Category Archives: #251-#300

Hymn #289: Holy Temples on Mount Zion

idaho-falls-temple-lds-83003-wallpaper

 

Grab a piece of paper or open a Word document. We’re going to take a quiz. I’m going to give you one essay question. Ready? Here we go!

What is the purpose of temples?

After reading that question, you probably understand why I told you it was an essay question. And, not surprisingly, this is a question often posed to members of the LDS faith by those who are not of the LDS faith. So before you read ahead, I’m going to ask that you answer for yourself what the purpose of temples is.

A temple is the place God has designated for his people to perform saving ordinances that extend through the eternities. LDS.org states that, “temples are the most sacred place on earth-a place where earth and heaven meet and where we feel close to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.” We enter temples to feel the spirit, perform ordinances, and receive instruction to help guide us on our journey to become more like Christ and to return to our Father’s presence. Temples are the buildings dedicated to sealing us to each other for time and all eternity, which is arguably one of the greatest blessings God could give us. Temples are places of peace and purity, where we can escape the world and focus on the spirit of revelation, comfort, and truth.

Historically, temples have not always existed. Many of the early prophets went to mountains to commune with God, such as Adam and Moses. Later, God instituted the traveling tabernacle for the Israelites as they fled Egypt. Eventually, more permanent temples existed in both the Biblical land of the Middle East and the Book of Mormon land of the Americas. However, after the apostasy and the destruction of the Nephite people, temples as the LDS people know and use them disappeared from the face of the earth.

Temples, as we know, are part of the fullness of the gospel that was restored by Joseph Smith. These sacred buildings are essential to God’s plan for us in this life so that we may inherit all He has waiting for us in the next.

Continuing with our school-like theme from the beginning of this post, let’s take a look at the adjectives listed in this hymn that describe temples:

  • holy
  • shining
  • divine
  • kindly
  • serene
  • hallowed

Let’s look at a few more parts of speech. This time, let’s focus on the verbs, or actions:

  • shine
  • beckon
  • pledged to service
  • merciful
  • gracious
  • purify
  • bless
  • faithful
  • sealed
  • bonds of union
  • sing
  • shout
  • joyful be
  • acclaim
  • free

Why on earth would I take a detour to look at these parts of speech? Well, not only are parts of speech something I enjoy, but there is a great deal of gospel truth hidden in these words. Let’s start with the verbs and work our way back to the adjectives.

We know that verbs describe actions. Look at all those actions that we are entitled to within the walls of the temple, either by us performing actions or by the Lord! Is there anything on that list that isn’t incredibly desirable? Is there anything on that list that you, personally don’t want?

Let’s look at those adjectives, which describe or modify a person, place, or thing. What a way to describe a physical location! Is there a person on this earth who wouldn’t want to be in a place described like that?

These holy temples provide us with so much peace, comfort, knowledge, hope, and assurance. Within their sacred walls, we are blessed. We can be linked to those we hold most dear and we can learn the things we need to enter into the highest degree of God’s glory.

Let me share a story. My husband’s family joined the church 21 years ago. 15 years previous to this, they had an infant pass away who was born with a brain tumor. For years, my in laws searched for answers. Why did this happen? Was their son lost? Where was he?Would they ever see him again? The church they were attending didn’t have the answers, so they kept looking. They searched in all sorts of scholarly documents, in different doctrines of different faiths, and never found an answer that satisfied them.

Eventually, a business trip took them to Salt Lake City, where they decided to visit Temple Square, since it seemed to be the major tourist attraction. While there, they were asked if they would like to watch a movie. They accepted, and the movie that was played for them was about forever families. The video taught that God has a plan for us to be together and that through the restored gospel, we can be sealed forever, not just until we die. The spirit bore witness of the truths being taught, and my in laws started receiving the discussions.

A year after being baptized, my mother in law, father in law, husband, and his younger brother went to the temple to be sealed as a family. They brought a close family friend with them to act as proxy for this child who had passed away. As they went through the sealing ceremony, the spirit bore witness of the sacred truth of eternal families, and everyone there felt the presence of this little boy, who now was no longer lost to them.

The blessings of the temple are so plentiful that I can’t even begin to list them. If all of us shifted our focuses more toward the temples, what a world we would have, what praises we would sing, what prayers we would offer. The fact that God has entrusted us with these edifices that contain such sacred ordinances and promises is, indeed, glorious.

Sing aloud, ye heav’nly chorus,
Anthems of eternal praise
To the glorious King Immanuel!
Sing with Saints of latter days!
Let the mountains shout for gladness,
And the valleys joyful be,
While the stars acclaim in rapture,
For the prisoners shall go free.

Hymn #262: Go, Ye Messengers of Glory

Go, ye messengers of glory;
Run, ye legates of the skies.
Go and tell the pleasing story
That a glorious angel flies,
Great and mighty, great and mighty,
With a message from the skies.

This is another hymn of the restoration and the gospel coming forth, but it’s interesting to note that the lyrics were penned by, yes, that John Taylor, third president of the Church. This is a man who was present for many of the key events of the restoration, and who heard the prophet Joseph Smith relate his experiences firsthand. He didn’t personally see the angel Moroni (that I’m aware of), but he heard Joseph tell what it was like to see that mighty angel fly. He heard or saw it all unfold, and as an Apostle, it was his mission to spread that message throughout the world.

As I’ve written in this space before, that’s our mission, too. We are the messengers of glory. Certainly angels are going abroad and spreading the “pleasing story” of the restoration, but the lion’s share of that task falls to us. We share the gospel story with our friends, our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and everyone else we come in contact with. “Go to ev’ry tribe and nation,” President Taylor urges us, “visit ev’ry land and clime.” That’s not to say that each of us is tasked with visiting every nation and calling every single person to repentance, but it is to say that every single person needs to hear the good news. I don’t have the means to reach every single person in the world. I don’t even have the means to reach every single person in my hometown, and there’s only 11,000 of us here. But I do have the means to reach people that you don’t have access to, and you have the means to reach people I can’t. Together, we can bridge that gap.

“Let the joyful news abound… till ev’ry nation hear you,” we sing, and that’s a testament to both the magnitude of our task and the time that it will take to achieve it. We probably won’t be able to reach everyone the first time we share the news. We probably won’t be able to reach everyone the fiftieth time we share the news. That’s true no matter how many people are telling the gospel story at the same time. But we keep sharing, we keep telling everyone who will listen, and someday, we will have shared the message enough times and through enough people that every nation and every citizen will have heard the good news. That’s not to say that every single person who hears it will accept it. That’s not for us to decide. Our job is to share the glad tidings, let others decide what they may.

“Go! Jehovah will support you,” we are reminded in the fourth verse. “Gather all the sheaves of worth. Then with Jesus reign in glory on the earth.” We know the end goal of our work. We know that the Lord will support us in His mission. He wants every single person to come unto Him, and He wants us to help bring everyone to Him. We cast in our nets, we spread the seed far and wide, and we trust that He will bless our efforts and help us bring in souls. And we know that as we do so, we bring ourselves nearer to Him, and know that we can have a place in His kingdom in the end. We are the messengers of glory we sing about. There’s a great work to do, but there’s Someone great supporting us in that work, and there’s a great reward in store if we put our whole souls into it.

Hymn #290: Rejoice, Ye Saints of Latter Days

Rejoice, ye Saints of latter days,
For temples now in many lands,
Where Saints, endowed with pow’r from God,
May learn to keep the Lord’s commands,
May learn to keep the Lord’s commands.

There are a lot of temples in the world today (143 of them, with another 27 in various stages of construction), and it’s safe to say that they cover “many lands.” We build them because we are commanded to, but also because we can perform ordinances therein that bring us closer to our Father in Heaven. We can receive power from on high that helps us to carry on through our lives. We learn obedience by making covenants, and we learn joy by keeping them.

We are directed to sing this hymn “joyfully,” but with a stately tune and at a tempo of 72-88 beats per minute, it feels more resolute than exuberant. That’s fitting of our attitude toward the temple. We rejoice, and we we want to shout to the heavens for the blessings we can receive in the temple, but we do so reverently.

Consider the phrase we shout joyfully in the second verse: “All we are giv’n we give to thee. Accept our love; we will obey.” Not exactly something you’d shout at the top of your lungs. We feel joy, but it’s joy in sacrificing to One who has given us so much. We feel joy in helping our kindred dead, as we sing in the third verse, to receive “the fulness of the gospel’s joy.” That’s an exciting prospect, but when you consider that part of the joy we are helping our forerunners to feel is the joy of obedience, this sort of reserved joy makes sense. This isn’t a gospel of unrestrained fun and games. It’s not permissive, and it’s not easy. There’s work to be done, covenants to be made, and a harvest to be brought in.

We labor, as do those we bring into the fold, to ready the earth for the second coming of the Savior. Listen to the final verse and try to picture this restrained joy at His coming:

His earthly kingdom now prepares
To greet his kingdom from above.
Then will the heavens shout for joy,
And Christ descend to reign in love,
And Christ descend to reign in love.

I imagine there will be tremendous joy when the faithful are reunited with their long-awaited King. I’m excited to meet Him, assuming I live to see the day. But I don’t imagine the joy that we feel will be raucous. I’ve felt joy that has caused me to whoop with glee, but I don’t expect to hear hoots and hollers to greet the King of Kings. We will feel joy, and we will shout praise, but I feel like reverence will prevail. It will be a sacred experience, and not one conducive to loud joy.

It’s a tricky emotion to describe. But then again, maybe it’s not so tricky when you consider that it will be our natural reaction to seeing our Lord “descend to reign in love.” Our love will echo His at that day, so it’s not surprising that it will be powerful, but also meek. It’s the same love and spirit we can feel in the temple, and it’s certainly cause for us to rejoice.

Hymn #299: Children of Our Heavenly Father

The word “gather” means to bring together and take in from scattered places or sources. When we talk of our Heavenly Father gathering us, we are speaking of our Lord finding us in our scattered places and bringing us together in His care. This brings to mind the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd leaves the 99 that had followed him and searches for the one that has gone astray. When he finds this sheep, he carries it home, puts it with the others, and celebrates its return with his neighbors.

The lesson we learn is that we are wanted and that we are being sought after that we might be gathered or taken in. The safety and peace of the Lord’s presence is truly the paramount refuge mankind can hope for. As C.S. Lewis said,

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

All good things come from God (Joshua 23:15), so the imagery of being “preserved” or “nestled” in “his grace” or his “bosom” is to show that God’s desire, God’s plan is for us to be with Him.

This hymn reflects the love the Lord has for His children and beautifully paints the truth that we cannot sever ourselves from His love. Can we sin? Absolutely, But God loves us anyway. Can we die? I sure haven’t heard of anyone who hasn’t. But God loves us forever and has provided a way for us to live after death. He loves us always, forever, and no matter what, regardless of what we are doing or have done.

Hymn #279: Thy Holy Word

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I guess, and I couldn’t quite overcome my sense that everything was a little bit off. I went to church, but staying was a constant battle, and I didn’t get a whole lot out of it.

Even though I was feeling off, and the talks and lessons weren’t really hitting home for me, I felt like I was accomplishing something by staying. I am of the firm conviction that going to church and reading scriptures and praying affects me in positive ways I can’t quite describe.  Crumminess in life happens regardless, but when I find my ability to deal with life is crummy too, I can often trace it back to the fact that I’ve been slacking off on one or more of those details.

At that point, it’s hard to get back into the groove. I have to go through the motions for a while before they feel natural and good.  But it’s worth it, because God’s holy word changes me for the better. I love to hear it, I love to read it, I love to share it, and I thank him for it. The best way I know to thank him for his word is to make use of it. So today, I stayed all the way through church, and I will read my scriptures and pray with real intent, instead of moving my eyes over a few verses before I go to sleep and mentally mumbling a few cliches. I hope you will, too.

