorrow
You may help remove,
With your songs and courage,
Sympathy and love.

“Little kindly deeds,” we sing. A smile as you pass in the library, or patience as you wait in the grocery store. Picking up someone else’s litter. A friendly wave to a neighbor. An encouraging remark to someone learning a new skill. Our days are full of opportunities for service that take only seconds, if we can only seek them out.

There are, of course, big things we can do to help others. There are many in dire need, the type of need that a simple smile will not solve. We have many opportunities for large acts of service—we certainly should not ignore those. But as we follow Christ in the large things, let’s not forget to follow him in the small things too, for in lifting others, you may just find that some of that sunshine scatters right back into your own life.

Hymn #241: Count Your Blessings

Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

“Count your blessings” is a bit of advice we often hear when we’re struggling with gratitude. Whether we feel entitled or abandoned, we sometimes end up with a warped understanding of the Lord’s role in our lives. When we feel entitled, we no longer feel that we need the Lord in our lives, believing that we have everything taken care of ourselves, thank you very much. And when we feel abandoned, we feel just the opposite–that the Lord no longer feels He has a need for us, leaving us to our own devices.

We are asked to consider the blessings the Lord has given us at these times, and are explicitly counseled to name them “one by one.” It’s not enough to think that the Lord has blessed us richly. We are instructed to consider specifically just how richly He has blessed us. We may consider the blessing of a loving family, a good job (or even any job at all), kind friends, modern conveniences, or simpler things like a pink and orange sunset, the sound of wind in trees, or a kind stranger sharing her cookie with you. (That was my blessing today.) When we deeply and individually consider the magnitude of the Lord’s blessings in our lives, we get a clearer sense of just how reliant we are on Him for our day to day existence. We are reminded that we cannot make it through life on our own, no matter how we try. Even the things that we tell ourselves are blessings we have bestowed upon ourselves, like our talents, our determination, and relationships we’ve built are in actuality gifts from the Lord. He endowed us with those gifts before we came to earth, and He placed us in situations in which we would be uniquely able to succeed. We owe all that we have and all that we are to our Savior.

When we do this, we will be surprised at what the Lord has done. It’s eye-opening to consider the breadth and depth of the blessings we receive daily. It’s staggering to realize just how pivotal a role the Savior plays in our lives. But what I think is truly surprising about counting our blessings is the total reversal in our outlook by doing so. Consider the second verse:

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings; ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

Solely by counting our blessings, we go from groaning under a heavy cross to singing–singing!–as the days go by. We learn humility and gratitude by counting our blessings, and those feelings are reflected in our lives in our joy. We can turn our suffering on its head by reflecting on our many, many blessings and wind up truly, genuinely happy. The blessings themselves and their scope are surprising, certainly, but perhaps more so is the transformation that comes as we consider them.

So when we count our blessings and name them one by one, our eyes will be opened. We will “see what God hath done,” not only in the ways He has already blessed our lives, but in the way He continues to bless us by altering and improving our attitudes. And as we do so, we will find ourselves surprised, and even singing, as the days go by.

Hymn #246: Onward, Christian Soldiers

This is just about the most militaristic, jingoistic hymn we have available. There are soldiers right there in the title, and we sing about “marching as to war” and going “forward into battle.” It has a sharp, crisp cadence to it, making you feel like you want to stand up and march. You want to strap on a helmet, grab a sword and shield, and do battle with the adversary. It’s a pump-up song at its finest.

Only despite all the military zeal drummed up by the hymn, at no time do we sing about weaponry, injury, or even attacking at all. We gather behind Christ, the royal Master, we march into battle… and that’s it, right? Why are we marching into battle if we’re not even armed? How do we expect to come off conqueror against the enemy?

Well, it’s not as though we’re completely unarmed. We remember hearing Paul describe the armor of God as he taught that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We’re waging a war against an enemy that can’t simply be cut into little pieces. We’re battling an enemy composed of ideas, temptations, and allurement. So we protect ourselves with truth, righteousness, preparation, and faith. We take up the sword of the Spirit–not to take the offensive, but to defend ourselves against the enemy’s parries and thrusts.

We do have one weapon in our arsenal, though. In the second verse, we sing that “hell’s foundations quiver at the sound of praise.” We’ve heard that in the scriptures before, too. The children of Israel circled Jericho over and over, doing nothing but walking. But when they circled the city that seventh time, Joshua called out to them, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city,” and while the scriptures don’t explicitly say that they were shouts of praise, I imagine the knowledge that the Lord had given them the victory without having to raise so much as a hand couldn’t help but make those shouts of praise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God, but it’s not up to us to do the fighting. The Lord can fight His own battles, and He, in fact, does just that. We’re all too willing to leap into the fray, but more often than that, it’s not what He asks of us. He wants us to remain with the group and assume a defensive position. “We are not divided,” we sing of our united army. “One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” While the Lord fights our battles, we defend one another, building up faith, watching out for temptation, and looking after our fellow saints. The Savior leads out against the foe, and we follow, singing shouts and anthems of praise, causing the enemy to flee before us.

So we sing with military zest and precision. The snappy beat and meter fills us with pep and zeal. We stand up and begin marching as to war, but not to the actual war itself. We form ranks, fill lines, and assume our positions, ready to defend the kingdom of God and its citizens. Our job isn’t to take the offensive and deliver the crushing, finishing blow to Satan; that job has already been completed, as we remind ourselves by the fact that we are led by the “cross of Jesus going on before.”

Hymn #228 – You Can Make the Pathway Bright

I find the repeated “you can” of this hymn very empowering. You can make the pathway bright, speak a gentle word, do a kindly deed, and live a happy life. The first verse tells us how:

You can make the pathway bright,
Fill the soul with heaven’s light,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
Turning darkness into day,
As the shadows fly away,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

The key is to keep “sunshine in your heart,” a line which is repeated sixteen times in the course of this hymn. It’s significant, of course, that sunshine is to be kept in the heart, not the eyes or the mind or the speech. Your heart is your core, the site of your motivation, and the beating center of your soul. If there’s sunshine there, it doesn’t matter what difficulties may come.

However, I think we too easily overlook what this hymn guarantees. The promise is that “you can make the pathway bright,” not that you can make the pathway easy. Due to its exuberant cheerfulness, this hymn can be overlooked as advocating a kind of simple naivete that is out of reach for anyone over the age of seven.  But I think there’s more going on than that, and it’s evident in the kind of tasks described in verses 2 and 3.

The chorus tells us that we can “send a shining ray,” but where? Or to whom do we “send” it? If we look closely at verses 2 and 3, it seems we are to send that light to others:

You can speak the gentle word
To the heart with anger stirred,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;

You can do a kindly deed
To your neighbor in his need,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;

This is not a happy-go-lucky hymn about selfish cheerfulness making our life magically easy. It’s a hymn about how keeping optimism and “a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Ne 31:20) at our motivating centers will help us to lift the burdens of others. It’s only in doing that, in serving others, that we get the promise of verse 4: “you can live a happy life.” But the promise doesn’t end there; it goes on to specify exactly what this “sunshine” amounts to: a soul aglow with love.

You can live a happy life
In this world of toil and strife,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
And your soul will glow with love
From the perfect Light above,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

Hymn #233: Nay, Speak No Ill

Nay, Speak No Ill has a simple message, perhaps best summarized by this passage from the third verse:

Then speak no ill, but lenient be
To others’ failings as your own.
If you’re the first a fault to see,
Be not the first to make it known,

It’s all too easy to find fault in others; a single flaw often stands out more prominently than 99 virtues. Finding fault in others often serves to build our own ego, as “surely I would never do that.” We compare our  own strengths with another’s weakness, building ourselves up and tearing others down.