Hymn #265: Arise, O God, and Shine

Arise, O God, and shine
In all thy saving might,
And prosper each design
To spread thy glorious light;
Let healing streams of mercy flow,
That all the earth thy truth may know.

We ask the Lord in this hymn, and in fact, through much of our lives, to arise and spread His saving grace through the world. We know that He is capable of redeeming us. We know that He can, and is eager to, bring us home. He can comfort us, heal us, and bring us joy. We know that He can do this, and we know that He wants to.

So why do we have to ask?

Saving each of us on an individual level and helping us to reach our potential as immortal beings is nothing short of the Father’s stated goal for His interaction with the human race. “For behold,” He said, “this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” This is what He wants of us. He wants us to return to His presence and live as He does. He doesn’t want a single one of us, His children, to be left behind. He wants us to be like Him. So why do we need to invite Him to do so? What is He waiting for? Surely He doesn’t need an invitation from us to do what He intends to do anyway?

Well, in a way, He does. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock,” He told us. “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” He won’t knock down the door, order us to let Him in, or make any demands of us. He will simply knock, giving us the chance to choose for ourselves. We may choose to let Him enter, and we may not. The important thing is that we are the ones doing the choosing. No one forces us.

The Lord’s promised blessings are made conditional on our asking for them. He stands at the door, eager and waiting for us to open to give them to us, but He can’t and won’t do so until we choose to let Him in. And it’s often not enough for us to ask casually or in passing for those blessings. If we want to be blessed richly, we need to ask with fervor and feeling. The Book of Mormon prophet Enos said that his soul “hungered,” and he described his ensuing prayer as a “wrestle… before God.” And after he struggled, a voice came to him saying that his sins were forgiven. No small effort for no small blessing. Joseph Smith, during his imprisonment in Liberty Jail and during one of the darkest periods of his life, cried out in anguish, “O God, where art thou? … How long shall thy hand be stayed… and thine ear be penetrated with [thy saints'] cries?” He poured his soul out to God, and as an answer, was told that he would be “[exalted]… on high.” Again, no small effort for no small reward.

So should it be any wonder that if we want the Lord to “put forth [His] glorious pow’r that Gentiles all may see,” or to “fill the world with righteousness,” that we would need to put forth effort on our part? He is willing, so, so willing, to deliver these blessings. He promised to do so, and He has not forgotten. But it’s incumbent on us to fulfill the terms of that promise by pleading with Him to do so. He stands knocking at the door, waiting for us to act so that He can arise and shine. Let’s not wait, but instead open the door to Him, allowing Him to spread His glorious light over all the world.

Hymn 264: Hark, All Ye Nations

I love symbolism. One of the most satisfying feelings I know is when I learn or figure out a symbol, and a passage that was previously meaningless to me suddenly has a secret meaning that I now get. There’s almost a mental snick sound of intellectual puzzle pieces fitting together.

A few years ago I learned that the compass directions have a symbolism to them. East is God’s symbolic direction: it’s the place light comes from. If you’re facing east (or God), then your right hand is pointing south, which makes that the direction of righteousness, of covenants. The left hand, or non-covenant hand, points north, which is then a direction of wickedness. And west, of course, is the opposite of God: a direction of evil. Not every direction in the scriptures is always a symbol, but many are, and I started looking for it with enthusiasm as soon as I learned the possibility.

The first example I found was in Amos 8.

 11 ¶Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:

 12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.

 13 In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.

The chapter was already sad: the comparison to famine obviously makes the lack of God’s words a bad thing. But in my own experience, I know many people who aren’t religious and don’t seem to mind their secular lifestyle. The addition of the directional symbolism, though, makes it seem more tragic. These people weren’t content to live a secular lifestyle. They had been a wicked, non-covenant people (living in the north), and they made the grueling journey (repentance)  all the way to the east (where God lives,) and they found nothing.

We often complain about “God’s timing,” about how God’s promised blessings often come, not when we were expecting them, but days or months or years down the road. But in my own life, I find that when I redouble my efforts to pray or read my scriptures or be less slothful or selfish, I start to feel better and happier almost immediately, and those effects grow as I keep up good habits. Here, though, there’s a people who are in search of that happiness, and they do everything they can think of, roaming to and fro, and they don’t find it. They have no little victory to convince them to keep going, to sustain them. And they run themselves to exhaustion and despair: the young men and women faint from thirst.

The idea of God just not picking up the phone is almost incomprehensible to me. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I don’t know what it is. I’m relieved, though, that I live in an era when God responds to his children. It’s cause for celebration! And Louis F. Mönch thinks so, too.

Hark, all ye nations!
Hear heaven’s voice
Thru ev’ry land that all may rejoice!
Angels of glory shout the refrain:
Truth is restored again!

I especially love that heaven’s voice is audible in every land. Ours is an era where we have the ability to communicate easily with people all over the globe. President Monson may live in the United States, but he travels the world, and is called to serve all people. No one is left out.
Searching in darkness, nations have wept;
Watching for dawn, their vigil they’ve kept.
All now rejoice; the long night is o’er.
Truth is on earth once more!

 

We’re reminded again of how hard other people on the earth have had it, how much they’ve looked forward to our day. And here we are, with complete access to God’s word, to his truth!

Chosen by God to serve him below,
To ev’ry land and people we’ll go,
Standing for truth with fervent accord,
Teaching his holy word.

Although God’s truth is available to all, there are still many who don’t know where to find it. And that’s where we come in. We have something wonderful, something that we love, something that is rare and wonderful. We also love our brothers and sisters, and we want to share all the best things we have with them. We can do that by serving missions, by being active on social media, even just by living our lives as best we can so that others can see the results of our faith. No matter our style, we must, if we have God’s love and God’s truth, share. After the world was so painfully empty, it would be selfish to keep the light we have to ourselves.

Hymn #266 The Time is Far Spent

The time is far spent; there is little remaining

To publish glad tidings by sea and by land.

As this hymn begins by pointing out that it is our responsibility to spread the Gospel throughout the Earth within a very short window of time, it kind of sounds like a large weight being put on our shoulders. To make things even more uncomfortable, we are told to proclaim to the world that everyone needs to repent. This can be difficult as most people don’t really appreciate being told they have done something wrong, let alone that they need to repent of it. However, this hymn is not meant to be discouraging. “The time is far spent,” but it’s not over. Snow is not trying to discourage us by saying that time has been wasted, but to motivate us to use what time is left, to the best of our abilities, to build up the kingdom of God. And she knows that it won’t be easy.

The second verse of the hymn goes on to say that our Savior knows that fulfilling our duties will be unpleasant, even painful, but that He has set an example for us to follow. Snow acknowledges that life is hard. We will face trials. We will hurt. We will want to give up. Nothing can change that, because one of the most beautiful parts of our Heavenly Father’s plan is that we experience pain and sadness in order to truly know happiness. I believe that Snow empathizes with many Saints who have felt overcome and wanted to give in to the temptation to stop trying. Unable to change those circumstances, she gives them a reminder: I know it hurts now, but it won’t last long. Just keep doing what you know is right, and you will be rewarded in heaven.

The third verse asks a very common question: What if people don’t like me? At some point, we’ve all been given an opportunity to stand up for our beliefs when others are doing or saying something that we know isn’t right. It can be hard not to let those opportunities pass right by, because we don’t want someone to dislike us because our belief is not popular. These days, it’s pretty scary to bring up certain essential parts of our doctrine, even among people who share our religion, for fear of being told we are closed-minded, bigoted, or oppressive. To those who struggle with these fears, Snow reminds that God is on  our side and His angels are waiting to bless us. I like to think that it’s not a calm, boring, doctor’s-office-waiting-room kind of waiting, but a bated breath, pins and needles, can-barely-hold-themselves-together kind of waiting. In my mind, that’s how much they want us to be happy. They can hardly wait to ease the pain of being hated by mortals by showering us with blessings from heaven.

The last verse explains, in no uncertain terms, that Satan knows what we’re doing. He knows how important it is. And he will try to keep us from doing it. He will send demons to oppose us, to try us, and to tempt us. Sometimes it may seem like doing good only makes our life harder. In fact, when big trials seem to come crashing into my life all at once, I tend to say that I must be doing something right. As Snow wrote, Satan may have demons on his side, but we have the Savior on ours. The closer we are to Him, the harder Satan will have to work to try to pull us away. However, “His arm is sufficient” if we can just hold on.

Hymn #256: As Zion’s Youth in Latter Days

“I … desire that the song might mean to some of [the youth] what the songs of the youth had meant to me when I was struggling through my own teenage years. I received great sustenance, courage, and joy from the songs for youth. I wanted this song to do that for some suffering or confused or vacillating youth.” ~ Susan Evans McCloud [1]

Sustenance, courage, and joy. It certainly seems as if Sister McCloud reached her goal with this hymn. It was a favorite of mine as a teen, and as I reflect on it now with slightly more maturity, I realize that this hymn has a singular optimism that is perfectly suited to the innocent courage of youth.

Let me briefly share some reflections on three of my favorite lines:

“With faith we hold the iron rod / and find in this our joy.”

Our joy comes “in this”–simply holding to the iron rod. This is remarkable because the imagery of the iron rod comes from a setting of darkness and apostasy. Despite trying circumstances, the mere fact that we are hanging on in faith creates joy in the moment.

“We’re here to serve a righteous cause”

This line struck me for how humble it was. It doesn’t say that we’re here to “earn our salvation” or “save our families” or anything individual or self-aggrandizing. We are simply here to serve.

I also like that it doesn’t specify which “righteous cause” we’re serving. Any righteous cause that we encounter is worthy of our service.

“We’ll love and learn and overcome”

If there is any one line in all of the hymns that encapsulates what I hope to be the motto of my life, it is this. The purpose of life is simply to love, and when we make mistakes,  to learn. In this line I hear no pressure to achieve any particular standard, no anxiety about my productivity, no worries that I am not righteous enough. Our life can be counted a success if, at the end of it, we can honestly say that we learned and loved as well and broadly and deeply as we knew how.

 

Notice that this hymn is not titled “the Church’s youth” or even “the Savior’s youth” (though both are certainly implied). The voices this hymn represents belong specifically to Zion, and I have no doubt that if our faith manifested itself in this kind of hope and optimism, we would be even more a Zion people than we are today.

[1] Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2009), 262.

Hymn #258: O Thou Rock of Our Salvation

Foot of the Christus Statue

Today’s hymn is “O Thou Rock of Our Salvation.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, follow that link and listen to a verse—you’ll probably recognize the tune. It was the chorus that triggered my memory:

Gather round the standard bearer;
Gather round in strength of youth.
Ev’ry day the prospect’s fairer
While we’re battling for the truth.

Military imagery is hardly uncommon in hymns. We sing about Christian soldiers and royal armies, ten thousand enlisted legions marching until the conflict is o’er. We even see it in Primary, for “we are as the armies of Helaman.”

It’s curious, though, that military imagery is so common in hymns. Relatively few modern church members will participate in a military battle; why not use a metaphor that will be familiar to more people? Why don’t we sing more about gardening, long journeys through the wilderness, or wrangling disobedient children?

Really, I don’t know the answer. I suspect that wonderful hymns could be made using any of those as a metaphor. And maybe they do exist and I just haven’t heard about them. But what I do know is that military themes aren’t limited to hymns; good portions of both the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon cover military operations. Why, then? What are we to learn from these messages of battle?

Perhaps the warfare theme serves to remind us that this is a battle. In the relative comfort that many of us enjoy, it’s easy to become complacent and simply drift along with the flow of society. If our life ever feels like a battle, it’s a battle with cranky children or frustrating co-workers, not a battle for our lives, our families, or our freedom. We may have some rough days, but they rarely have the gravity of a real battle.

We a war ‘gainst sin are waging;
We’re contending for the right.
Ev’ry day the battle’s raging;
Help us, Lord, to win the fight.

When we sing about a war against sin (a “battle raging”), perhaps it’s a reminder that this really is serious business. The war against sin is not just something to be lightly brushed aside—we should constantly be alert and attentive against sin.

What does it really mean, though, to wage war against sin?

Certainly we should resist temptation and avoid sin, but I don’t believe that’s enough. We all have the responsibility to make our homes a safe refuge, a sacred place where the spirit can dwell, whether we are parents, children, or living on our own. The war against sin may also include our neighborhoods and our communities, and even social media. Wherever we are, we have taken a covenant to be a witness of Christ. This is not discarded lightly.

However, this war against sin is not fought like other wars. In the scriptural Armor of God, we find that there is only one weapon used for attacking: the Sword of the Spirit. And what are the fruits of the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

As we battle against sin, let us do it with love and joy, gentleness and temperance. We struggle against sin, not against sinners. Indeed, the banner we bear is that of Jesus Christ, he who redeems sinners from their sins. We come with an invitation, not a condemnation. “Come unto Him,” we say. “Learn of him. Partake of his peace.” Christ is the foundation upon whom all must build if they seek peace.

Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

The Lord has assembled a unique army, one bearing not swords but salvation. We battle against sin not so much by striking down evil as by raising up women and men, inviting all to come unto Christ. The antidote to sin is redemption.

Always, always remember Christ. He is the foundation. He is the way. He is the light.

nashville

Hymn #287: Rise, Ye Saints, and Temples Enter

nashville

Rise, ye Saints, and temples enter;
Seek the path that leads ahead.
Seal in everlasting circles
All our loved ones, quick and dead.

Maybe you’re a faithful, diligent Latter-day Saint who attends the temple regularly and who needs no introduction to the institution, but if you’re not, suffice it to say that temples are sacred buildings where members of the LDS Church meet to perform essential ordinances on behalf of the dead. Each of us needs these ordinances (baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost for starters, and later ordination to the priesthood for men, the endowment, and marriage and sealing) in order to receive all that the Father has to offer us. It doesn’t matter if we’re alive or dead, or whether or not the gospel was freely available when we were on the earth. Each of us needs these ordinances to qualify for all the Father’s blessings. None of us is exempt, and none of the ordinances are optional.

In order to make those ordinances available to all, we are counseled to go to the temple (and to go often) and receive those ordinances on behalf of those who are dead so that, should they choose, they will have the chance to receive those blessings. We search out our ancestors and bind them together through these ordinances, particularly through the sealing ordinance, which binds husband and wife as much as it binds parents and children. But that’s not to say that we can only perform these ordinances on behalf of our own family members who have gone before. As we uncover more and more names, we may find ourselves unable to manage all of those ordinances on our own, and so we help each other through frequent temple attendance. We act as a great army, carrying the blessings of the gospel to every one of the Father’s children.

Learn the plan of exaltation;
With His sacred laws comply.
Live to earn in binding cov’nant
Blessings of our God most high.

I had the chance to attend the temple with some of the youth of our local congregation last weekend. Our nearest temple is in Nashville (yes, it’s the picture above), and while it’s close to us, it’s still nearly an hour away, so it takes time and effort to get there. In order to make our 8:00 appointment, we had to meet up at our church at about 6:15, which seemed much, much too early for the 12-18 year-olds that were there. (One young man was falling asleep on his feet while waiting, slept the entire drive to the temple, then slept in the waiting room as others arrived.) They were sacrificing their Saturday, for many the only day of the week they get to sleep in, so they could spend the day in the temple serving those who had gone before.

It was a lovely experience. The Spirit was there as we performed baptisms that morning, witnessing that, even if those whose names we read didn’t choose to accept the ordinances, the doctrine we were practicing was nonetheless true. We were helping to tie families together, one ordinance at a time, and we were helping others to fully qualify to receive all that the Father has and is willing to offer to us.

Elohim, thou great designer,
Wilt thou heaven’s pow’rs bestow,
As thy faithful sons and daughters
Serve in temples here below.

I don’t know many of these youth personally, and if you’d asked me on Saturday what I thought they made of the trip, I would have told you that I thought many of them treated it as a social trip. They got a chance to spend time together, laughing, joking, and enjoying each other’s company. It was fun, if not spiritual.

The next day, however, some of them had a chance to share their experiences in front of the congregation, and it was clear that their hearts were touched. They felt the Spirit witness to them that they had been engaged in the Lord’s work that day. They knew that they were helping along the path those that could no longer help themselves. And they could feel of the Lord’s love for those dead and for themselves as well.

As we attend the temple and serve others, we not only provide blessings for our kindred dead, but also for ourselves. We feel the blessings of heaven come upon us and renew us spiritually. We are energized and are more able to face the challenges of life. The Father wants us to attend the temple not only to help others along the path to salvation, but to help us as well. As we turn our hearts to our ancestors, they are purified and become more in tune with the Lord, allowing the Spirit to more easily whisper to us and inspire us. And with more and more temples being built every year, it’s never been easier to attend, even if it requires a sleepy 75 minute drive to get there on a summer Saturday morning.

So rise, saints, and temples enter. Set aside some time to serve those who have gone before, and you will find that you will be blessed every bit as much.

Image credit: “Nashville Temple,” Wikipedia user Antipus.

Hymn #295: O Love That Glorifies the Son

This hymn addresses four types of love: love of Jesus, love of family, the grit-your-teeth kind of love, and charity, the pure love of Christ.

These four loves comprise the backbone of what it means to be a true Christian. The first is the love that “glorifies the Son,” meaning the love that gives us the guts to say “Thy will, not my will, be done.” This love is the antidote to the kind of obedience that is driven by fear of punishment. When we love God, serving Him becomes less of a burden and more of a privilege. Fear makes us cower, whimper, wait in dread for the axe of God’s Judgment to drop on us. Love makes us step forward and ask, “What else can I do for you?”

The second is love of family. Part of this is showing love and giving our best to our living relatives, and part is showing respect and interest in our ancestors. The importance of this is written of in Malachi and in the Doctrine and Covenants: ”And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:2). I believe this process of turning our hearts to our fathers not only blesses them with our work in temple ordinances, but it also helps us show love and compassion and forgiveness for our forebears.

The third love mentioned in this hymn is one especially interesting to me, the grin-and-bear-it kind of love. This love that “overcomes defeat” is the love that helps us keep relationships intact, and to swallow back curses when we should administer blessings to those who may curse us first. This is the love we pray for through gritted teeth, which may very well make it the most important love.

The fourth love, charity, is the love that we employ to “change from foe to friend,” the love we invoke to sustain us when we most desperately need to change. Charity, the pure love of Christ, gives us the perspective we need to have compassion toward our fellowmen. My grandma used to say that the people who ticked us off the most were “more to be pitied than censured,” which I think captures the essence of what it means to have charity in our hearts.

Charity, in combination with the other types of love, are what will bring us closest to Christ. As Elder Holland has said, “Pure Christlike love…can change the world.”

Hymn #283: The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone

Sometimes the scope of the Gospel and the breadth of its reach astounds me. At baptism we covenant to follow Christ’s teachings and obey his commandments. As we begin to follow him, he invites us to join in his mission, to take His yoke upon ourselves. Where we started out seeking baptism in order to receive forgiveness for our own sins, it’s not long before we are serving and consoling and teaching those around us as Christ would do.

It doesn’t stop there, though. When we are able to enter the temple, we have the opportunity to participate in baptism for the dead, offering the same covenants and blessings to our own ancestors and others. Later, we can even help extend the blessings of the endowment and the sealing ordinances to those who have passed into the Spirit World.

Think of it! Just as Christ offers salvation and exaltation to all mankind, we offer these ordinances to our own ancestors, one by one. No longer are we simply seeking our own salvation through the grace of Christ; now we are actively taking part in extending it to others. We are participating in God’s work and his glory: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

What a blessing and an honor it is to participate in this work.

Today’s hymn is The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone. Its lyrics rejoice in this exact thing: the opportunity we have to participate with Christ in the salvation of the dead. Consider these passages from the hymn:

As Christ to spirits went to preach
Who were to prison led,
So many Saints have gone to teach
The gospel to the dead.

And we for them can be baptized,
Yes, for our friends most dear,
That they can with the just be raised
When Gabriel’s trump they hear;

Now, O ye Saints, rejoice today
That you can saviors be
Of all your dead who will obey
The gospel and be free.

There is an excitement in this hymn, an eagerness to participate in the work of the Lord. I hope we’ll partake of that eagerness and seek to apply it in our own lives.

Hymn #278: Thanks for the Sabbath School

Perhaps your experience is different than mine, but Sunday School is often the least engaging and inspiring hour of my church experience. That’s no disrespect to my current Sunday School teacher, who is fantastic, wonderful, and well-prepared, mind you. It’s more that due to the interactive and participatory nature of the class, we often end up with increasingly off-topic comments that tend toward speculative doctrine and political rhetoric. It doesn’t help that my daughter loves to crawl around the room, making me chase after her and mutter hushed apologies to my fellow classmates. The other two hours tend to go better for me. I’ve rarely, if ever, felt thankful for Sunday School.

So why is it that we are to feel thankful? What’s the big deal about Sunday School? Why can’t we replace it with a more inspiring and edifying hour, or barring that, remove it entirely?

Join in the jubilee; mingle in song.
Join in the joy of the Sabbath School throng.
Great be the glory of those who do right,
Who overcome evil, in good take delight.

There’s safety and strength in numbers, and we see our numbers reflected in force in Sunday School. We all have a chance to voice our concerns, our beliefs, and our testimonies in these classes. (We do that in our third hour classes, too, and while congregational participation isn’t encouraged in our sacrament meetings, we each have a chance to share our beliefs as we are called to speak.) We can extend the notion of Sabbath School to any of the three hours of our weekly meetings.

And if you’re the type that prefers not to share your testimony or comments in class, whether that’s due to shyness or introversion (both understandable!), bear in mind that as difficult and unpleasant as it may feel to open up in these settings, it’s actually an integral part of our experience and duty as members of the Lord’s church. The prophet Moroni taught that we “meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” Our church is not intended to be an individual affair. We work to bring each other along the path to eternal life. We watch out for each other, through home and visiting teaching, through our church callings, and yes, through sharing our thoughts and feelings in church meetings. We encourage each other through our struggles, and we realize that no matter how stalwart and valiant our fellow saints appear to us, they are human as well, and they struggle with their own issues the same as we do. We, each of us, “strive with the noble in deeds that exalt, and battle with energy each childish fault.”

We’re all in this together, and the democracy of the Sunday School helps us to remember that. Our third hour instruction separates us by gender, age, calling, and so on, but in Sunday School, everyone is invited. We all participate in the same class and on the same level, regardless of our experience in the gospel. So yes, we give thanks, no matter what we may feel about the class. We give thanks that each of us has a chance to share, to learn, and to edify each other. And we give thanks that we can all remember that we are proceeding on the same path toward our Savior, no matter how far we are on that path.

Hymn #252: Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

“Put your shoulder to the wheel” never meant much to me until I pulled a handcart for the first time.

My home stake organized a pioneer trek for the youth when I was about 15, complete with handcarts and mandatory pioneer garb. We hauled our own food and a few belongings apiece, while some of the leaders followed behind with a water tank and trailer-full of porta-potties (sacrificing authenticity for a little sanitation, something that made me profoundly grateful).

The first couple of hours were dusty and a little thirsty, but pleasant. I realized early on the point of a bonnet was to keep your nose-skin from searing off, and the dust in my sneakers slowly caked around my socks as the day got hotter and more sweaty, but things were still good.

Then we reached a hill. The stretch wasn’t too long, maybe only 200 yards, but it was 200 yards of a 45-degree grade with fine, red dirt six inches deep and interspersed with gravel of assorted sizes.