This, of course, is in exact opposition to the Christ-like ideals we strive for. Certainly Christ was aware of the faults in those around him—he made that abundantly clear from time to time. But his primary concern was never to tear others down, but rather to encourage and strengthen the virtues he saw in others. To the woman taken in adultery, Christ said “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”

As I read this hymn, I was reminded of something Joseph Smith taught:

The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. (Source)

So yes, let us speak no ill. When we see flaws in others, let’s remember our own imperfection and weakness. Instead of tearing down our brothers and sisters, let’s build them up.

Hymn #221: Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd

My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earthIn this hymn version of the parable of the lost sheep (see Luke 15) we seem to have a few different types of “sheep”. The most frequently mentioned group is “the sheep that have wandered.”

They are also called “lambs that are lost” or “straying”, and I think we can assume that at one point these sheep were with the rest of the flock. They knew their shepherd and followed him…until they didn’t. Something distracted them, or delayed them, or they got bored and wandered off to find some new adventure. It’s a clear metaphor for anyone who was a member of the church but has since left, although it could represent anyone who has broken a commandment and strayed from the path even just a little.

(That’s all of us, in case you had forgotten.)

As verse two says, these sheep were “saved at such infinite cost.” The Atonement and repentance is what enables these lost sheep to return to the Good Shepherd’s presence, and He rejoices when they do so.

The second group is the “‘other’ lost sheep” mentioned in the first verse. Being “other”, they have never been and are not yet part of the fold. But they will be. Rather, they can be if found and “rescued.” These are the people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ or his restored gospel. Once taught and baptized, they are part of the fold, and like their fellow Saints, they follow where their Shepherd leads.

Which leaves us with the third group: the “ninety and nine.” Verse three reminds us that these sheep are also dear to the shepherd. He doesn’t leave his flock to rescue a lost sheep because he doesn’t care about them as much as the one; rather he hastens to rescue it because he knows the remaining flock is going to be okay.

But just because they are safe and happy in their little enclosure doesn’t mean they should stay there and shut everyone else out. If we know the shepherd, we have a responsibility to help him out:

Hark! he is earnestly calling,
Tenderly pleading today:
“Will you not seek for my lost ones,
Off from my shelter astray?”

 

There are so many lost sheep. Those who have strayed need to know they have a place in the fold, no matter where they have been or what they have done. Those who have never seen the green pastures need to be led there, “not,” as Peter teaches us, “by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

I wrote this a few years ago; it’s definitely relevant here. This is what it doesn’t say in Luke 15:

4) What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not grudgingly leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

5) And when he hath found it, he chastiseth it for having gotten itself lost, then layeth it on his shoulders and bring it back to the fold, where the other sheep turn away from it and judge it as a lesser sheep than they which remained with the shepherd all along.

6) And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice because of what I have done; for I have found my foolish sheep which was lost. Am I not clever and righteous?

Because if that’s what it said in Luke 15, and I happened to be that proverbial sheep, I’d up and get myself lost again. Who wants to hang with a holier-than-thou shepherd and his judgmental herd?

Jesus loves us. All of us. Those of us in the church, those who have left it or struggle to feel they belong there, and those who have never even heard of it. We all belong to him. And so when he calls us, we should answer him gladly: “Yes, blessed Master, we will!”

river

Hymn #242: Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow

river

It’s literally four phrases long, so let’s just go ahead and listen to all of the words right now:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

There’s only one verse, and even if you sing it at 58 beats per minute (the slowest recommended tempo) and hold out each fermata for three counts, the hymn only lasts about 48 seconds. If you space out for a moment, you could miss it, and that would be a shame, because there’s plenty to consider here.

The exhortation for all creatures above and below to praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is lovely. No one is exempt from the call. All of us here on earth, no matter our situation, no matter who, where, or what we are, are to offer our praise. We can be black or white, male or female, rich or poor, righteous or sinners, but we are all to praise God, our Father and Creator. The heavenly host joins us in singing those praises, and while your mileage may vary on this, I feel that animals, plants, and even the earth itself joins as well. All creation unites in singing praise to its Maker.

And it’s fitting that everything is to offer praise, because it’s for everything that we offer that praise. As we sing, we praise God, from whom “all blessings flow.” He is not the source of some blessings, many blessings, or even most blessings. He is the source of all blessings. There is nothing good but that He has made it. He is the source of the grand blessings we see, such as life-saving miracles, parting of seas, and the moving of mountains, but He is also the source of small mercies, like a call from a friend, a problem solved at work, or even just the gentle reassurance that He is there and aware of you.

That’s difficult for us to comprehend and appreciate sometimes. We often think of miracles and blessings being things that happen to other people. We hear stories of someone’s aunt laying sick in a hospital, dying of some lingering disease, praying and exercising faith that the prophet will come and heal her. And he does come, she is healed, and she says something along the lines of, “I knew the Lord would send you to me.” They’re incredible stories, and they do much to strengthen our faith in general. but sometimes they can leave our faith specific to our own situations wanting. We trust that the prophet can call down the powers of heaven, but will that help us find our car keys when we’re already late? Will it help us when we’re faced with choosing between paying our tithing and paying the electric bill?

When those smaller problems are resolved and the promised blessings come, it’s much easier for us to give the credit elsewhere. If we pray to find our missing keys and then find them buried under a pile of mail, it’s tempting to say something like, “Never mind, Lord! They were right here. I meant to look here, but just hadn’t gotten to it yet.” When we pay our tithing and the electric bill turns out to be a little less than we expected, it’s easy to chalk that up to a miscalculation on our part. “Don’t worry about this one, Lord! It turns out we didn’t need your help, after all.” But those are blessings, small though they may be, and their source is our God, the same as it is with grander, more impressive blessings.

When we open our eyes and ascribe the praise for all blessings to God, we find that there are many, many more blessings in our lives than we ever realized. And as we recognize just how richly blessed we are, we join our voices with “all creatures here below” and the “heav’nly host.” Ours is a generous God, if only we’d stop and take notice of just how willing to bless us He is.

Image credit: “River Stone Water Cold Murmur Roaring Wild,” Pixabay user Hans Braxmeier.

CTR

Hymn #239: Choose the Right

CTR

This is an instantly recognizable hymn for most members of the LDS Church. It has a simple, catchy melody and simple, easily-remembered theme (the BUM BUM BUM progression really solidifies the words “choose the right”), and, along with “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” might be one of the most-played hymns in the book by beginners.

The message is a familiar one. As children, we have the message “choose the right” drilled into our heads from a young age. There’s easily-recognizable imagery to go with the message, and children are given rings to help them remember. Many Latter-day Saints choose to wear those rings well into adulthood to give them a constant reminder to always choose the right.

On the surface, this seems like a hymn that further reinforces that theme. When a choice is placed before us, we can look at our finger and see that familiar shield. We can hear the BUM BUM BUM of the first three notes of the hymn and remember that we need to choose the right. And that’s certainly what this hymn is designed to do. It’s  a potent earworm that lodges itself in our brains, just as many of the other instructional Primary songs seem to do. But there’s a lot more that this hymn can teach us than simply choosing the right. Consider the first two lines:

Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.
In the right the Holy Spirit guides.