After a few minutes of gawking at the trail, we put our shoulders to the wheel. We didn’t have a very heavy load, but it took six of us to keep our handcart from sliding back down the hill in the soft dirt, pulling and pushing and jamming our bodies against the backside of the box. By the time we reached the top we were sweating even more and my skirt was daubed with a fist-sized gob of axle grease where I’d  bumped the wheel.

Even though this was a neat, faith promoting experience, it isn’t necessary to have a physical pioneer experience to truly appreciate what it means to “put your shoulder to the wheel.” I know those of us with pioneer ancestors–folks who lost life and limb and loved ones to migrate to Zion–always shake our heads and say, “Oh, I couldn’t have done what they did.”

But we do. The Lord’s law of sacrifice is still in place and so we continue to give.  The pioneers I know personally are first-generation converts who have sacrificed social status, lost good jobs, even were cut off from their own families for the gospel. And yet they ”push ev’ry worthy work along.”

Every day we keep fighting an addiction, every day we stay true to a spouse, every day we bite our tongue against the bitter words that may arise, every time we give someone the benefit of the doubt, every time we serve the needy or give up our money or our time to help someone out of a hole they’re in, that’s a sanctifying sacrifice.

That, to me, is putting your shoulder to the wheel.

Hymn #269: Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth

mormon-missionaries

At the time of writing, there are 64 known countries and territories where missionaries are not allowed preach the Gospel (there are 246 countries and territories in the world). This includes countries with political environments unfriendly to LDS missionaries (such as China, Sudan, and North Korea), countries where missionaries used to be allowed to preach but no longer are (such as Israel, Iran, and Syria), and a variety of other countries in a variety of situations, clustering in Africa and the Middle East.

Missionaries?

Yes

No

Total

Countries

182

64

246

% of Countries

74.0%

26.0%

100%

Population

 4,751,309,705

 2,389,286,845

 7,140,596,550

% of World Population

66.5%

33.5%

100%

Area (sq. km)

 100,558,132

 35,368,466

 100,558,132

% of World Area

74.0%

26.0%

100%

Overall, there are proselyting missionaries in 74% of the world’s countries and territories. By population, these countries account for only 66.5% of the world’s population, largely because China’s 1.4 billion people are in a non-proselyting country. The 66.5% itself is overstated, as it implies equal missionary coverage across the world’s population, but the work is just beginning in India, the world’s second-most populous country with 1.2 billion people. Were India in the “no missionaries” column, there would only be proselyting missionaries in the countries representing 49.1% of the world’s population.

Most Populous Countries With No Missionaries
Country

Population

China

1,365,330,000

Bangladesh

156,546,000

Vietnam

89,708,900

Egypt

86,725,600

Iran

77,547,000

Burma

61,120,000

Algeria

38,700,000

Sudan

37,289,406

Iraq

36,004,552

Morocco

33,305,500

While it’s been a couple of years since new countries opened to missionaries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Republic of Macedonia opened in 2012), the international expansion of missionary work has been prolific. Missionaries are in 55 more countries than when I was born (in 1983), and have expanded into 90 new countries in the past 50 years.

This hymn, “Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth,” is about the gospel spreading from pole to pole, bringing in new nations, and growing as the Lord’s kingdom on earth:

Jehovah, Lord of heav’n and earth,
Thy word of truth proclaim!
Oh, may it spread from pole to pole,
Till all shall know thy name;
Oh, may it spread from pole to pole,
Till all shall know thy name.

We long to see thy Church increase,
Thine own new kingdom grow,
That all the earth may live in peace,
And heav’n be seen below;
That all the earth may live in peace,
And heav’n be seen below.

Roll on thy work in all its pow’r!
The distant nations bring!
In thy new kingdom may they stand,
And own thee God and King;
In thy new kingdom may they stand,
And own thee God and King.

Outside of prayer, there is generally little each of us can do individual to bring the distant nations into the fold. We’re at the mercy of foreign governments being receptive to Christian missionaries. As we sing this hymn, we look forward to the day when the Church increases, when it spreads from pole to pole, and all the earth lives in peace.

Right here at home, though, there is plenty we can do. We each have a personal responsibility to share the Gospel—to be examples of the believers, for sure, but also to open our mouths and invite others to hear the good news of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only when each of us as Latter-day Saints takes personally and seriously this charge will we see the final verse of this hymn take form:

One general chorus then shall rise
From men of ev’ry tongue,
And songs of joy salute the skies,
By ev’ry nation sung;
And songs of joy salute the skies,
By ev’ry nation sung.

The day will come when the Gospel is preached in every nation. Until then, we’ve got work to do.

Hymn #293: Each Life That Touches Ours for Good

“The Lord answers our prayers,” said Spencer W. Kimball, “but it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” It’s rare that He Himself will descend to do the things we ask of Him. Instead, He sends a kind family member, a trusted co-worker, or even a gentle stranger to help us along our way. Possibly most often is the case when he places a loving friend in our path when we need bearing up.

“Each life that touches ours for good,” we sing at the beginning of this hymn, “reflects thine own great mercy, Lord.” Friends, family, and others offer kindness and support to us, and who else could they possibly be reminding us of? The Lord is the great example to all of us, and when we do any good thing, anything kind, loving, generous, or virtuous, it’s because we learned it first from Him. The Apostle John said of the Savior, “We love him, because he first loved us,” though he could just as easily have said, “We love family, friends, and everyone else he places in our path, because he first loved us.”

What greater gift does thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

This second verse speaks for itself, but I’ll do my best to add what little I have. Good friends, kind family, and every other loving person placed in our path are a supreme blessing. They bear us up, stand with us when we need comfort, weep with us when we weep, and rejoice with us when we have joy. A Christlike friend can strengthen our faith, as we sing. We learn how to love and how to trust in our Lord through a trusted friend who demonstrates those attributes in his or her own life.

It’s difficult for me to find anything to add to this verse simply because it feels so simple and obvious to me, and that’s because it’s something I feel so keenly in my own life. I’ve been richly, richly blessed with good people in my life. I have a loving family, and I have dear, good friends. I find myself thanking the Lord for each of these people often, and I have ample reason to thank Him for each one of them. There were kind people placed in my life during lonely times as a teenager that I still cherish relationships with today. The same goes for my college years, and it continues today. The Lord places good people in our path to help us along, and it is in their faces and kind deeds that we can see His face and His deeds.

If you’re reading this, and you and I are acquainted to nearly any degree, then please know that you are one of these dear friends that I’m speaking about. We may have met as young people in middle or high school. You might be one of those friends I met in college and shared movie nights and late night conversations with. You might be a fellow writer for the Beesley Project, with whom I get to share my feelings, appreciation, and love for the hymns, and all of whom (except Kim, but that’s only because we hadn’t met yet) I thought of by name when considering a project like this.

And maybe you’re someone I’ve only met or spoken with once, as we crossed paths in the street or shared a short conversation while waiting in line. Relationships don’t have to be deep to be meaningful. Even small kindnesses can remind us of the love the Savior has for each of us. And it’s worth remembering that not only do we have good and kind people placed in our paths, but that we also have the chance to be a good and kind person placed in someone else’s path. We don’t know when we’re the one the Lord is counting on to support someone else, whether it’s through lending a helping hand, a kind deed, or even just a smile.

So no matter who you are, I want you to know that when I sing the fourth and final verse of this hymn, I sing about you:

For worthy friends whose lives proclaim
Devotion to the Savior’s name,
Who bless our days with peace and love,
We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.

Hymn #273: Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2). 

This scripture sums up one of the most difficult precepts of Christianity for me: not judging. To me, this means acting in love and patience with everyone, refraining from harboring any feelings in your heart that will undercut charity toward them.

In the Book of Mormon, Alma tells his son Corianton to be “merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually” (Alma 41: 14).  Why, exactly? Because it follows a natural law of cause-and-effect, Alma writes. Send out mercy, justice, righteous judgement and good deeds, and they come back to you.

So why is this so hard to do? Because we as humans will pack away charity in order to make room for malice and injury in our hearts. I read an incredibly expressive quote by American author and theologian Frederick Buechner which sums up this point: “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

How do we avoid the slow erosion that anger and perceived–or even actual–injustice can bring to our souls?

Eliza R. Snow gave us an antidote, in one sentence in the second verse of this hymn: ”I must love without a grudge.” This means, Sister Snow goes on to tell us, that we have to work first and hardest at casting out the beam in our own eye before we can think to remove the mote (or sliver) that may happen to be lodged in the eye of another.

So this is how to judge: with love, with charity, with the occasional directive given in humility and mercy. This is the way Christ did it, and with His grace and direction, so can we.

Hymn #282: We Meet Again in Sabbath School

There’s something about housekeeping that makes me think of the gospel. The hard parts of the gospel.

If this isn’t already apparent by my tone, I am not a diligent housekeeper. I take little pleasure in the daily grind of tidying and dishes, and even less in laundry. I do it faithfully for one day a week and rest from my labors another five, then play catch-up and resolve anew to stay on top of my responsibilities only to slip again into a coma when faced with the laundry yet again.

However, there are times when I put the housekeeping first that I find a small, peaceful space embedded in the tedium. My hands are busy so my mind is free and sometimes, sometimes I receive revelation while standing at the kitchen sink, up to my elbows in greasy dishwater.

Sometimes Sunday School is the housekeeping of my gospel experience: it can be repetitive and tedious. But then there are times, as this hymn outlines, that sitting in my meetings I “learn the will of God/For wisdom seeking, that [my] feet/May walk the narrow road.”

I believe that part of our spiritual housekeeping is doing the little things every day that invite the Spirit into our lives, much like it’s part of a successful housekeeping habit to make your bed first thing every morning (or so I hear). Part of this is diligence, part of it is humility, and part of it is believing that your small sacrifices will matter in the end.

Hymn #296: Our Father, By Whose Name

As a family-centered church, this is a hymn that we ought to sing much more frequently than just the occasional Father’s Day. In fact, although its first line does mention “fatherhood” specifically, this inclusive hymn goes on to celebrate and teach about the entire family.

Our Father, By Whose Name is structured around the Godhead and what it can teach us about our families. Each of the three verses selects one member of the Godhead and uses him to illustrate a family role.

In verse 1, God the Father parallels “all parents,” and is asked, as a heavenly parent, to “guard … with constant love … the homes in which thy people dwell.”

In verse 2, the Son is used as a pattern for children, who are expected, like the Savior, to “grow in grace” (cf. Luke 2:40).

And in verse 3, the Spirit is invoked as a binding or sealing agent for the family, the same role it fills for the Godhead (see 3 Ne 11:32).

But verse 3 also closes this hymn with an important comment about the nature of family love:

And help us each to find the love from self set free.
In all our hearts such love increase,
That ev’ry home, by this release,
May be the dwelling place of peace.

We are promised that “ev’ry home” can “be the dwelling place of peace” through a certain “release,” which was mentioned in the first line: “the love from self set free.”

This is a fitting conclusion to a hymn that focuses on the Godhead, because selfless love is the most characteristic quality of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I hope that this Father’s Day we can supplement our appreciation for the selfless love of dads all over the world with an additional reverence for the selfless love of our Heavenly Father, who “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).  Once we release love from selfishness or a focus on our wants and desires, our homes will be a place where peace itself can dwell.  Let’s make sure we take advantage of that blessing.

temple

Hymn #288: How Beautiful Thy Temples, Lord

temple

LDS temples dot the earth, with nearly 150 of them across the globe in 46 countries and six continents. Each has its own unique architecture, drawing from local culture, but no matter what they look like, each is beautiful. They are the houses of the Lord, and they are built to be worthy offerings to Him.

How beautiful thy temples, Lord!
Each one a sacred shrine,
Where faithful Saints, with one accord,
Engage in work divine.

Certainly the craftsmanship and attention to detail used in building these temples makes them beautiful, but they are noteworthy as much for what happens on their inside as much as for their outward appearance. Members gather to receive ordinances crucial for their eternal progression, but also to receive those ordinances on behalf of their ancestors who have since passed on, giving them the opportunity to accept those ordinances that they did not have the chance to receive during their lifetimes.

How beautiful some aid to give
To dear ones we call dead,
But who indeed as spirits live;
They’ve only gone ahead.

God could have devised any number of ways to allow those who died without receiving saving ordinances a chance to accept them in the hereafter. He chose, in His wisdom, a method that involves our direct participation. This not only gives us an incentive to return to the temple often, gaining a fuller understanding of the ordinances of the temple and opportunities to spend time in the Lord’s house, but it also helps us to forge and strengthen bonds with our ancestors. We seek out those who went before us and give them the chance to accept gospel ordinances, should they want to. They can seek us out too, prodding and inspiring us to perform the work here on earth that they cannot do in the spirit world. The hearts of the fathers are turned to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, as Malachi foretold.

How beautiful its faith and hope;
All mankind it would save,
Including in its aim and scope
The souls beyond the grave.

The Lord desires the salvation of every person, whether male or female, bond or free, living or dead. Each is precious to Him, and each deserves an equal opportunity to come unto Him. No one is punished for not having heard the gospel. He loves all of us, and the fact that He has prepared a way for each of us to partake of the gospel, and particularly one that allows us to help each other on that path, serves as evidence of that fact.

How beautiful thy promise, Lord,
That we may grow in truth,
And live, exalted by thy word,
In endless, glorious youth.

The external beauty of the temples reminds us of the beauty we find within. We remember that inside the temple, we can receive power from on high. We can be sealed together as families forever. We can receive those ordinances on behalf of our deceased ancestors, allowing them to partake of those same blessings. There’s an awful lot of beauty in the temple, both inside and out, and that’s because there’s an awful lot of beauty in the Father’s plan for us.

Image credit: Quetzaltenango Guatemala LDS (Mormon) Temple, flickr user Fersandh.

 

Hymn #253: Like Ten Thousand Legions Marching

Here’s another hymn for you to add to your arsenal of hymns about missionary work! The title’s metaphorical “ten thousand legions marching” refers to “a mighty band of youth” who share the gospel, which is further described throughout the first three verses.

I find the metaphor of a legion surprisingly compelling. For instance, a “legion” refers to a military group of between 3,000 and 6,000 people. If this hymn is envisioning “ten thousand legions,” a conservative estimate of the total number of people involved here is 30 million! This is not a small work performed on the side of the Church, peripheral to other latter-day tasks. The missionary force is intended to be absolutely enormous, and absolutely central to building Zion.

Additionally, when I think of a military legion, I immediately think of order and discipline. A missionary needs remarkable dedication in order to endure such difficult work. But a “legion” is also an image of honor. Missionary work, although difficult, isn’t always drudgery. Just like a military legion raises images of national pride, missionary work is associated with joy that we are serving in behalf of a cause greater than ourselves.

And just as a military unit is led by a captain, our missionary force is led by Jesus Christ, who directs his followers on to victory and glory. Our service to the cause should be as devoted as an army following its captain.

It is with these metaphorical implications in mind that I read the second and third verses:

Out of ev’ry nation surging–
Sons of Joseph, Israel’s band–
Now they spread  salvation’s message
In the tongues of ev’ry land.

Far across the mighty waters,
Reaching ev’ry waiting shore,
Seed of Abraham and Jacob
Like a mighty lion roar.

As missionaries, we should be “surging” forth—moving forward and upward with so much force and power that we carry others with us and sweep them up in the momentum of our enthusiastic devotion. Our message should not be ashamed or timid, but like the “roar” of “a mighty lion.”

Listen. I struggle with missionary work just as much as the next person. It can be awkward. But this hymn inspires me to try harder. It reminds me that, although sharing the gospel has its fair share of discomfort, it is still a glorious and worthwhile cause. We really do have a “light” that can bring the nations “out of darkness,” and with the proper enthusiasm and devotion to that message and to the Savior who gave it to us, we will be able to take “to all people / Zion’s glorious song of truth.”

Hymn #267: How Wondrous and Great

I used to be pants-wetting afraid of Christ’s Second Coming.

I’m sure this wasn’t the intention of my parents or Sunday School teachers to drill this fear into me, but yet I was afraid. The scriptures are littered with references to the sun going out, the moon turning the blood; famine and pestilence and earthquakes, and people generally killing each other. I remember being about seven years old and seeing a red moon for the first time. My guts turned to ice because I thought for sure it was the End of Days.

These days I am not afraid of Christ’s coming, first and most importantly because I believe in His gift of resurrection and that I will see my beloved dead again. Secondly, I don’t fear Christ’s coming because He has instructed us for thousands of years now to prepare to meet Him with faith, consistency, and humility.

How wondrous and great Thy works, God of praise!
How just, King of Saints, And true are thy ways!
Oh, who shall not fear thee and honor thy name?
Thou only art holy, Thou only supreme.

 

Sometimes we run around wildly pulling repentance and faith off the shelves as if we’re preparing for a freak winter storm. This is not what the Lord expects of us. At the heart of Jesus’ parable of the Ten Virgins was the instruction to listen, obey, and be ready.

Nearly 100 years before Jesus preached this sermon, Book of Mormon prophet Alma entreated his people to “not procrastinate the day of your repentance” until Christ’s Second Coming. Alma pleaded with them to have faith and a hope for eternal life, to be humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love, long-suffering, and to pray for strength to withstand temptation (Alma 13: 27-29).

I guess this is all the gospel is about, really. Slow, steady preparation and refining through the Spirit to get us to a place where we can handle being with God again.

Hymn #270: I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go

david & camelIn 2002 my husband was called to serve in the Ivory Coast Abidjan mission. He packed his bags, got dozens of immunizations, and headed to the Missionary Training Center where he diligently began learning how to teach the gospel in French.

Not long after he entered the MTC, civil war broke out in Ivory Coast.

His parents frantically called the  mission office to find out whether he would actually be sent into a war zone. Members of his home ward wrote letters that said they were praying he wouldn’t have to go. Weeks went by, but since nobody could give them a definitive answer about what would happen, he and his fellow missionaries continued to study, attend the temple, and wait for the day they would ship out.

Faced with the very real possibility that he could die in the mission field, my husband experienced a deep crisis of faith during that time. Why had he been called to a place of such violence and unrest? Did he really believe that God had a plan for him? Did he believe that the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was true? Did he believe that he was the right person to share that message with the people of Ivory Coast?

Most importantly, did he believe these things enough to risk his life for them?

*

My youngest brother was called to serve in the Utah Ogden mission. It was a far cry from the exotic calls some of his friends had received, and he was admittedly a little disappointed. Why should he be called to Utah–land of the Mormons–to preach the good word of Christ? Did he really believe that God had a plan for him? Did he believe that the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was true? Did he believe that he was the right person to share that message with the people of Ogden?

Most importantly, did he believe these things enough to put his life on hold to go to a place that seemed not to need his service?

*

Sometimes we are called to the “mountain height,” or the “stormy sea,” or the “battle front”. Sometimes the Lord asks us to risk everything, give everything, to walk in “paths [we] do not know”. The way is “dark and rugged”, and we may wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Other times we are asked to labor in a more “lowly place”. Our calling is not prestigious or exotic or adventurous. It might be a blow to our ego that our talents are not being used to their fullest, or that our efforts go unnoticed because we are not in a high-profile position.

Either way, we must ask ourselves: do we believe?

And if we do, the answer is simple. “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll say what you want me to say. I’ll be what you want me to be.”

*

(Eventually my husband was reassigned to to the Kenya Nairobi mission where he served faithfully for the remainder of his two years. My brother also finished a faithful mission, eventually moving to the North Salt Lake mission when boundaries changed and more missionaries were needed. Both men developed strong testimonies of going wherever the Lord calls them, and I know the Lord is pleased with their efforts.)

Hymn #291: Turn Your Hearts

After the completion of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery took a moment to pray together in private. In response, they saw a series of heavenly messengers, each entrusted with restoring the keys for various aspects of the gospel. Moses, the prophet who led Israel out of Egypt, restored the keys for the gathering of Israel from the world. Elias restored the keys of the dispensation of Abraham, renewing that blessing to the posterity of Abraham. Elijah appeared, too, committing the keys of the new dispensation into the hands of Joseph and Oliver, saying, as was prophesied by Malachi, that he was there to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.”

The gospel is timeless, existing from the foundation of the world, but this commandment is a relatively new one, and it’s a sign that the second coming of the Lord is “near, even at the doors.” Our thoughts turn to those who came before us. There’s no reason they should be denied the blessings of gospel ordinances simply because they lived in an era in which they were not available. We can perform those ordinances on their behalf – not to force them to receive them, but to give them the opportunity to do so if they want. As we strengthen ties to our ancestors, we can strengthen ties to our descendants as well as they seen our commitment not only to the principles of the gospel, but to our family.

This hymn tells that whole story. Malachi prophesies in ancient times, Elijah comes according to that prophecy, and our hearts are turned to our fathers and our children. It’s telling that it’s our hearts, not our minds that are turned. Family is something that is felt more than thought. It’s a central part of who we are. The third and fourth verses of this hymn make that clear to us. Listen to the third verse:

Turn your hearts toward your parents–
Generations gone before.
May you seek until you find them;
In the temple seal and bind them
To your hearts forevermore.

For many of us, our parents aren’t difficult to find. They’re in our homes, or at least a presence in our lives. For some of us, we do have to seek our parents out to get to know them, but even those of us who don’t still need to make an effort to draw near to our parents and families. It takes effort to build up a strong relationship. We show our love by sharing our time and attention. We seek until we find each other, and we are sealed and bound in the temple, not only in the gospel sense, but in the sense of having our hearts knit. Our shared experiences and shared memories make us one.

Turn your love to all your children–
Generations yet to be.
May your deeds of gospel giving,
Temple service, righteous living,
Bless them all eternally.

Here, we sing not only about our children that live in our homes, with whom we play, laugh, and so on. We sing about generations yet to come. As we give righteous service, we are blessed, of course, but those who come after us are blessed as well. This isn’t just a vague sense of our descendants being blessed through our strong example, although I’m sure that has a real effect. This is a case of the Lord promising to bless those who come after us because of the choices that we make. As we turn our hearts to our fathers, the Lord blesses our children.

We may have felt, at times, that we have received blessings we haven’t deserved. The Lord is good, and He blesses us when He sees fit, but I wonder if those blessings aren’t as random as they may see. I wonder if we aren’t the benefactors of those who have come before us. We can find out as we search our those ancestors, learning of their righteous acts and lives. And we can repay them by living righteously ourselves, bringing blessings to those who will come after.

Hymn #261: Thy Servants Are Prepared

Image Credit:  "Men Missionaries Mormon Man", More Good Foundation, 2007, via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moregoodfoundation/5135123539. CC BY-NC 2.0

Thy Servants Are Prepared is, at first glance, a hymn about young missionaries prepared to go forth and preach the Gospel to the world. Their preaching will fill the world with the light of truth, and build Zion both abroad and at home. It also speaks of the preparation these missionaries must have, for one cannot preach the truth unless he has first received and understood it himself.

The preparation and service of our young missionary force is an exciting and important topic, one that is more prominent than ever in context of the recent surge in departing missionaries. But this is not the topic I want to discuss here.

The truth is that 18- and 19-year old missionaries are not the only servants of God. We are all servants of God, all called from the moment of our baptism to carry forward his work and proclaim his Gospel. While we may not all be called to serve in foreign lands, the recent instructions to “Hasten the Work of Salvation” make it clear that we are all part of this work, whether called as full-time missionaries or not.