“In the right the Holy Spirit guides.” As we choose the right, the Holy Ghost can more effectively guide us to make right choices. It’s an almost tautological statement, but that’s the way it works. Making right choices fills us with an influence that inspires us to make more right choices. The light of the Holy Ghost will be “forever shining o’er [us]” as we continue to make choices that allow Him to remain with us. The inverse is just as applicable; if we make poor choices, we limit the ability of the Holy Ghost to remain with us, making us less able to feel His influence and more susceptible to making poor choices.

Not only does the continued influence of the Holy Ghost make it easier for us to choose the right, but constantly making right choices while under that influence helps to train us to make those choices more readily. The old saw is true; it’s easier to make a decision about a difficult issue beforehand than it is to make it in the moment. In the second verse, we sing that choosing the right will “let no spirit of digression overcome [us] in the evil hour.” If we’re already choosing the right, we won’t be led astray by any spirit of temptation when a thorny choice is placed before us. We’ve already chosen the right, and thus the Holy Ghost is already there with us, helping to chase away distractions and temptations. Even if we haven’t already made the choice for the issue we’re facing, the companionship of the Holy Ghost can make those choices simple through His guidance. We can be safe through inspiration’s power.

So we choose the right. There is peace in righteous doing, and there is safety for the soul. We invite the Holy Ghost into our lives, whether we’ve been safely on the right path for years or whether we’re just returning to it. The Spirit helps to guide us on that path through the light of inspiration. And in its light, we choose the right, and even if only by helping us to draw nearer to the Spirit (although we know we can and will receive so much more), God will bless us evermore.

Image credit: “CTR Ring (LDS Church)“, Wikipedia user Ricardo630.

Hymn #245: This House We Dedicate to Thee

LDS MeetinghouseIn the past decade or two, there has been a remarkable surge in temple construction throughout the world. After each temple is completed, the Church holds an open house event, in which the public is invited to tour the new temple, understand its purpose, and appreciate its beauty.

After the open house, a special dedicatory meeting is held in which the building is dedicated as a temple of God. This dedication marks a change in the temple. Prior to dedication, it is a beautiful building constructed with fine materials and great care, intended as a place of worship. It is a special place, as those who attend the open house can attest. At dedication, though, something more is added. It is dedicated, set apart permanently as a holy and sacred place, a place where Heaven and Earth can meet.

When something (or someone) is dedicated, it is focused on a particular purpose, and does not tolerate distraction. An athlete dedicated to winning an Olympic medal alters his (or her) diet, sleep, exercising and training habits in light of that goal. Because of that dedication, his way of life is different from those around him.

Our dedicated temples are likewise unique. The ultimate purpose of temples is to bind families together eternally through the power of God. In order to achieve that purpose, it looks different from other buildings. It sounds different. It feels different. To avoid distracting from the Spirit of the Lord there, attendance is limited to those who are keeping certain covenants. The dedication of the temple means that it is no longer a workplace for master craftsmen or a showroom for our beliefs—it is now a sacred place of holy ordinances and binding covenants.

We don’t just dedicate temples, though. Meetinghouses are dedicated too, as well as seminaries, institutes, and other Church facilities. The restrictions that come with each of these dedications varies according to the purpose of the building, but all are done under priesthood power. We might consider the dedication of a building as a sort of covenant with God—we promise to treat the building appropriately according to the purpose for dedication, and in return we seek God’s magnifying power in carrying out that purpose.

Our homes can also be dedicated to God by priesthood authority. Church instruction states this:

Church members may dedicate their homes as sacred edifices where the Holy Spirit can reside and where family members can worship, find safety from the world, grow spiritually, and prepare for eternal family relationships. (Handbook 2)

We frequently teach that our homes are a sacred place, that “only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness”. If we seek divine assistance in achieving the goals listed above, would it not be wise to dedicate our homes also?

Of course, dedication does not happen by means of a simple prayer. An athlete who declares her dedication to competing in the Olympics but then carries on with the same everyday tasks will not find any change in her ability. Likewise, simply dedicating a home does not immediately change its character. We must act consistent with that dedication, making our homes a refuge from the world and encouraging a spirit of love there in order for that dedication to be effective.

This House We Dedicate to Thee does not specify whether it should be sung at the dedication of a temple or a meetinghouse. It is equally appropriate for both. In the second verse, we sing:

Wilt thou thy servants here inspire
When in thy name they speak?
And wilt thou bless each contrite soul
Who here thy face doth seek?

This request is appropriate, but only if we act in accordance with the blessing we seek. It’s easy to attend church but tune out the speakers—yet can we really expect God to inspire them if we choose not to listen? Our actions within that building must demonstrate our acknowledgement of the dedication it has received in order for those blessings to be realized.

As we speak of dedication, I want to suggest one more topic for consideration. Paul taught the following:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

If we dedicate our meetinghouses and temples to God, seeking his grace in magnifying the power of those places, should we not also dedicate our own bodies, our own lives to God? If we truly seek eternal life, should we not dedicate ourselves to God, modifying habits and avoiding distractions?

You are not a building, of course—the analogy is imperfect. But I hope you’ll consider your own dedication to God.

Image Credit: https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/north-salt-lake-chapel-769469

Hymn #222: Hear Thou Our Hymn, O Lord

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.

Hymn # 218: We Give Thee But Thine Own

“Every faculty you have…is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God…[i]t is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapter 11: Faith). 

I love this analogy by C.S. Lewis, because it drives straight to the heart of the message of this hymn: every little bit we give to the Lord is just paying it back to Him in minute ways.

In the first verse, we sing that “all we have is thine alone/A trust, O Lord, from thee.” If we use the legal definition of the word “trust” here, it is as if the Lord makes us the nominal owner of property which is then to be used for others’ benefit. For example, I am the trustee of two little souls. My husband and I are stewards over them. Others may be entrusted with foster children, an aging parent, a gift for painting, a herd of sheep, a successful business. The point is that anything we’ve ever gotten in our lives worth receiving was given us by God.

As we receive these gifts, the Lord asks for a small portion of our bounty in return. And, true to form, when we give up that small portion, He gives back yet another set of blessings. In Proverbs we read the Lord’s promise that if we pay our tithing, “thy barns [will] be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Proverbs 3: 9-10).

In addition to tithes, the Lord gives us another instruction, a formula for what the Apostle James beautifully sums up as “pure religion”: “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

In a talk by the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, he said that some of us are “so busy checking on our own temperatures, we do not notice the burning fevers of others…The hands which hang down and most need to be lifted up belong to those too discouraged even to reach out anymore” (Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Oct. 1995 General Conference).

But all of these commandments–service, tithing, whatever–are just small pieces of the whole. The Lord blesses us with gifts, talents, even trials and failures to become the strongest, most whole version of ourselves. But the final sacrifice he asks of us is ourselves.

In the words of my favorite emeritus apostle C.S. Lewis, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.’” (Mere Christianity, chapter 8).

I believe giving up our will is the single greatest struggle any of us will ever go through in our lives. Physical blessings, though really nice, are inherently transient. Homes burn down, money vanishes, accidents and disease maim our bodies and disable us. Death comes for us all and for some of us, it touches our lives prematurely and often.

However, how we respond to these catastrophes is part of the trial. Giving up our our will to Heavenly Father is something Elder Maxwell called “the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.” May we all have the desire to give of ourselves, but more importantly, to give up ourselves to the Lord.

Hymn #219: Because I Have Been Given Much

Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With every brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me.