Just as full-time missionaries, we all must be prepared to share the Gospel. We should be studying the scriptures daily, “feasting upon the words of Christ.” We should be praying often. More importantly, we should be developing a real and meaningful relationship with our Heavenly Father, and should be growing ever more able to understand and act upon the promptings of the Spirit.

Preparation to share the Gospel of Christ is not completed simply by memorizing Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision and a few Scripture Mastery scriptures. The Gospel is not simply about learning scriptural facts—in fact, Christ often rebuked the Pharisees and Scribes for doing just that. Rather, we must learn to listen to our Father directly, to follow the guidance he sends through the Holy Spirit.

We must learn to receive revelation.

This should not be a surprising statement. Missionaries invite people  in their very first meetings to pray about the Book of Mormon, to receive an answer from God himself whether it is true or not. When we are baptized we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, a gift that does us no good unless we actually learn to listen to the Spirit. Prophets throughout the Book of Mormon taught this same lesson: we must learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as we preach that “God speaks, not spake,” we must learn to listen.

I believe we all understand this, and yet our day-to-day tasks can so easily distract us from this preparation. Learning to accurately recognize the Spirit is not a simple task; it takes practice and effort. When we brush aside frequent scripture study, or when our prayers start fading into rote repetitions, we lose the opportunity to commune with the Holy Spirit in the very settings most conducive to his presence.

Sharing the light of the Gospel with the world is God’s work. He can and will direct us as we carry it out, but only if we are capable of listening to his instructions and following his direction. As we do so, we will truly see “the darkness draw away from [His] revealing light.”

So when we sing “Thy Servants Are Prepared,” let’s remember that it’s us we’re singing about. Let’s make sure that we’re always ready.


Image Credit:
“Men Missionaries Mormon Man”, More Good Foundation, 2007, via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moregoodfoundation/5135123539. CC BY-NC 2.0

Hymn #260: Who’s on the Lord’s Side?

General Conference is once again coming to a close. I don’t pretend to have absorbed every word between fielding screaming children and the fact that I succumbed to my semi-annual Conference Nap (the most deeply satisfying, profound nap I get during the year).

However, I was struck by the chord that ran through nearly every speaker’s talk: constancy, endurance, and the fact that God’s laws are not going to grow in popularity anytime soon.

In the book of Joshua, he stood before the tribes of Israel and, speaking from the Lord, laid out a laundry list of the blessings He had given them. The Lord had led Abraham to the promised land, given him children under impossible circumstances, led Jacob’s children out of Egypt with plagues and miracles, and delivered multiple armies into their hands. 

“And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them,” the Lord reminded them. “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served…in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15). 

Then comes the kicker. Joshua then issues a  challenge to them in the next verse: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve.”

I think that phrase is so interesting: “if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord.” In my life I have had people treat my faith as a slightly embarrassing condition in best conditions, and in the worst to tell me I am perpetuating evil by practicing my religion.

To those who do not understand my faith, I would say that I believe I am on the Lord’s side, but most importantly I claim my vices as my own. If I am proud, if I am angry, if I fail others or actively hurt them, it is not because I am flying the banner for Jesus Christ. It’s because I am weak and selfish and human, and I believe Satan works to exploit all our weaknesses to “crush the work” as the hymn states.

But most importantly, I believe that being on the Lord’s side means being long-suffering, acting in “gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). I echo Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s words from yesterday’s session that “pure Christlike love, flowing from righteousness, can change the world.”

 

Hymn #292: O My Father

O My Father holds a prized place within the LDS hymnal, both historically and theologically. Its author, Eliza R. Snow, is one of the most prominent female figures in early church history, and the hymn itself is best known for mentioning Heavenly Mother in its third and fourth verses.

Eliza wrote this hymn at the resolution of a particularly difficult period in her life. Although living in Nauvoo and hearing the Prophet Joseph teach new doctrines was intellectually and religiously exhilarating, Eliza struggled to feel connected. She was unmarried, and most of her family had not come west to Illinois, meaning that she had to board with a number of different families over a short period of time. In 1842 she became a plural wife to Joseph Smith, something that gave her the connection she craved, but in another sense left her further isolated because of the secret nature of the doctrine and her own personal struggles with the principle. Two years later her husband would be martyred, followed just a few months afterward by the death of her own father. It was as she grieved and found solace from these events that she penned the poem originally titled “My Father in Heaven,” the last poem she would write from Nauvoo.

This context helps explain the profound sense of longing we find in the first verse:

O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?

Feeling deep loss, isolation, and displacement, Eliza here expresses her desire to find the connection and inclusion she knows awaits in her heavenly home. This desire permeates the rest of the hymn, which Jill Deer describes as “a hymn of orientation. It speaks of place, habitation, sphere, wandering, residing, and dwelling.” [1]

Sister Snow goes on to express renewed resolution and assurance that we’ve been placed on earth “for a wise a glorious purpose.” Still, a sense of longing remains:

Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

This sense of longing deeply resonates with me, and I think it’s a feeling which most of us have experienced. We feel that there is something beyond this world, and we long for it, whatever it is. C.S. Lewis said the following about this emotion:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” ~ Mere Christianity

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” ~ The Weight of Glory

These are sentiments to which Eliza R. Snow would whole-heartedly agree. We see as much in the way she crafts the next two verses. Her longing draws her to picture what heaven will be like, and the picture she paints is of a home with a “Father” and a “Mother,” with whom she wants to “come and dwell.”

When tragedy strikes us, or when that sense of longing grows a little too poignant, our natural impulse is to drown it out with busyness or entertainment or other remedies offered by this world. I’m impressed by Sister Snow’s testimony and how it leads her to find comfort in the doctrines of the gospel, and I’m touched by the reminder that my ultimate goal is a heavenly home where all of my longings will find both their source and their fulfillment. Faced with our frail existence, our task is to remember that we are only strangers and wanderers, and to place our hope in a more exalted sphere and the exalted father and mother who await us.

 

[1] Jill Mulvay Deer, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow,” BYU Studies 36:1 (1996–1997), 85–126.

Hymn #255: Carry On

If you’re looking for a hymn with pep, look no further. “Carry On” is about as upbeat and optimistic as they come. The lyrics were written in 1930 by General Young Women’s president Ruth May Fox specifically for the June centennial celebration of the Church’s organization. The theme for the meeting was “Onward with Mormon Ideals,” and this number was performed by the youth at the Sunday evening session of the conference.

Although written for the youth (the chorus, for example, specifically addresses the “youth of the noble birthright”), this hymn contains a message for all of us about how we ought to respond to our heritage.

The first thing one notices about this hymn is the surprising nature imagery: our fathers raised a banner “over the desert sod,” and we hear “the desert ringing … / Hills and vales and mountains singing.” Remember that this song was written for youth in Utah, and so the “mountains” and “desert” in question describe the landscape of the Salt Lake Valley. Why is this landscape so important? The very first line tells us: we are to be “firm as the mountains around us.”

I really like this idea of drawing strength from the landscape, especially a landscape forged by our ancestors. It was hard work for the early pioneers to eke out a living in the desert conditions of Utah, and the continued growth of that region is a testimony to their success. But we don’t have to live in Salt Lake to feel inspired by our ancestors or to have a visible reminder of what they left us. There are other things that can be as inspiring to us as the Rocky Mountains are to those who lived in Utah in the days of the early church. I can draw the same kind of strength by looking at photographs of my grandfather, or admiring my grandmother’s needlework, or working at a desk handcrafted by my uncle. The imprint of those who went before us can be seen and felt in what they left behind, and their legacy encourages us to ensure that we leave behind a righteous legacy, as well.

We are also encouraged to be “stalwart and brave.” “Stalwart” is an Old English word combing the roots stal (place) + weorth (worth)—in other words, “to be worthy of your place.” Our ancestors left us an impressive platform on which to stand, and it’s our job to be worthy of it. In fact, the hymn frequently describes that platform as a “rock”—“the rock our fathers planted,” “the rock of honor and virtue,” and our task is to “build on the rock they planted.” The imagery is really straightforward, but powerful for its directness: our ancestors laid us a foundation, and we’re going to build upon it.

The hymn even informs us what it is that we’re building: “a palace to the King.” Our forefathers left behind a tangible legacy, of course, but more importantly they left behind a religious legacy of faith and devotion to the Lord. We’ve been invited by our heritage to continue building the Kingdom, and when it’s complete, we are told that we will march straight “into its shining corridors” bringing “songs of praise.” Surprisingly, those anthems of praise will not be for the Lord, but “for the heritage … left us” by our fathers.

We’ve been invited to “carry on” the same work and glory to which our predecessors gave their lives, we’ve been inspired by their example, and if we prove faithful, God’s kingdom itself will ring with the sounds of children praising their ancestors.

Hymn #276: Come Away to the Sunday School

After I had my first baby, church suddenly got really hard. I spent much of the three-hour block nursing my tiny daughter in the mothers’ lounge, bouncing her in the halls, and changing diapers in the bathroom. My husband helped out as much as he could–we took turns attending classes and fulfilling our respective callings–but Sundays were no longer the peaceful spiritual days they had once been. I’m sure our experience is not unique; anyone who has spent a Sabbath wrangling children knows it’s not really a day of rest.

And so when I read the first verse of this hymn, I laughed out loud.

When the rosy light of morning
Softly beams above the hill,
And the birds, sweet heav’nly songsters,
Ev’ry dell with music fill,
Fresh from slumber we awaken;
Sunshine chases clouds away.
Nature breathes her sweetest fragrance
On the holy Sabbath day.

It sounds so idyllic…and so dramatically different from what my Sundays feel like.

During that first year of new parenthood especially, I spent a lot of time resenting anyone who (as far as I could tell) had no reason to be wandering the halls instead of attending Sunday School. There I was, stuck with a crying baby and in desperate need of a solid dose of gospel doctrine and adult interaction, and those ungrateful people were skipping class just because they could! How dare they! I could not understand how something that felt so important to me was so unappreciated by others. I seethed at church and cried at home.

In my defense, I was really really tired.

Since that time we’ve added another baby to our family. Church is still hard. I miss Sunday School more often than not. I imagine things will only continue in that vein for several more years at least. But my attitude toward church–and the people who wander the halls–has changed.

For a good and glorious purpose
Thus we meet each Sabbath day,
Each one striving for salvation
Thru the Lord’s appointed way.
Earnest toil will be rewarded;
Zealous hearts need not repine.
God will not withhold his blessings
From the eager, seeking mind.

“The Lord’s appointed way” for us to “strive for salvation” includes gathering together on the Sabbath and partaking of the sacrament. The way our meetings have been structured has changed over the years, but the purpose is the same: to renew covenants and strengthen testimonies. If you’re present for the bread and water, you’ve got the former pretty well covered. The latter isn’t always as structured, though. Sometimes it happens in Sunday School. Sometimes it happens in the mothers’ lounge. Sometimes it happens as you do laps around the building or chat with a friend in the foyer or read your scriptures in the back of class.

What I’m saying is, we all have our reasons for attending or not attending our classes. If our hearts are in the right place–we are earnestly toiling and eagerly seeking to learn and feel the spirit–God will reward our efforts. As a new mother, my heart was zealous in desiring to feel the spirit, but I spent more time repining than seeking God’s blessings in ways that worked with my current circumstances. When I stopped complaining and started making the best of a tough situation, my Sabbath experiences improved.

Let us then press boldly onward,
Prove ourselves as soldiers true.
He will lead us; he will guide us.
Come, there’s work for all to do,
Never tiring, never doubting,
Boldly struggling to the end.
In the world, tho foes assail us,
God will surely be our friend.

I’ve learned to “press boldly onward” and stop doubting that my weekly struggle is worth it. My toddler’s favorite song now is “I Am a Child of God.” My baby is learning to fold her arms when we pray. We’re doing the best we can to teach our girls that God is their friend. Our family is stronger because Sabbath worship–whatever it looks like from week to week–is important to us.

That said, I still look forward to the day when I can attend Sunday School uninterrupted. If you have that opportunity, enjoy it. Take advantage of it. Put away the Angry Birds and Facebook for an hour and really listen to what your teacher has prepared for you.

Then away, haste away!
Come away to the Sunday School!
Then away, do not delay!
Come away to the Sunday School!

God will lead and guide you, protect you from worldly foes that would tear you down, and will not withhold his blessings when you are in need. That’s the testimony I have gained from not attending Sunday School. Amen.

Hymn #268: Come, All Whose Souls Are Lighted

Here we have a hymn about missionary work from the early 1800’s, included in the first LDS hymnbook, written by a man named Heber. It’s all the makings of a Restoration hymn, but it surprisingly is not—no, Reginald Heber wrote this hymn while an Anglican priest, later to become the Bishop of Calcutta. As a writer, his hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the most popular and is popular in Protestant congregations today.

The version of this hymn that we sing today is somewhat different from its original 1819 version, then titled “From Greenland’s Icy Hills.” Small wording changes aside, a whole verse caused the hymn to fall out of favor in many churches, and is not present in the LDS printing; its reference to converting “heathens”—originally penned as “savages”—is a vestige of a time with a different political environment.

Heber’s hymn is decidedly poetic. It was said that, “It is obvious from that hymn that Heber had a more literary style of hymn-writing than most of his predecessors. For him, poetic imagery was as important as didactic truth. He liked the well-turned phrase, the carefully chosen adjective and the telling figure of speech. His really were ‘hymns of human composition’ (John Betjeman, Sweet Songs of Zion).

Come, all whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high.
Shall we, to men benighted,
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation! Oh, salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation
Has learned Messiah’s name.

Note the message of this first verse, and that it is dramatically different than some other missionary texts. While other hymns may first exhort us to “go” and “preach” the gospel to others, this hymn first asks: Who are we to deny the light to others? What possible reason can we have to keep our mouths shut, when we have the light of the Gospel in our lives?

In his impressive book “The Power of Everyday Missionaries,” Harvard business professor and management guru Clayton M. Christensen clarifies a missionary misconception: We can’t prepare people to receive the Gospel; the Lord prepares them. We can’t possibly know who is ready to receive it. In Brother Christensen’s words, “The only way all people can have the opportunity to choose or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ is for us, without judgment, to invite them to follow the Savior.”

From Greenland’s icy mountains,
From India’s coral strand,
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand,
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain.

Indeed, broad swaths of mankind—entire eras of history, certainly, but also large geographic areas now—live or have lived in darkness, unlit by the “lamp of life”. But what about those closer to home? Are those who live in our own country, and even on our own street, any less dragged down by the chain of error?

Go tell, ye winds, his story,
And mighty waters, roll,
Till, like a sea of glory,
It spreads from pole to pole;
Till o’er our ransomed nature
The Lamb, for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator
In bliss returns to reign.

Eventually, the Gospel will spread like a sea of glory to all the ends of the Earth. But what winds will take it from pole to pole? What mighty waters will roll it forth? It’s you, ye winds, and it’s me. The original text speaks in second person to the waters, as well: “You, ye waters, roll.” The Lord’s gospel has been cut out of the mountain without hands, but the rolling is up to us—those of us who already have the Gospel.

Those of us whose souls are lighted.

Hymn #297: From Homes of Saints Glad Songs Arise

In our house, the gladdest song we sing is “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home.” Whenever I hear my husband push open our front door, I feel like clapping my hands and shouting for joy every time. There are snack-time songs and car ride songs and songs for diaper changes, most of them utter nonsense. Sometimes we have songs that ascend to heaven in peaceful, reverent tones; others I sing at top volume over the screams of my children strapped in the back of the car.

Then there are nights like last night when the songs are croaked out at 3 a.m. to lull babies back to sleep after a nightmare. This is always followed by a prayer where my son occasionally peeks around the room for something else on which to invoke the Lord’s blessing: his baby sister, the table, his bottle of milk, the closet where I have assured him there are no Disney/Pixar monsters hiding.

These songs, these prayers are part of a small, seemingly insignificant tapestry of routine we are trying to weave around our children.

From homes of Saints glad songs arise.

For there the Lord is King.

There faith is learned and prayers ascend,

The Spirit’s peace to bring.

By teaching our son to pray for himself, he began to ask for blessings I didn’t know he needed. Our son is guiding us step by step, exercising his faith and adding it to my own. I have asked him many times to help me pray (mostly to find lost car keys and the like) and I feel like in some circumstances, a child’s prayer works better than a functioning memory.

God’s truths protect the hearth from wrong

When error’s ways allure,

Lift minds from self to nobleness,

Keep thought and action pure.

As a mother, I cling to this element of the gospel like a drowning woman. Can God’s truths really protect my children? The threat of false information, false idols or false friends bringing harm to my babies is more than I can take sometimes.

But there’s a promise in Isaiah that breathes some comfort into my heart when I get too frantic: “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13).

Then sing, O Saints, in hymns of praise;

Sing thanks to God on high,
Whose counsels kept in homes on earth
Bring heaven’s glory nigh.
I remember one autumn morning in 1997 when my dad, driving me to school, suddenly began quoting “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth to me from the driver’s seat:
“Our birth is but a sleep and forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”
There have been times I have seen that glory in my own children, and sometimes it is breathtaking, even momentarily blinding. But it also strengthens my resolve to be the best version of myself as their steward. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail spectacularly. But every day I try to keep a song in my heart, and to make it glad.

Hymn #294: Love at Home

This, along with “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” might be the most-played hymn in the entire book. We often hear beginning piano students plunking out the familiar “bum ba bum ba bum bum bum, bum ba bum bum bum.” The melody and chords are simple, and it’s fitting, because the message is just as simple. The word “love” appears nineteen times in the hymn (an even twenty if you count the title), just in case the theme eludes you, but there’s a very specific sort of love we’re talking about. Listen:

There is beauty all around
When there’s love at home;
There is joy in ev’ry sound
When there’s love at home.

We’re talking about creating loving, strong families. We’re talking about creating refuges from the forces of anger and hate. We’re talking about a place that we can feel safe, whether that’s four walls protecting us from a howling wind or an embrace protecting us from hurtful words. We are taught to make our homes holy places where the Spirit can dwell, and when we do so, we can certainly expect beauty and joy to abound in our homes.

But take another look at those words. Which places do you suppose the author referred to when he wrote that there was beauty “all around?” Which sounds fall under the category of “ev’ry?” Certainly we can expect there to be joy in our homes when there is love there, but I don’t think we’re to take such a narrow definition of “all” and “ev’ry.” I think we’re meant to understand that when we create loving homes, we can expect everywhere to abound with love. We can expect kindness and joy anywhere we go.

That’s not to say that everyone in the world has to first secure love at home for us to see this sort of effect. I think it means that we have to make sure that we teach love, and nothing but love. Showing your family that you love them isn’t too tricky, I think. We all have struggles with our families from time to time (some of us more than others), but the bonds of family are tight. For many of us, loving family isn’t difficult. The trick is teaching our families love for everyone else, too. It sends a mixed message when we tell a child with one breath how much we love them and with the next how we can’t believe the coach of the football team we’re watching would be so moronic as to call a draw play on 3rd and 17. We internalize these messages, and we learn, unfortunately, that we should love some people, but it’s okay not to love others. We end up teaching the message that there is joy in many sounds, but not all. Hate and envy occasionally annoy, and life becomes a bliss too incomplete.

The Lord counseled us to first cleanse the inner vessel in order to cleanse the outside. That can refer to purifying our hearts, certainly, but I think it can just as easily refer to purifying our families as well. When we take care to speak with love and gentleness in the home, we can’t help but do the same out of the home. We won’t be so quick to take offense from others (even when it’s intended!), but rather, we’ll be inclined to let it pass. We can see our fellow men not as adversaries, or even as strangers, but as friends, just as our Savior sees them.

That’s not to say that we won’t encounter frustrations, or that if we simply try to love our families a little more that we’ll somehow be able to go through life without any problems. We’re human, and we’re weak. We all have moments where we struggle, and we have them often. The Lord knows this, and He views those moments with mercy. As we make sincere efforts to treat others with love, and especially as we build homes of love to create strong families, He helps us to come to view the world as we sing in the final verse:

Kindly heaven smiles above
When there’s love at home;
All the world is filled with love
When there’s love at home.
Sweeter sings the brooklet by;
Brighter beams the azure sky.
Oh, there’s One who smiles on high
When there’s love at home.

Hymn #286: Oh, What Songs of the Heart

 

Death.

It’s a hard topic. Sooner or later, each of us must confront that unavoidable reality: we are all mortal. We will all die. We will all lose loved ones to the grave. In some cases, death is a relief—consider a terminally ill grandparent whose suffering finally comes to an end. In other cases, death is a bitter shock, taking from us those who had so much more to do and so much yet to give.

When death comes, we long for comfort. We crave for the assurance that somehow, we have not lost someone forever. That somehow, all the missed opportunities, and lost moments, and hopes and plans and memories and wisdom, have not disappeared into nothingness.

Eternal truth brings us a powerful message of hope—that death is not the end. Not only is there life after death, but that life is wonderful. That life is beautiful.

That wonderful life is the topic of this hymn.

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home

Right from the start, we acknowledge that precious truth: our life after death is not a sojourn into an unknown territory. Instead, it is a return to our home, to that place we lived in ages immemorial before our brief stay in this mortal realm. It is a place that will be instantly familiar to each of us when we return home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There’s no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o’er and o’er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;

Not only is death a return to our familiar home, it is also a moment of reunion. We know that family ties are meant to be eternal, not just fleeting social conveniences. When we arrive in that next stage of life, none of us will arrive alone. Family who have gone before us will be there to welcome us back. Not only that; we will have a reunion with our eternal father, God himself:

Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. (Alma 40:11)

The hope that fills this hymn is inspiring. It views death not as something we all must eventually succumb to—rather, it is a blessing we will all eventually receive. We need not hurry toward it, of course. There is so much to do here in this mortal life—so many hearts we can lift and so much joy we can spread. But whenever death comes, it need not be a tragedy. Our separation from our loved ones, though difficult, is only temporary, and some day we will have our own sweet reunion with those we have lost.

This is what I love about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It fills us with purpose and hope. It replaces the despair of loss with the hope of reunion. It reminds us of our divine heritage and our eternal destiny. Through the power of his Atonement and resurrection, our relationships can truly last forever. No sudden illness or senseless tragedy can take children or parents or loved ones from us forever. Christ has shown us the way to receive these blessings; he offers them to us freely. How could we not be filled with joy at all this? How could we not rejoice?

Paul said it best: “Oh grave, where is they victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?”


Oh, What Songs of the Heart“, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, October 2008

Hymn #281: Help Me Teach with Inspiration

I hope the other Beesley Project contributors will forgive me for speaking for them in this post, but this hymn? This is what our little project is all about. It’s our aim and our prayer with every post we write.

Help me teach with inspiration;
Grant this blessing, Lord, I pray.
Help me lift a soul’s ambition
To a higher, nobler way.

Until a few months ago, I was a gospel doctrine teacher in my ward. During my tenure in that calling, I gained a very strong testimony that all the lesson plans and teaching methods in the world are worthless when it comes to things of God unless His Spirit is present. Generally speaking, my lessons were dramatically better when I moved away from my meticulous notes and just went where the Holy Ghost prompted me.

Sometimes our posts require some research about a hymn or its author. Other times we delve into the scriptural references included in the hymn book. We put thought and effort into our posts, but at the end of the day we hope the Spirit will help us write something true and meaningful. We pray to teach with inspiration.

Help me reach a friend in darkness;
Help me guide him thru the night.
Help me show thy path to glory
By the Spirit’s holy light.