This is a beloved hymn in the LDS Church. If you’ve spent much time with us at all, chances are excellent you’ve heard it at least once, and if you’ve been a member for most of your life, chances are excellent you’ve sung it a couple hundred times. It’s the song about gratitude. I’m not going to try to be tricky here and argue that it’s secretly about something else (although take a look at those topics at the bottom; missionary work? reactivation? fasting? there’s more than meets the eye here), although I do want to explore the depth of the gratitude we express in this hymn. Let’s consider a few words from that first verse.

1. How much is “much?”

We sing that we have been given “much” from the Lord, but how much are we talking about? I think we all understand that He created the heavens and earth, as well as the animal and plant life thereon. Certainly we should be thankful for those gifts. But surely this doesn’t include things that man has created, right? We should be thankful for our lives, of course, but should we give thanks to the Lord for, say, television, or smartphones? Do I need to be grateful for the database that I built at work?

We have been given much, but a more accurate word might be “all.” The Lord has given us everything, from the earth we stand on and the air we breathe to our wit, intelligence, and creativity. If we build anything, it’s only because He gave us the ability to do so in the first place. King Benjamin, in his wonderful valedictory address to his people in the Book of Mormon, taught that even if we were to “render all the thanks and praise which [our] whole soul has power to possess,” we would yet be unprofitable servants. He has given us so much that we can never come out ahead, particularly since as we extend our gratitude to Him through our obedience, He gives us further blessings. There’s no way for us to catch up.

Fortunately, He doesn’t ask us to catch up. All He asks is that we keep His commandments, and one of those is to be grateful. So we offer our gratitude to Him for all that we have, and we certainly have much.

2. How many days is “each?”

We pledge in this hymn to express gratitude and share our gifts with others each day we live. That doesn’t mean that we do those things only on Sundays, or only when it’s convenient for us. It’s easy to be grateful and share at those times. We’re good at offering gratitude when we’re recognized for it, or when everyone else is also doing so. It’s a breeze to offer what we have to others when we’re confident they will be too polite to accept. But it’s something else when we see someone in need and we know it would cost us more than a trifle to stop and help. We may be driving somewhere and see someone stopped on the side of the road. We may justify not stopping because we’re in a rush, and think to ourselves, “Someone else will probably stop,” or, “I’m sure they’ll take care of it.” We may hear that an acquaintance needs help fixing their house, and think “I don’t know them that well,” or, “I just got home from work, and I’m too tired to go out.”

We’re good at finding ways to justify inaction and ingratitude, but the hymn makes it clear that we are to be grateful and giving each day we live. We don’t get days off. There aren’t times when it’s optional to give thanks or aid. We are to be grateful always, even (and perhaps especially) when it’s difficult. And in those times that it’s difficult to be grateful, we can take comfort in the fact that others have made the same pledge, and they will be there for us when we need help.

3. How many people is “every?”

We declare that we will share our blessings with “every” brother (or sister, of course) that we see. As we mentioned before, it’s very easy to share our blessings with friends and family. These are people that we know and love, and of course we would share with them. They would share with us. It’s less easy to offer our blessings to those we don’t know as well, or who don’t seem to be able (or willing) to repay us.

The commandment is simple: We are to share our bounty with everyone. We don’t distinguish based on intent, or appearance, or belief, or anything else. We have been blessed without reservation, and we spread those blessings similarly without reservation. The apostle John wrote that “we love [the Lord], because he first loved us.” We could just as well say that we love others because He first loved us, and we bless others’ lives because He first blessed ours.

I think we readily understand the message that we are to be grateful because we have been so richly blessed, but we might be slower to understand the breadth of that gratitude.  Our gratitude isn’t expressed in passing. There’s nothing shallow about it. It should be all-encompassing, and we’re probably slow to admit that because we know how difficult a task it is.

Fortunately, He doesn’t ask us to do it all at once, or even to be able to do it all at once. He asks for our best effort, and as we give that, He blesses us more and more.

Hymn #225: We Are Marching On to Glory

 

southern cross

When we talk about enduring to the end, we often talk about staying in the strait and narrow path. The idea is that we have a clear path to follow that the gospel has laid out for us, and that we have little room for variation from that path. If our goal is eternal life and everything that the Father has, then we can’t make up our own route to get there. He’s set the goal for us, and He dictates the path. It is strait, and it is narrow.

We have guides to get us there, of course; it would be unfair to demand that we follow such a rigid course without also telling us how to walk that path. We are given the scriptures, prophets, local and general leaders, families, and of course, the gift of the Holy Ghost. We talk about the scriptures in particular as an iron rod, but we could just as easily describe all of those guides as an iron rod, built on the side of the path to help guide us along the way.

One image that isn’t used as frequently, though, is that of a guiding star. The wise men followed a star to see the infant Jesus, but I can’t think of any other scriptural imagery that references the guiding power of stars. The chorus of this hymn mentions it, however. Listen:

We are marching, marching homeward
To that bright land afar.
We work for life eternal;
It is our guiding star.

“That bright land afar” is described earlier as eternal life. We are marching on to be with our Father, and to be like Him. That goal serves as our guiding star. You may not be familiar with celestial navigation; I know I certainly haven’t had to chart a course using the stars. It can be difficult to an inexperienced person like you or me, since as the earth rotates on its axis, the stars also rotate through the sky. A constellation may start the night in the east and end up in the west before long. Navigation can only work by orientating to a fixed point. In the northern hemisphere, that’s the North Star; in the southern hemisphere, there’s no star that occupies a fixed position, but the Southern Cross points the way. The starry sky spins through the night, but those two fixed positions never change. If you know where Polaris is, you can always at least be sure which direction north is; if you can find Crux, you can also find south.

We hear many different messages in our lives, and they often contradict each other. We may be told to get with the times, or to be on the right side of history. But we know that if we want to get to our goal, we need to orient ourselves using those fixed points. Just as the location of the North Star never changes, so too can we count on the fact that the things we learn from the gospel will never change. Jesus will always be our Savior. He will always have suffered for our sins, and we will always need to exercise faith and repent if we want to make use of that gift in our lives. The gospel is a fixed point, and we can always use it to chart our course through life as everything else changes around us. We need not be “driven with the wind and tossed,” as James warned. We can plot a steady course and safely arrive at our destination.

Image credit: “Southern Cross,” flickr user rplzzz. CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Hymn #247: We Love Thy House, O God

Source: HelamanGallery.com

I once told a dear friend about temples and mentioned there was one in Washington D.C.  She responded, “Oh, you mean the Land of Oz?” We  had a good laugh over this, as would anyone who has experienced coming around the Beltway and seeing the temple unfolding as if by magic out of the trees.

I don’t mean to say that the temple is really like the Land of Oz, except that every time I go I know I will be greeted by a host of people who are delighted that I came at all.

All light-heartedness aside, I find that the longer I live as a temple-attending Mormon, the harder it is to casually speak of what my temple worship means to me. I know that I am one of millions of adult members of the LDS church who decide seek entrance to the temple and receive blessings from God, but in some ways my endowment feels incredibly personal.

As in life, my temple attendance and worship has had its seasons: the season of confusion, of irritation, of apathy, of crisis, of salvation. All seasons had threads of salvation, as we believe that our work in the temple is offering ordinances to people who have passed away, but I feel like only recently have I been attending the temple for my own salvation.

I heard the testimony of a woman this afternoon who described her “crooked path” in life that led her back to the church after nearly 40 years of inactivity and into a marriage that will be solemnized in the temple very soon. I couldn’t help but weep to hear her story because she is going into the House of the Lord for the first time with her hands eagerly outstretched to receive those blessings. I did not go to the temple as a young adult with that same eagerness, but I do so now.

Hosanna” is the watchword of the current season of my life. As a kid I heard the word many times in its context of praise but as an adult, its original meaning has taken root in my heart: “Please save us.” I have finally experienced what it is like to go to the House of the Lord with a troubled mind, a sick body, a broken heart, an empty cup waiting to be filled. I went with my hands outstretched, pleading for peace and a respite from illness and sorrow, and the Lord lifted my burdens both physically and emotionally.

Since I am still in the Hosanna season of my life, I cannot casually sum up what the temple means to me. It is the impetus to my involvement in the LDS church on every level. It is the sacred space my soul needs to stretch and grow. It is everything to me.

Hosanna.

Hosanna.

Hosanna. 

 

Red sunset

Hymn #243: Let Us All Press On

800px-Red_sunset

Ages ago, the king of Syria was troubled. He was at war with Israel, and despite his best efforts to kill the king of Israel, he was consistently able to sneak away from his assassination attempts. Convinced someone was leaking secrets to the enemy, the king of Syria asked his servants which of them was the mole. One answered and said that Elisha, “the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.” Convinced he knew how to gain the upper hand in the war, the king sent a huge military force to kill Elisha.

The prophet, for his part, seemed unconcerned about the massive army descending upon him, although his servant, arising early and seeing his city surrounded by Syrian soldiers, asked his master what they were going to do. Elisha said, simply, “Fear not: they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”

We will not retreat, though our numbers may be few
When compared with the opposite host in view;
But an unseen pow’r will aid me and you
In the glorious cause of truth.

Life is scary sometimes. We may feel overwhelmed and alone in our cause. It’s especially frustrating when the Lord, who has told us time and again that we can always depend on Him, isn’t plainly visible to our eyes. We do our best to trust and to believe, but faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of us, we doubt, and we ask, as did Elisha’s servant, how the Lord expects us to cope.

And like this servant, we have wise people placed in our lives whose faith is stronger in the moment. (At other times, we may be the ones called upon to strengthen their faith. Sometimes our wounds are bound, and sometimes we do the binding.) Elisha, having told his disbelieving servant that the powers of heaven were close at hand, prayed that the Lord would “open his eyes, that he may see.” His eyes were opened, and he saw legions of heavenly defenders, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

We have our eyes opened from time to time as well. We get so wrapped up in a trial that we miss the fact that we have a loving family around us, or that we’re receiving financial, physical, or emotional blessings that prop us up during our struggles. The old story about the single set of footprints during the hardest times of life is a tired cliche, but there’s merit to the story. The Lord bears our burdens, and He’s always there for us, if we’ll but open our eyes.

And so, armed with that knowledge, we press on. The chorus of this hymn is particularly fun, as the soprano part diverges from the other three. I don’t often sing the melody at church, so I usually sing the counter part, which really enjoy. Listen:

Fear not, courage, though the enemy deride;
We must be victorious, for the Lord is on our side.
We’ll not fear the wicked nor give heed to what they say,
But the Lord, our Heav’nly Father, him alone we will obey.

It stuffs in quite a few more syllables, providing a nice contrast to the held-out notes of the soaring soprano part. Most of the words are the same, if in a different order, but last two lines have slightly different messages. The soprano part says that we won’t heed the wicked, but the counter part specifically says that we won’t fear them. That’s tricky when faced with the “opposite host in view.” We trust in our Lord, though, and that gives us hope, which drives out our fear.

If we do what’s right, we have no need to fear. We may be faced with difficult, and yes, frightening challenges in our lives, but we know that the Lord will ever be near. His angels surround us, ready to leap in and give their aid. “In the days of trial his Saints he will cheer,” we sing in the final verse. Not only is He ready to bear us up, but He knows when we’re struggling, and those are the days He is most ready to lend a hand. We need only to open our eyes to see the unseen power that aids us.

Image credit: “Red sunset,” Wikipedia user Fir0002, CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Hymn #238: Behold Thy Sons and Daughters, Lord

We see two topics attached to this hymn in the Holy Ghost and obedience. I was more than a little surprised not to find a third. Listen to the first verse and see if you can tell what the missing topic is:

Behold thy sons and daughters, Lord
On whom we lay our hands.
They have fulfilled the gospel word
And bowed at thy commands.

Obedience? Check. The Holy Ghost, too, as we lay our hands on our brothers and sisters to receive that gift. But when do we do that? Either at, or shortly after, our baptism.

I can understand why someone would choose not to categorize this hymn under “baptism,” since the ordinance is never mentioned in the lyrics. But we (or I, at least) so strongly associate receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost with baptism that I’m a little surprised it wasn’t mentioned. Doesn’t this seem like the sort of hymn you’d expect to hear at a baptism? Much of what we sing has to do not only with receiving the Holy Ghost, but with encouragement and exhortation to someone who has just come into the fold. In fact, that’s exactly the imagery used in the second verse:

Oh, now send down the heav’nly dove
And overwhelm their souls
With peace and joy and perfect love,
As lambs within thy fold.

Joining a new church is a significant change in anyone’s life. Not only are you pledging to live your life differently, but you’re  choosing to join a new community and associate with new people. It’s daunting, particularly if you don’t know anyone already. The Holy Ghost helps with that, not only giving us gentle guidance on how to stay in line with the Lord’s teachings, but also in helping us to feel His love. This can take the form of peace in prayer, but it can also be felt as a reassurance that the handshake and words, “We’re really glad to have you here,” from a man you’ve never met do, in fact, come from the heart.

It’s easy to assume that those sorts of words and actions are empty, especially coming from a stranger. The Spirit can help us there, not only by softening our hearts and clearing our minds, but also by purifying us, making us more able to feel the love of God. The third verse tells us that when we do that, we will find ourselves “adopted in” to the fold. He seals us His as we allow His spirit to purify and cleanse us.

That’s a choice we have to make as much as anything else. The gift of the Holy Ghost is given to us, but when it is, we are commanded to receive it. There’s nothing passive about the process. We choose to receive the gift, allowing the Spirit access to our heart so that it can be purified. We show that we receive that gift from the Father by obeying His laws and keeping His commandments. We humble ourselves and submit ourselves to His will, which allows Him to work with us more easily and lessens any resistance to the purifying power of the Spirit.

It’s hard work. Being obedient is more than simply avoiding evil, it’s choosing to do (and be) good. We look for opportunities to serve others. We mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We all commit to do this when we are baptized, but the fact that we’ve all made that commitment doesn’t make it any easier. The Holy Ghost helps, though, by comforting us as we try to comfort others:

Increase their faith, confirm their hope,
And guide them in the way.
With comfort bear their spirits up
Until the perfect day.

Once we choose to be baptized and to receive the Holy Ghost, we are all on the same path toward eternal life and a reunion with our Father in heaven. It’s a long path, and a difficult one. We’re all going to struggle, get exhausted, and occasionally wish we hadn’t chosen such a difficult journey. When we get tired, the Holy Ghost is there for us, bearing our spirits up. At some point, we will reach our destination and rejoice in that perfect day, but it’s still a long way off. Until that time, we have the Holy Ghost to walk the path with us, holding our hands each step of the way.

It’s a comforting thought, and an appropriate one to share with someone as they take their first steps along that path at baptism. The Father watches over all of us, whether we’ve been faithful to His gospel for decades or whether we’re just starting out, and He provides the same tools and help to each of us.

Hymn #235: Should You Feel Inclined to Censure

If you listen to this hymn and find that it feels familiar, it’s because the tune is “Lower Lights,” which, but for two changed notes, is identical to the tune from the much-beloved “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy.” (We’re not writing about that one until August. Hopefully you can last that long.)

This hymn is about fault-finding and sniping, something that plagues us not just as Latter-day Saints, not just as Christians, not just as anything, but as human beings. We have what seems to be an infinite capacity to be petty. We look for occasions to point out the mote in others’ eyes. We tear others down, either in an effort to build ourselves up or simply to be spiteful and cruel.

King Benjamin, a prophet-king in the Book of Mormon, described this state as the “natural man.” We are, left to our own devices, unkind to others. We puff ourselves up to make ourselves feel important while stepping on others. We look out for ourselves. It’s human nature, and there’s a temptation to shrug it off with the excuse that it’s simply who we are.

We can be more, of course, and the point of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to help us transcend that state through the Atonement. We can become “as a child,” as Benjamin puts it, “submissive, meek, humble, patient, [and] full of love.” It involves active effort on our parts, though. We choose to follow the Savior, and we reaffirm that choice countless times each day as we’re given opportunities to slip back to being the natural man. Often, we find ourselves on the brink of doing something that we know we shouldn’t do and have the choice to either correct our action or plow on ahead.

This hymn is about that moment of decision. Do we feel the need to chastise someone about something trivial? “Ask your own heart,” we sing, “if you have not failings, too.” We pause and consider the beam in our own eye. We count the cost of what we’re about to say. More often than not, we stand to lose much more than we gain by being right in an argument, or by correcting someone’s action we deem to be wrong. The first verse cautions us against being so quick to judge:

Let not friendly vows be broken;
Rather strive a friend to gain.
Many words in anger spoken
Find their passage home again.

Simply put, we will find kindness returned with kindness, and pettiness returned with pettiness. In situations like these, it’s easy to create, if not an enemy, at least hurt feelings. Instead, we can take the opportunity to be kind and potentially gain a friend. The second verse makes this clear as we sing, “those of whom we thought unkindly oft become our warmest friends.”

So we take the time to be kind. We choose to withhold criticism and judgment and instead offer praise. We do unto others as we would have them do unto us:

Do not then, in idle pleasure
Trifle with a brother’s fame;
Guard it as a valued treasure,
Sacred as your own good name.

We choose to be like the Savior, following His commandment to “love one another, as I have loved you.” It’s a choice we make over and over each day, and each time, we get the chance to draw incrementally closer to the Savior or incrementally further from Him. It’s up to us to choose.

Hymn #236 – Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom

Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom is a hymn about baptism that draws heavily on 2 Nephi 31. It’s also a challenging hymn to dig into, but it presented at least a couple of interesting ideas!

Because it’s such an unfamiliar hymn, I want first to briefly describe its organization, and then dig into some of its doctrinal ideas.

Each verse focuses itself on a particular instance of baptism:

Verse 1 – baptism quite generally (“born of water”)
Verse 2 – Christ’s baptism (“know ye not that he was holy?” cf. 2 Ne 31:7)
Verse 3 – baptism for the dead (“holy ordinance … for the … dead”)

The hymn then concludes with these lines of praise:

Let your hearts rejoice in gladness!
Let the earth break forth and sing!
Let the dead speak praising anthems
To our God, eternal King!

Apart from the startling rarity of LDS hymns about baptism, this hymn is also striking for the way it so emphatically praises the Lord. When was the last time you expressed gratitude for this ordinance? And why, exactly, does this hymn suggest that we ought to?

First, the title and first line asks the Lord to “accept into thy kingdom” all those who have been baptized. We typically think of God’s kingdom as another term for “heaven,” and often picture ourselves entering that kingdom only after we die. This hymn suggests otherwise: since baptism takes place in this life, so does entry into God’s kingdom. In fact, the symbolism of baptism itself supports this interpretation; the Apostle Paul describes baptism this way:

“Therefore we are buried with [Christ] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

Paul describes baptism as a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection in memory of Christ’s physical death and resurrection. We are “buried” in the water, and then “raised up.” That symbolism is important. What we are burying “into death” is the natural man, and what we are raising up “in newness of life” is a son or daughter of God. Eternal life has already begun! We’ve already (symbolically) died and been resurrected. Eternity and life in God’s kingdom begin now.

Second, baptism initiates a special kind of relationship with the Father. Like Nephi, this hymn asks “know ye not that he was holy?” Baptism has to involve more than simply cleansing from sin or securing salvation, since Jesus needed neither of those. What did Jesus’ baptism reveal? Nephi answers:

“[Jesus] witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Ne 31:7).

On this account, baptism showed a certain sort of relationship with the Father. Christ demonstrated and covenanted a willingness to submit to God—something that would come to fruition in a radical way on the cross. Instead of being a means for washing away sins, baptism, for Nephi, is chiefly a covenant. Once you’ve established that special relationship with God, the hymn describes “the Holy Ghost, descending” (cf. 2 Ne 31:8). Baptism inscribes you into a covenant relationship with the Father, and the Holy Ghost seals it up.

We should rejoice in the ordinance of baptism because God has given us a way to subvert our own deaths, to begin living eternal lives in his kingdom immediately. Heaven is not something yet to be obtained by a kind of enduring drudgery of mortality; heaven is something we can have now, and all that the Lord asks of us in order to accomplish that is (in the language of this hymn) to be “repentant and humbled” and “born of water and the Spirit.” In addition, to children as young as eight years old God has granted a covenant that brings us into a close, sealed relationship with Him as our Father. Baptism is a remarkable gift that allows us to shed our natural man and be inscribed into the kind of relationships shared among the members of the godhead. This is the kingdom into which he invites us:

Hark, glad tidings of salvation.
Hear his word, “Come follow me
Unto glory in my kingdom,
Unto life eternally.”

Hymn #244: Come Along, Come Along

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Much academic ink has been spilled on the topic of leadership. As far back as Plato and Plutarch, scholars have written on the topic. Academic theories such as Theory X and Theory Y or leader-member exchange theory have looked to identify the characteristics and behaviors of good leaders; great minds, both in and out of the Church, have explored the difference between leaders and managers.

William Willes, the author of this hymn, was an early member of the Church and one of the first LDS missionaries sent to India. His analysis of leadership revolves around a single principle: leading from the front.

“Come along, come along” is the call that will win,
To lead us to virtue and keep us from sin;
Most men can be led, but few can be driv’n
In shunning perdition and striving for heav’n.

We are all, at times, given stewardships—we may be looking out for a deacon’s quorum, a Relief Society, or a family we hometeach. In each case, we are tasked with leading others to virtue and keeping us from sin. Willes’s counsel to us in these stewardships is clear: We’ll have greater success when we lead, rather than coerce. By inviting others to “come along,” we invite them to a place where we are, instead of trying to push them a place we will not go.

Sometimes this can appear or feel hypocritical; for example, we may be asked to teach a lesson on a commandment we do not personally excel at following. But note the distinction—we can lead without having arrived at the destination. We can lead while we are on the path ourselves.

However, others know when we do not lead with real intent. When we lead with faith, somewhere along the path ourselves, the Holy Ghost confirms our testimony to those we teach. A lesson taught, advice given, or a testimony borne without our own intent to live that principle of the Gospel sinks into perfect insignificance, and no matter our eloquence will be wasted on those we try to lead.

There is tremendous precedent for leading from the front, or leading by example, for that is how the Savior leads.

“Come to me, come to me” sweetly falls on the ear,
The word of the Lord full of comfort and cheer,
To bind up the broken, the captive set free,
In the good time that’s coming, we hope soon to see.

The Savior is the ultimate leader, in that He does not ask us to go anyplace He has not gone. He led a sinless life, overcoming all temptation, setting the standard we all strive for. He was baptized, though he needed no remission of sins. He prayed to His Heavenly Father, setting a pattern for us also to communicate with God. Every aspect of His perfect life—His forgiveness, His compassion, His kindness toward the sick, poor, and hopeless—shows us how to live.

Even more so, when He suffered and bled for us in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took on suffering greater than any of us will ever encounter. He can effectively lead our souls because He has been further down the path than we can possibly imagine going. He knows our pains, our insecurities, and our regrets. He—even God—trembled because of pain, bled at every pore, and suffered both body and spirit. He did it for us. He did it so that we can follow Him.

The Savior is the greatest leader possible—the perfect leader—because He can lead from perfect experience and perfect intent. When the Savior beckons us to come, to pass through the fires of life and come where He is, we can trust His extended hand, and follow. He has forged, with His own blood, a pathway for us to follow.

And to us He simply says, “Come along.”

Image credit: “Hug for Pizza!,” Alan, September 6, 2009, via Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0 Cropped for size.
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Hymn #227: There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today

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“There is sunshine in my soul today.”

There are not many hymns in our hymnal that are more unabashedly happy than this one. Sunshine in my soul! Music in my soul! Springtime in my soul! What could be more cheerful than these?

And yet as I prepared to examine this hymn, the first question that came to mind was this:

How does someone who struggles with depression find meaning in this hymn?

As much as we’d like to believe that obeying God’s commandments will bring us complete and immediate bliss, we still live in a mortal realm and we still struggle with the perils of imperfection. We face sickness, fatigue, frustration, and loss, and sometimes we’re just sad or apathetic with no good reason for it. Life is difficult at times, and we should not expect otherwise.

In fact, even in the eternities, there is disappointment and sadness. Enoch was surprised to see God himself weep over his children. (Moses 7:28) So why then do we go on about sunshine in the soul, as if it comes merely by singing about it? Why do we sing that life is light, when life is often so, so heavy?

I hope you’ll stop and think on that for a moment. I don’t think we do it mistakenly.

The hymn itself contains a few answers. In the chorus, we sing “Oh, there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine, when the peaceful happy moments roll.” In every life, even those filled with frustration and heartbreak, there are occasional peaceful happy moments. Sunshine may not always fill our soul, but it certainly will sometimes. Seeking God’s guidance will bring us more of those happy moments than we might otherwise have.

These happy moments come because “Jesus is [our] light.” In the same way that we learn “line upon line,” a little bit at a time, Christ’s peace does not come to us all at once, and it does not always come as we expect. Alma and his followers were held in captivity, laid with heavy burdens. When they sought divine relief, the Lord did not take their burdens away—at least, not at first. Rather, he strengthened them so that the burdens became easy to bear. These people found sunshine in the soul, even beneath great hardship. The same can be true of us, if we seek it.

Eventually, Alma and his people were freed from their burdens. Some day, we can be free from ours. For some of us, that freedom may come next month or next year. For others, it may only come after we’ve passed on from this life. In the meantime, though, our burdens can be lightened as we keep the covenants we have made with the Lord and allow him to bless us.

Note that the song does not say that sunshine fills your soul. If we make room for it, it is possible to have a portion of sunshine in your soul, even while other parts of it are filled with pain. Sometimes we deceive ourselves, thinking that mourning is not real unless it consumes us. There is often room for a sliver or a slice of light, even in a pained and heavy heart. Our hearts can sustain a colorful mix of emotions, full of all shades of light and dark. Don’t be afraid of the light, just because you’re sitting in a dark room.

And Jesus listening can hear
The songs I cannot sing.

I love this phrase. Ponder: what are the songs you cannot sing? Why can you not sing them? Is it too painful to express them aloud? Are you afraid of committing to those thoughts? Are you unsure whether you yet believe what you might sing? Can you simply not find the words to express the emotions inside? No matter—Christ knows your heart, perhaps even before you do. When your thoughts seem conflicted or unclear, take heart; Christ understands you. He knows you. He can give you peace and light, portion by portion.

There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,

Note the mention of hope. Sometimes, sunshine in our soul comes not from the immediate relief of our burdens or the immediate fulfillment of our desires, but rather the anticipated joy that will come later on. We will always have hope, even in the eternities. God himself has hope for us, his children. He anticipates our joyful return to him.

Life is not always easy. Trials, temptation, disappointment, disease, and just plain old mortality are an inherent part of this early experience. But when passing through hard times, remember the words of Christ:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

There can be sunshine in your soul. Believe Him.

Image Credit: “Sunshine“, Jong Soo(Peter) Lee, 2005, via Flickr. . CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hymn #249: Called to Serve

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Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.

Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.

(Doctrine and Covenants 4:1-3)

When I read the opening verses of D&C 4, I am always drawn back to memories of my own missionary service. I remember the weeks in the Missionary Training Center, surrounded by thousands of missionaries all preparing to preach the Gospel and to enter a new culture, a new world. I remember teaching and loving the people of Spain, with all their endearing and maddening ways. I remember the missionaries I served with, Sunday meetings, training conferences, transfers, testifying, studying, praying, and working. I remember service projects, frustrations, long rainy days, rewarding lessons, and so many other things. It truly brings back a flood of memories.

And, I remember singing Called To Serve. If there’s an anthem for the church missionary effort, this is surely it. Missionaries around the world sing it in dozens of languages, all united by a desire and a call to serve Him, the Heavenly King of Glory. With an energetic tune and triumphant chorus, it invigorates us as we commit to “ever witness for His name.”

Far and wide, we tell the Father’s story. There are currently over 80,000 missionaries serving in 405 missions around the globe. They preach in over fifty languages, inviting all to learn of the Father’s plan of salvation and Christ’s Atonement. Ever since the church was organized, missionaries have been sent around the world to preach that truth and priesthood authority have been restored to the earth, inviting all to come and partake.

Far and wide, his love proclaim. The joyous news of the Gospel is not just that truth has been restored. It is that through the Gospel, we can live a better life. We can feel more joy, find more meaning, and share more love with our spiritual brothers and sisters all around us. Our Father loves all of his children, and he wants all of us to receive the blessings he is ready to give.

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name.
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing.
God our strength will be; press forward ever,
Called to serve our King.

God our strength will be. The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly that there is a special strength that comes from the Lord. Elder David A. Bednar spoke about this in his 2004 General Conference address. He said:

Can we sense the grace and strengthening power of Christ in the testimony of Ammon? “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12). Truly, brothers and sisters, in the strength of the Lord we can do and endure and overcome all things. (In the Strength of the Lord, October 2004)

The work of preaching the gospel is a glorious, happy work. It is work, have no doubt. It is hard work. Missionaries around the world will attest to that. But we do “glory in his name,” and a “triumph song” we do sing. We rejoice when someone finds their way to the understanding and joy that comes from the Gospel, when someone enters the waters of baptism and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost. There is joy and happiness in this work.

Called to Serve, though, is not a song about missionaries. It is a song about missionary work. As we have been taught repeatedly, missionary work is not just for missionaries. It is not even mostly for missionaries. It is a work for every member of Christ’s living church. President David O. McKay urged “every member a missionary” in 1959. More recently, we’ve heard a lot about “Hastening the Work of Salvation,” encouraging all church members to join in this work, bringing the Gospel message to our Father’s children.

Indeed, let’s look at the second verse:

Called to know the richness of his blessing—
Sons and daughters, children of a King—
Glad of heart, his holy name confessing,
Praises unto him we bring.

Every member of his Church has cause to know the richness of his blessings. We are all children of a King. We don’t just sing Called to Serve in the MTC, or in missionary training meetings. We also sing it in our ordinary Sunday meetings in wards and branches around the world. The Gospel brings blessings of peace, understanding, joy, and purpose to all of us.

We are all called to serve him. Missionaries are called to do it full-time for a certain number of months and in a specific place, but we are all called to share the blessings we receive from our Father. However far and however wide we go, we are to tell the Father’s story. However far and wide we go, his love we are to proclaim. Whether that’s the school yard or the water cooler, Facebook or the grocery store, wherever we go we should be “standing as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places.” (Mosiah 18:9)

“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” Onward, ever onward!

Hymn #234: Jesus, Mighty King in Zion

This hymn leads out with a description of a Second Coming-type Christ, leading His people into Zion. It’s a jubilant prospect, and the second verse leads us into one of the first steps we take to join Him in the kingdom:

As an emblem of thy passion

And thy vict’ry o’er the grave

We, who know thy great salvation

Are baptized beneath the wave. 

The scripture reference for this hymn comes from Romans 6, where Paul explains the symbolism of baptism and how it ties us to Christ.

“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life” (verse 4).

Verse 5 and 6 introduce a great analogy of giving up our sins into the earth, much like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies in Alma 24 who buried their swords rather than sin against God after their conversion. We bury our sins in the hope that our sacrifice will yield up better fruit.

“For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that our body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Sometimes giving up a sin is hard. I don’t know who first introduced the concept of a “pet sin,” but it’s my favorite gospel analogy. I think of it every time I read or hear a scriptural plea for change. We could give up our own base desires and selfishness and have God make something beautiful of our lives. Instead we cling to our favorite vices and cuddle them and stroke them and feed them the best parts of ourselves until we are hollowed out with desire, dissatisfaction and the cold fear of how the world perceives us.

This is where our hymn comes in again, leading us back to the important stuff:

Fearless of the world’s despising

We the ancient path pursue

Buried with the Lord and rising

To a life divinely new.

Just in time for a new year, we can bury our old selves and pet sins and rise up again, new and ready to take steps for positive change.

How are you doing that this year?

 

 

Hymn #237: Do What Is Right

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This is not a hymn for the faint of heart.

President Heber J. Grant went so far as to call it a “battle hymn”, in the Improvement Era in 1919.

And rightly so. This is not a hymn about making small good decisions every day, though such is a legitimate gospel topic. No, this is a hymn about standing for Good when Evil is bearing down with indefatigable force. This is a hymn about turning back the torrent of the adversary’s fiery darts when their sheer volume blots out the sun. This is a hymn about choosing Right just when it is the most difficult, disadvantageous, inconvenient, inopportune, embarrassing, and back-breakingly, titanically painful.

The chorus, originally the third verse but adapted as the chorus for the LDS hymnbook, lacks nothing in clarity:

Do what is right; let the consequence follow.
Battle for freedom in spirit and might;
And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.
God will protect you; then do what is right!

The text’s concept of consequences is particularly striking. Note that it does not say to let the consequences follow for bad actions; rather, the hymn acknowledges that there will be consequences—positive, perhaps, but the implication is that short-term negative consequences are just as likely—for the decisions we make to do the right.

The scriptures are clear that obedience to God’s commandments will afford us incomparable positive consequences after this life: life with God, as God lives. But the chorus of this hymn strikes much closer to home, with the suggestion of negative consequences—it is reminiscent of Peter and John leaving the presence of the Sanhedrin, after having been beaten and commanded to not preach Christ anymore, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:40-41).

The hymn instructs us to look forward with stout hearts with an eye to tomorrow. But note the wording: The hymn doesn’t speak of tomorrow as another day, when we’ll wake up and face our set of challenges again. No, the hymn instructs us to look forward till tomorrow—the dawning of a brighter day, when Right will finally win over evil, forever.

All throughout, the text’s unknown author exhorts us to the right—indeed, the Right—without specifying exactly what it is that the Right comprises. As imperfect beings, this frustrates us, and results in a tendency to delineate what exactly is entailed in keeping the Sabbath Day holy and what specific articles of clothing are or are not modest. This act of delineation is perhaps itself also imperfect, as the Lord’s specific instruction isn’t to look for a list to tell us what He would have us do, but rather to study it out, ask Him, and ultimately feel deep in our souls that our actions are right (D&C 9:8-9).

There is nothing overly sophisticated, esoteric, or complex about this 150-year-old text. It’s a call to action. A call to arms.

One for those who are not faint of heart.

Image Credit: Jayel Aheram, War and Peace, October 29th, 2006 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Hymn #215, Ring Out, Wild Bells

Yes, it was written by that Alfred Tennyson, who wrote the lyrics as a poem mourning the death of his sister’s young fiance. When sung, it’s readily apparent that the song is one of grieving. It’s one of the few non-sacramental hymns written in a minor key, although it resolves to a major key on the last note of the third verse. We’ll get there.

This hymn is also unique in that it uses an ABBA rhyme scheme rather than the traditional ABAB we’re used to. Listen to the first verse and see:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light.
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

The unfamiliar (for the hymns, anyway) rhyme pattern adds some discord to already dark lyrics. We sing about a wild, wintry landscape filled with death. We’re mourning, and despite the word “happy” appearing in the second verse, there’s precious little happiness to be felt here.

So why on earth is this hymn in our hymnbooks? What is it doing in a book filled with praise, joy, and exultation? And what on earth is it doing right next to the Christmas hymns? Setting aside the fact that the Savior makes an appearance in the third verse, this hymn’s inclusion makes more sense if you reconsider what is meant by the old and new years in the lyrics.

On the face of it, the lyrics are about leaving the past and its attendant miseries behind us. And yet, while we do that, we also sing about ringing in the “Christ that is to be.” (You can think of this as a Christmas song if you want by thinking of this as foretelling His birth.) We welcome Him into our lives and cast out everything that was weighing us down before. We transition from sin and darkness into light and truth. We ring out the old and ring in the new.

We are the year that dies in this song, and we are the new year that is born. To accept Christ into your life is to let the natural man die and see a spiritual being born in its place. It isn’t done halfway. Death and rebirth is an apt comparison, and it’s what we sing about in this hymn. When we turn to a new calendar, we often make resolutions for the coming year. We strive to improve ourselves; we want to be better. As we sing, we are reminded of our desire (and our covenant, taken at baptism) to draw nearer to our Savior and follow His example. We ring out the false and ring in the true. We ring out the darkness of the land (and within ourselves) and ring in the Christ that is to be.

It’s no accident, I think, that the song resolves to a major key on the last note; that’s when we mention the Savior. The tune is discordant throughout until it is given new meaning on that last note. So too, our lives are discordant until we give them new meaning by allowing the Lord in to resolve us to a major key. He heals us, makes us kinder and more empathetic, and gives us, as Tennyson writes, “the larger heart, the kindlier hand.” What better time to resolve to let our Savior into our lives than the new year?