One of the perks of contributing to this project is reading all the posts somebody else wrote. In less than two months, my co-contributors have shared thoughts that have led me to a change of heart, or shed new light on gospel principles, or strengthened my resolve to be better, or brought me comfort when I needed it.

Even if I am the only one who has been affected in this way, their efforts have been worthwhile. As we are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants, “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:15) That said, I pray that I am not the only one benefiting from these posts, and that we are reaching other friends who could use a little extra light in their lives.

Fill my mind with understanding;
Tune my voice to echo thine.
Touch my hand with gentle friendship;
Warm my heart with love divine.

As much as we want to teach others about the hymns we love, we also appreciate an opportunity to become more familiar with them ourselves. It’s like everyone says: when you have to teach about something, you end up learning a lot. We are gaining greater understanding and a deeper love of our brothers and sisters. God is blessing us for our efforts, for which we are enormously grateful.

Help me find thy lambs who wander;
Help me bring them to thy keep.
Teach me, Lord, to be a shepherd;
Father, help me feed thy sheep.

Ultimately our goal–in this project as in our lives–is to become more like the Good Shepherd. Jesus Christ is our Savior and Exemplar; we want to be like him and help others draw near to him. These hymns and this website are one small way for us to obey his commandment to feed our Father’s sheep.

And now I turn it to you, dear readers. How are we doing? Has the Beesley Project inspired you in any way? Has a particular post been a blessing in your life? We’d love to hear your feedback.

Hymn #263: Go Forth with Faith

Missionary work is a topic very much on the minds of our church leaders, and a key part of our identity as Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, the topic of “missionary work” all too often brings up feelings of guilt and anxiety for many members, myself included. I was surprised to find, however, that as I worked on this post and read through the lyrics of this hymn, I was always more cheerful by the time I was through. This hymn is filled with a buoyant optimism and it comes from focusing on the message we share as missionaries.

Throughout its three verses, we are told to “go forth” with four things:

“Go forth with faith” (verse 1)
“Go forth with hope” (verse 1)
“Go forth with love” (verse 2)
“Go forth with power” (verse 3)

I find that pattern quite interesting. Missionaries are to go forth armed with the main Christian virtues (“And faith, hope, charity … qualify him for the work,” as D&C 4:5 reminds us), but also “with power.” These are what it takes to succeed as a missionary, and it’s exactly how we prepare our youth: parents train them up in faith, hope, and charity throughout their lives, and then we send them through the temple to receive an endowment of power.

It’s also interesting to see which virtues are paired with which parts of the gospel message. Verse one opens like this:

Go forth with faith to tell the world
Of Jesus Christ, the Lord.
Bear witness he is God’s own Son;
Proclaim his wondrous word.

We need faith so that we can preach Jesus Christ. Why is faith paired with that message? In the bible, the words usually translated as “faith” connote an interpersonal relationship of trust and loyalty. Having “faith” is perhaps better thought of as “being faithful” in the same sense as fidelity to a spouse. It takes faith to preach Jesus because faith is a personal relationship, and unless we have that strong relationship with our Savior, how can we “bear witness” of him?

Verse one also contains the virtue of hope:

Go forth with hope and courage strong
To spread the word abroad
That people of all nations
Are children of our God

Any missionary can tell you that hope is absolutely vital to the work. Hope is a refusal to be beaten down by the enormity of the task or its slow progress or its difficulty. It takes strong hope, mixed with a healthy dose of “courage,” to ignore the many “no’s” and focus on the possibility of one “yes.” I think it’s no coincidence that we send out youth as our missionaries—young kids, at the most optimistic and energetic time in their lives. Our young men and women have a capacity for hope that the rest of us would do well to regain.

The next verse moves on to talk about charity:

Go forth with love to tell the world
The joy of families—
That we may be with those we love
Thru all eternity

Notice that “love” actually shows up twice in this stanza: “go forth with love,” and “those we love.” It takes love to preach families, because that’s the cardinal virtue for success in family life. We can’t testify to the “joy of families” unless we’ve felt it.

And finally the third verse tells us why we need power:

Go forth with pow’r to tell the world
The gospel is restored
That all may gain eternal life
Thru Jesus Christ, the Lord.

It takes power to preach the restoration, because it is one of the most ridiculed elements in Mormonism, but also one of its richest doctrines. The power of our missionary force is directly related to the conviction with which they can testify that “the gospel is restored,” and that “all may gain eternal life.”

Overall, I love this hymn because it’s about the message we bear. Other missionary hymns focus on the people we need to teach, or the impressive numbers of our missionary force. Focusing on the message helps me remain optimistic about the work. If I remember the joyful message that I have, and how much of a blessing it has been to me, I can find the faith, hope, love and power to share it.

Hymn #257: Rejoice! A Glorious Sound Is Heard

shout, by Krista Baltroka

shout, by Krista Baltroka

I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I’ve sung this song in church. It’s not one that I’m very familiar with. Maybe you are. Whether you are or not, though, it’s a hymn that has a familiar feel to it. We’ve sung similar hymns with similar feelings. Some have a strong cadence to them, like the hymns of Zion. Others have soaring crescendos, like the hymns of praise. It’s the meter that makes this hymn feel so familiar. The meter is called Common Meter Doubled (CMD), and it falls into four neat couples of eight and six beats. You probably recognize it from many of the hymns you’re familiar with: it has mostly quarter notes, with the occasional syncopated eighth note thrown in here and there, and each couplet ends with a dotted half note held out to mark the end of a phrase. It’s simple, which is why it’s used frequently enough to be called common meter.

The simplicity of the hymn ties in well with the message. We sing praise to the Father, and we rejoice in His Son. We glory that His cause is found in triumph. We are glad to hear that Zion’s youth–our youth–go forth in “wondrous might” and are found “in league with truth.” These are simple things, though that’s not to say that we don’t find joy in things that are more complicated and nuanced as well. We glory in our Lord. We do as much at the end of the first verse when we sing these words:

Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts,
All hail thee, King most high.

The message is simple when you get down to it. God lives, and we worship Him. The rest of the lyrics explain more about why we worship Him (His perfection, grace, and sacrifice of His Son), but the main thrust of the hymn is found in those two lines. God lives, and that’s a thing to shout about.

When compared to some other Christian churches, the music of the LDS Church is pretty tame. We don’t have robed choirs swaying and shimmying as they sing. We don’t have electric guitars or brass. In fact, we’re encouraged not to stray beyond the hymnal when performing in church. Our music is more reserved than one might expect out of gospel music. But that’s not to say that we don’t (or shouldn’t) shout with praise. Even if we don’t literally shout while singing this hymn, we are encouraged to sing vigorously, and there’s even an exclamation point in the title to give it a little extra oomph. When we sing this hymn, we are not simply to rejoice. We are to rejoice! The Lord has triumphed over sin and strife, and we will, with Him, in glory reign.

So give a shout today. As the third verse encourages us, arise and sing to His great name. Send forth a joyous strain. Feel the joy of the gospel, and let out that great exultant cry from the first verse: Jehovah reigns! Lord God of Hosts, all hail thee, king most high.

Hymn #271: Oh, Holy Words of Truth and Love

words

Joyfully.

That’s what the mood marking for this hymn says—to sing it joyfully. Its lilting, frolicking melody can hardly be sung any other way. There’s a quality about this hymn that makes it feel like a Primary song: the simplicity of its lyrics, perhaps, or maybe it’s that melody. They both have one thing in common, though. Joy.

The text of this hymn, another by Joseph L. Townsend, is filled with joy that the heavens are open, and that man can receive communication directly from the divine. Specifically, this hymn is an ode to the words themselves, that come from on high:

Oh, holy words of truth and love
We hear from day to day,
Revealed to Saints from God above,
To guide in heaven’s way.

Beautiful words of love
Coming from God above,
How sweet, how dear the words we hear!
They’re beautiful words of love.

There aren’t too many opportunities in my day-to-day life that cause me to sing praises to the actual words revealed from God. Reading the scriptures and attending church tends to bring quiet assurances instead of revering words as beautiful and sweet. But it does happen, at least twice a year. The next two verses make this hymn fit squarely into a General Conference context.

They’re from Apostles good and true,
Whose names we all revere,
Who daily teach us what to do
In words of love and cheer.

They’re from the prophets God inspires,
In counsels oft withstood,
Reproving all our ill desires,
Commending all that’s good.

To me, this hymn is about the moment your favorite Conference speaker—let’s say it’s Elder Holland—gives an amazing talk. The feeling that you get, the love you feel for this man of God, is nothing less than the Holy Spirit confirming the truth of his words to your soul. And while you love the person delivering the talk, it’s the words themselves that have come from God, been redirected through His chosen servant, and come straight to you.

We receive many great revelations through the Lord’s servants, but the miracle of it all is that we’re eligible to receive them ourselves. In addition to personal revelation, the Lord may use us at any time to inspire someone else—being the answer to another’s prayer, and being the conduit through which God speaks to someone. We can be that “chosen one”, if we prepare ourselves.

And from each chosen one that speaks
By aid the Spirit gives,
For every sphere of life it seeks,
For every one that lives.

As gems of wisdom, pure and bright,
That glow with lustrous ray,
We’ll seek to gain these words of light,
Their counsels to obey.

These gems of wisdom, pure and bright, are the promptings that the Holy Ghost puts into your heart. It’s how the scriptures become illuminated—becoming “words of light”—as we read them. It’s how our favorite apostle speaks directly to us in General Conference. And it’s how we find that feeling that seems to suspend us halfway between heaven and earth, filled with love and truth.

Filled with joy.

Image Credit: Elvert Barnes, 13.WhatSay.Self.SW.WDC.28nov05, November 29th, 2005 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Hymn #285: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

I’ve never really appreciated this phrase. It often suggests to me something I don’t love: specifically, a too-general way to explain things we don’t understand. In philosophy we might call that sort of thing an appeal to the unknown. In layman’s terms, we might call it a cop-out, employed by benign but removed well-wishers at a time of tragedy or pain. You know the kind I mean. The senseless death of an innocent, or many innocents. Natural disaster. The sorts of events which by which we can be either razed or raised. But when I read or listen to “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”, it seems to me that sorrows, fears, and doubts are both acknowledged and addressed.

The song was written by William Cowper (England, 1731-1800). A very non-mysterious web search identifies him as a talented but tortured lawyer-turned-poet. His intermittent battles with depression took him from an asylum for the mentally ill to the very edge of unsuccessful suicide a number of times. In said asylum, it is said, he happened upon a Bible and accordingly his conversion. He became a good friend of John Newton, most famous for penning “Amazing Grace”. At Newton’s encouragement he started writing hymns, and the pair collaborated on a songbook for their congregation, which included the song that would become part of our LDS hymnal by 1919. (Interestingly, you’ll note that in our hymnal we use a melody penned by William Bradbury, who was born sixteen years after Cowper’s death- there are six or seven melodies to which this song has been known to be sung.)

I love how the lyrics communicate both his faith and the wounds it helped to heal. The imagery of a storm and clouds, the sensory appeal of bitterness, and the emotional appeal of dread- these things he counters pound for pound with references to Christ’s walking upon the sea, to blessings, and eventual understanding. Like Alma, Cowper uses the analogy of a seed. Alma’s seed is planted by one who exercises faith to plant. The worth of Cowper’s seed is not realized until the plant has been allowed to fully bloom.

We see so little of God’s plan from our little world, the hazy underside of heaven. Cowper’s hymn asks us to view this fact from the higher perspective, and take comfort in the knowledge that the Lord is the epitomic Artist, whose designs are without error or end. His ways are mysterious only to us, and He is kind- whatever sorrows or circumstances we face, He can heal and He can help. All we need to do is trust Him.

If you, like me, were not well-acquainted with this hymn, here is a lovely contemporary version: