Tag Archives: Comfort

Hymn #166: Abide with Me!

My little sister spent a couple years at one college before deciding to transfer elsewhere and take her studies in a different direction. She moved to a new city where she didn’t know anyone. She shared a dorm room with a girl who was rarely there. For someone as social as my sister, it was an extremely difficult transition.

She once told me that, especially on lonely evenings when her roommate was away, she would sing hymns to comfort herself. I can’t help picturing her as she was when we shared a room as kids: curled into a tiny ball against the wall with heaps of blankets all around her in her twin bed. It breaks my heart a little to think of her alone and singing into the darkness.

There have been times in my life when I’ve curled myself into a metaphorical ball, barricaded myself in with pillows, and turned my face to the wall to endure the night. I felt alone in the world and it seemed the morning would never come. I suppose that’s why this hymn stirs my heart in ways few others can.

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!

It’s such a desperate prayer! “Abide with me!” we cry three times in four lines. “It is dark! I am alone!” And yet we cannot truly alone, because we know we are praying to the One who is ever at our side.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

The faith shown in this hymn is so pure and simple. We know things change. People come in and out of our lives. Mortality seems long, but it is so fleeting. Our faith, however, is not placed in mortal things, but in the one “who changest not”. And as we learn from Helaman:

“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)

When our faith is placed on our Savior, we can endure the dark, lonely nights. We may not enjoy them, but we know they will pass, and we know He will be with us until they do.

I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

What can protect us from temptation? Who can guide us to safety and security? The clear (though unstated) answer is Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6). His reassuring love remains “thru cloud and sunshine”. His doctrine is unchanging. His Atonement is eternal.

If we look to Him, He will abide with us always. All we have to do is ask.

Hymn #114: Come unto Him

I wander through the still of night,
When solitude is ev’rywhere–
Alone, beneath the starry light,
And yet I know that God is there.

This hymn starts off (to me at least) with imagery that reminds us of the story of Enos, the Book of Mormon prophet who went into the woods to hunt, recognized that “[his] soul hungered,” and knelt in prayer, looking for his own experience to mirror those of his father, which had sunk deep into his heart. An answer came to him, an audible voice that told him that his sins were forgiven him. He prayed on, engaging in conversation with the Lord. It’s a powerful story, one that teaches us of the importance of deep, meaningful prayer.

I’ve offered prayers like that. My soul has hungered, and I’ve turned to the Lord, hoping to have a significant spiritual experience. And those experiences have come, although not in such a grand or profound way as Enos’ was. Most people don’t see visions, hear voices, or encounter angels as a result of prayer, no matter how meaningful or heartfelt. That doesn’t make our spiritual experiences any less powerful to us, though. “I kneel upon the grass and pray,” we sing in the first verse of this hymn, and we are met with “an answer… without a voice.”

The Holy Ghost touches our hearts as we give them to the Savior. He testifies of the Father and the Son, helping us to remember why it is that we believe in Him and trust Him. We are filled with His love. Our hearts are purified. We don’t need to see an angel to feel that love, nor do we need to engage in an audible conversation with the Lord to have our sins cleansed from us.

“When I am filled with strong desire and ask a boon of him,” we sing in the second verse, “I see no miracle of living fire, but what I ask flows into me.” When we offer our sincere prayers to the Lord, we can feel the promised blessings come into our lives. Those blessings are confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost, which is that “miracle of living fire” we feel, but do not see.  Two other Book of Mormon prophets, the brothers Nephi and Lehi, felt that living fire manifest to themselves powerfully, as did the people they taught. They felt the words of Christ sink deep into their hearts, as did Enos, and their lives were changed for it. Our lives are changed too, when we do the same.

The central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are to come unto Him. We are to give our lives to Him, our hearts, and everything else that makes us who we are. As we do so, we are filled with His love, and we know that the Holy Ghost will testify of that love to us. He will always be there for us. It’s up to us to draw ourselves near to Him. We remind ourselves of that every time we sing this hymn.

Come unto him all ye depressed,
Ye erring souls whose eyes are dim,
Ye weary ones who long for rest.
Come unto him! Come unto him!

Hymn #115: Come, Ye Disconsolate

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts; here tell your anguish.
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

I’ve got a firm testimony that sorrow and anguish are part of the mortality package deal. Between disease, aging, injury, and constant physical needs, living in these bodies of ours is a challenge. Then there’s agency, both ours and that of every single other person on earth, which creates the potential for so many people to make so many choices that negatively affect so many other people. Eventually, almost inevitably, life happens, and at some point each of us find ourselves wounded, weak, and weary.

Which means at some point in our lives, every one of us is the individual addressed in this beautiful, repetitive hymn. “Come,” we are told four times in three short verses. Come to the mercy seat, to the feast of love.

But why? What–or who–is there that beckons us to bring wounded hearts and anguish?

Here speaks the Comforter.

When first we “came unto Christ” in baptism, we were blessed with the companionship of the Holy Ghost. He reminds us of truths we know and restores our hope in Christ. He brings us peace amidst chaos and guidance in times of confusion. He, unsurprisingly, comforts us when we need it most.

Here see the Bread of Life.

As we listen to the Holy Ghost, we draw nearer to our Savior. We learn that He truly is the Bread of Life, as He once told His disciples: “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

There have been a few times in my life when I’ve felt disconsolate. I’ve often described how I felt in those moments as hollow or even dead inside. At the time I knew something was lacking; in hindsight I can easily identify the missing pieces. Hope. Joy. Love. All the things that Jesus Christ promises with which to fill us if we come unto Him.

Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.

When the doctor tells you it’s cancer. When the ultrasound shows something is not quite right with the baby. When the phone call comes because there has been an accident. When your husband tells you his love for you is gone. When you wake up every day alone in an empty house.

Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot cure.

When you struggle against the stigma of physical disability or mental illness. When you encounter injustice in the workforce because of your race, gender, religion, size, or age. When you are bullied and belittled by people who should know better, who should treat you as a brother or sister. When you start to believe that this is how it is supposed to be.

Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.

While so many limitations may not be removed from our bodies and minds right away, the Holy Ghost can guide us to medical professionals who can best help us endure them well. While unkind and even downright evil people may not be removed from our paths, we can trust in a Savior who loves us and believed us worthy of the greatest sacrifice ever given.

We may not see a single hardship removed from our mortal lives. However, someday–some blessed day–we will fervently kneel at the throne of God and know, as we have ever known, that He will show us mercy and grace and love.

And we will be healed.

Hymn #129: Where Can I Turn for Peace?

This is a favorite hymn of many, probably because we all have this feeling from time to time. Things are hard, things are difficult, and despite our best efforts, things don’t go our way. And we wonder, when nothing seems to be going right, where we can turn for a little comfort. Where can we find peace, especially when it seems like everything in the world is conspiring to make us feel so miserable?

We can always turn to our Savior. He is always there for us, the quiet hand to calm our anguish. What’s interesting about this hymn, though, is not the sentiment that the Lord will always  be there to comfort us. That’s hardly surprising. What’s interesting about this hymn is the notion that it’s never He who turns away from us. We are the ones who must turn to find peace, which suggests that at some point, we were the ones who turned away from peace. We are the ones who “with a wounded heart, anger, or malice… draw [ourselves] apart.” We are hurt, we are wronged, and we withdraw ourselves to be miserable. And then we cast about, wondering why it is that we can’t find peace.

This is not, of course, to diminish the struggles of those who find themselves turned from peace at every moment through no fault of their own. I’m not suggesting that the darkness of life can always be swept away with nothing more than a positive outlook. I’m not suggesting that the reason things are hard in your life is because you haven’t bothered to want to feel peace. But I am suggesting that more often than not, we are the ones who remove ourselves from the Lord and from the peace that He brings. And I am suggesting that we can turn back to Him to feel that peace once again.

He answers privately. When we turn back to the Lord, we often do so in prayer and yearning. We pour out our hearts to Him, desperate to feel some measure of comfort during a trying time. And He answers us, “reaching [our] reaching in [our] Gethsemane.” We don’t bleed from every pore, and we don’t take upon ourselves the sins of others in our dark times, but it’s no stretch to compare these moments of agony and straining to feel the love of our Savior to the moments when the Lord Himself felt most removed from His Father. We stretch out our hands to Him, hoping to feel something, anything in return. And He, having endured such trials Himself (and then some), cannot help but reach back. In fact, He is always reaching to us. It’s when we reach in our Gethsemane that we can feel His hand in ours. “Constant he is and kind,” we sing, and that constancy is reflected in the fact that He ever reaches out to us, wanting nothing more than to comfort us and bear us up.

We all suffer from time to time. Life is difficult. I know that, and you know that, and yet we still flounder during these times, struggling in vain to feel peace in our own lives. And in those times, the Spirit refreshes our memory, whispering to us, “Who, who can understand? He, only One.”

And so it is, and so we turn to Him in our dark times, the One who can make them light again. He is gentle, He is kind, and He will bring us peace, because He is filled with “love without end.”

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Hymn #127: Does the Journey Seem Long?

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Chances are that if you’ve been alive for virtually any length of time, you’ve found that life is hard. Things go wrong, and they do so often. Personally speaking, I’m sitting here with a mild headache caused by corn stuck in my teeth, my daughter is screaming and won’t go to sleep, I’m hot and sweaty, and I know I get to get up early to go try to resolve a whole snarl of problems at work. And compared to many people, my day was absolutely charmed. Sometimes, things just don’t go the way we’d like. That’s life.

And even if we recognize that suffering and unpleasantness is part of being alive, sometimes those minor bumps and scrapes can add up and begin to feel overwhelming.

Is your heart faint and sad,
Your soul weary within,
As you toil ‘neath your burden of care?
Does the load heavy seem
You are forced now to lift?
Is there no one your burden to share?

That last line cuts deepest. Each of us has our own burden to carry through life. My challenge is that I’m shy, and that makes going through everyday tasks difficult sometimes. For you, it might be a struggle with depression, or the too-early loss of a loved one. Everyone struggles, and that’s part of why we covenant at baptism to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We do our best, and we’re able to help each other soldier on down the path of life. And yet sometimes, despite all that, we still feel alone during our trials. We feel as though no one can understand our pain, and that we don’t have a friend willing to lend a hand to help us back up.

This all feels like a buildup to a hackneyed poem about footsteps in the sand, but it feels cliche because it’s true. We may feel alone, but it’s at those times most especially that the hand of the Lord is stretched out to us:

Let your heart not be faint
Now the journey’s begun;
There is One who still beckons to you.
So look upward in joy
And take hold of his hand;
He will lead you to paths that are new.

His hand is always reaching out to us. He doesn’t take days off, and He doesn’t let His hand down when He doesn’t feel like making the effort. He is always there to aid us in our struggles, whether it’s through the comfort of the Holy Ghost, through the kindness of a stranger, the closeness of a friend, or even the tender mercy of your baby finally drifting off to sleep.

His hand is stretched out still. He is always there for us. And He is always there, yearning for us to come away from the paths we’ve wandered down and return to Him so that He can lead us to “paths that are new.” He wants us to come and be like Him. He wants to bring us to a place where we can, well, listen to the fourth verse and see:

A land holy and pure,
Where all trouble doth end,
And your life shall be free from all sin,
Where no tears shall be shed,
For no sorrows remain.
Take his hand and with him enter in.

If the journey seems long, and you and I can both attest to the fact that it often does, it’s only because the destination is worth struggling to reach. There will be no more suffering. There will be no more pain. There will be no more death, and we will live with our God and be His people. He himself shall wipe the tears from our eyes, for the former things are passed away. Yes, the journey seems long, but we don’t have to make it alone. There is One who is reaching out His hand to us; we can take it, and the path will be easy and our burdens feel light.

Image credit: “Lone tree north of the Island Thorns Inclosure, New Forest,” Jim Champion.

Hymn #85: How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?

This is a hymn that gets a lot of play time, and rightfully so. It’s upbeat. It’s uplifting. It’s got a whole bunch of verses so a ward chorister can easily add or subtract them to fill the time as needed.

And since it is so familiar, I’m not sure what new light I can shed on it. Undoubtedly you’ve noticed that most (and arguably all) of the verses were written from the Lord’s point of view. “I am thy God,” we sing in verse three, reminding ourselves exactly who it is we worship and what He has taught us.

And really, “what more can he say than to you he hath said?” Nothing in this hymn is new information. It’s in every book of the scriptural canon, in every General Conference report, in everything we do, for this is His church. He is our foundation.

A good portion of the lyrics here are either paraphrased or almost directly quoted from Isaiah (see chapters 41 and 43), so we get a hint of the Old Testament fire-and-brimstone Jehovah. “Fear not,” He commands His people, “Be not dismayed.” He will call them through deep water, rivers of sorrow, and deepest distress. There will be foes to face and even “all hell [may] endeavor to shake” them.

But, as a counterpoint to all these daunting demands, we are reminded that He is not only a just God who demands sacrifice and strict obedience. He is also a merciful and loving Savior–the Good Shepherd–who will succor, uphold, and sanctify His children. “In ev’ry condition,” He reminds us, “I am with thee…and will still give thee aid.”

Which isn’t to say things won’t be tremendously difficult. When Joseph Smith was confined for months in Liberty Jail with no reprieve in sight,  he begged in prayer to know why God seemed to have forgotten his people in their suffering. The reply, found in section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants, shares the same message of this hymn in its entirety:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7)

He freely admits there will be “fiery trials.” In fact, He knows exactly what they will be for each one of us. But, He instructs us, if we put our trust in Him, “The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design / Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

And that’s really the crux of it all. The last verse tells us with repetitive finality that if we build our lives with Jesus Christ as our foundation, we will never be alone and we will never fall. (see Helaman 5:12)

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Hymn #133: Father in Heaven

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I didn’t immediately recognize this hymn from its title. You may not either. If you don’t, you might consider taking a minute to click on the link at the top of the page and listen to the first verse. In fact, it won’t even take you a minute. Go on, give it a listen.

Did you listen to it? Did you hear the dip to a minor key there in the second phrase? Go back and listen again if you didn’t.

Hear these thy children thru the world resounding.

I imagine most hymns could be considered prayers, but the lyrics to this one sound as though they could literally be the words of a prayer. Father in Heaven, we pray, hear Thy children. The hymn goes on to ask the Father specifically to hear His children as they praise Him and give thanks for the peace He has given them, but the minor fall heightens that phrase. When viewed this way, the hymn takes on a new meaning. It’s about that moment of doubt, where we have faith sufficient to pray to the Father, but maybe not as much confidence that He’ll answer us.

It’s a familiar feeling, because we’ve all had that experience. We encounter difficult times, harder than we feel we can bear. We do our best to soldier on, trusting in the Lord that things will get better, only they seem to get worse. It could be a challenge with our health, or our family, or our work, or schooling, or any of a number of things. We feel low, and we get down on our knees, asking God if He is truly there, and where our aid is.

This isn’t something that only happens to those of us (the majority of us, I’m sure) whose faith is weak. No less a man than the prophet Joseph Smith had this experience. We read about it in the Doctrine and Covenants, which records his time in Liberty Jail, one of the lowest points of his life. “O God, where art thou?” he cried, and you can feel his anguish. It’s your anguish too, that night that you asked Him the same question. And at that dark hour, the Lord spoke to Joseph, just as He speaks to you and me. “My son,” He said, “peace be unto thy soul.” And it was comforted, just as ours were.

We know that our trials will be for a small moment in the grand scheme of things. We know that most of our lives will be spent in relative happiness, just as most of this hymn is spent in the relatively happier major key. But in those dark moments, the trials seem to last forever. Doubt can poke through, but if we exercise faith enough to still trust in Him, even if only enough to ask if He is there, we can see that peace shine through all the brighter by comparison with that darkness.

Filled be our hearts with peace beyond comparing,
Peace in thy world, and joy to hearts despairing.
Firm is our trust in thee for peace enduring,
Ever enduring.

Image credit: “Gloomy Weather 3,” deviantART user lamogios. CC BY-SA 3.0

Hymn #108: The Lord Is My Shepherd

seek that which is gone astray

Despite Hollywood’s prolific use of Psalm 23 in funeral scenes and the fact that this hymn is categorized under “funeral” in the LDS hymnal, it wasn’t until the 20th century that “the valley of the shadow of death” began to be associated with actual death. And honestly, the psalm upon which “The Lord Is My Shepherd” is based doesn’t really talk about death, the resurrection, or even the afterlife. It does, however, talk about our daily need for our Savior’s goodness and love.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)

“The valley of the shadow of death” is a reference to mortality, a time when death is a looming eventuality for all of us; we don’t know when we will die, but we do know it will happen at some time. And we know that, in the meantime, Jesus Christ will guide and protect us “all the days of [our] life”.

But how? What does The Good Shepherd do to keep us, his little flock, safe during our time here on earth? The words of the hymn give us some answers.

“I feed in green pastures.” The Savior calls himself the “bread of life”, and says that “he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) As we read…no, feast on his words, we are filled with understanding, joy, inspiration, hope, love, and more. The pastures of his doctrine are not only green but vast and full of delicious morsels if we take time to discover them.

“He leadeth my soul where the still waters flow.” We speak often of how narrow the way to eternal life is. That sometimes makes it seem difficult and even dangerous, as if there are cliffs and chasms on either side waiting to swallow us up if we take one wrong step. We neglect to remember, however, that the strait and narrow path is a peaceful one. The imagery of still waters–undoubtedly flowing from the purest source–is a reminder that keeping his commandments brings us peace in our homes, minds, and hearts.

“Restores me when wand’ring.” Even if we stray from the well-marked path of righteousness–whether by ignorance or rebellion or something else entirely–we always have the option of repenting and returning to the fold. Jesus suffered for our sins so that we could be “restored”.

“Redeems when oppressed.” Again, when we are oppressed by guilt and sin and our own unworthiness, the Atonement is available to us. The price of our sins has been paid; we need only accept that redemption and repent.

On a more practical note, when we are literally oppressed in this life by other people or organizations or illness or whatever the case may be, we can still have hope for redemption. When our burdens are heavy and suffering seems never-ending, “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” (Psalms 9:9) Even when our situation is not immediately improved, we can take comfort in his love and have hope for eventual relief.

“Since thou art my Guardian, no evil I fear.” Faith in Jesus Christ makes us unafraid. Not that we don’t have our personal phobias (I’m looking at you, spiders) but we trust that no matter what, all will be well. This recent post from Sam discusses this point further; I highly recommend reading his take on why we don’t need to fear.

“With blessings unmeasured, my cup runneth o’er.” Have you ever attempted to honestly count all your blessings? Try it some time. I start losing track once I begin to name all the wonderful people who have influenced my life or all the ways my body is a miracle. And then I realize how ungrateful I am never to have acknowledged just how cool opposable thumbs are. Blessings unmeasured, indeed.

“With perfume and oil thou anointest my head.” This line references the consecrated oil used in certain priesthood blessings, such as those for the sick. It also brings to my mind initiatory ordinances in the temple. To me, this line is symbolic of Christ’s ability to provide for needs that are both immediate and temporal, as well as eternal and spiritual in nature. No matter what we lack, he has us covered.

With all the ways our Shepherd cares for us, truly what can we ask of His providence more?

Enchanted Path

Hymn #165: Abide with me, ‘Tis Eventide

Enchanted Path

This hymn, like its cousin “Abide with Me!”, recalls the story of the road to Emmaus. Two men are walking toward Emmaus, when they are joined by a stranger, who is, unbeknownst to them, the Savior. They walk with Him and describe the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. They also talk of His empty tomb, but they don’t seem to be sure that He was actually resurrected. The Savior gently rebukes them, laying out the scriptures for them and showing them the prophecies about events that were happening before their very eyes.

They arrive at Emmaus at dusk. The Savior makes as if to continue on His journey, but the two men, clearly intrigued by what He had to say, invite Him to stay with them, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” He stays with them, and breaks and blesses bread, which jolts their memory; they’ve seen this before. And at that moment, He vanishes from their sight, leaving only the Spirit, burning within them, to testify of who He was.

In this hymn, we too invite the Savior to stay with us, but our experience is a little different. The two men on the road to Emmaus didn’t know who He was, although they felt the Spirit as He spoke. Here, we know who He is. We call Him by name. We beg Him to stay with us and bring light into our home. Our experience, then, is more like that of the Nephites as He was about to leave them. Having spent a day with them, allowing thousands to come and feel the wounds in his hands and feet and delivering sermon after sermon, He announces that He must return to the Father. The Nephites react by, well, see for yourself:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them. (3 Nephi 17:5)

They knew who He was. The Spirit confirmed it to them, certainly, but they could see Him with their own eyes, and having done so, they wanted Him to stay. And so He did, healing and blessing them before at last returning to the Father.

We may not see Him with our own eyes, but we know Him. The Spirit testifies it to us, and our hearts too are filled with longing for Him to stay with us a little longer as we sing:

Within my heart a welcome guest,
Within my home abide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.

We spend our lives preparing ourselves to meet Him. We obey His law and keep His commandments. We try to act and do as He did so that we can reach our goal of becoming more like Him. And once we meet Him, it’s no surprise that we wouldn’t want the encounter to end so quickly. “Lone will be the night,” we sing, “if [we] cannot commune with thee nor find in thee [our] light.”

I don’t know if you’ve felt that degree of longing for the companionship of the Savior. I know it’s a rare feeling for me. But as I sing this hymn, with its gentle ups and downs, soothing melody, and the soaring Ds and Es on the word “Savior,” I can’t help but feel that pull. I want to be with Him, to feel His embrace, and to stay and talk with Him as the shadows of the evening fall.

It fades as the song ends and the Spirit no longer testifies to me as strongly, but then, I think that’s why we sing these hymns so many times. Just as we wouldn’t want our visit from the Savior to end after just an hour on the road, why would we want the confirmation of the Spirit to end after just three verses?

Image credit: “Enchanted Path,” deviantART user thiselectricheart.

Hymn #105: Master, the Tempest Is Raging

The Grace Harwar sailing in a storm

For anyone who has read New Testament this story is a familiar one, included in two of the four gospels, and it begins in a boat.

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? (Mark 4:37-38)

They lyrics of the first verse are, appropriately, written from the disciples’ point of view. They are afraid they will capsize and drown, and feel shocked–perhaps even a little betrayed–that Jesus can sleep through it all. Their indignation is understandable; they are, after all, in a boat with the only perfect man who ever lived, a man whose miracles extend even to raising the dead. Why would nature behave this way toward disciples of the Son of God? Shouldn’t their boat be protected from such deadly storms because he is in it?

Unfortunately, being a disciple of Christ doesn’t make one immune to the tempests of life. The most devout Christians and devoted Saints have been tested and tried to their very limits. Mosiah and Alma had apostate children who attempted to destroy the church. Hannah and Elisabeth and Rachel and many others faced long years of infertility. So many pioneers buried family members on their trek to Zion. Storms happen, and sometimes we get caught in their wake.

The tempests we face may be literal forces of nature, results of our own choices, or the consequences of someone else’s actions that are beyond our control. When they arise, we generally find ourselves pleading for our Lord to take notice of the storm and rescue us from it.

Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today.
The depths of my sad heart are troubled.
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul,
And I perish! I perish! dear Master.
Oh, hasten and take control!

Whether our sinking soul is due to the guilt of sin or the heartbreak of loss, the frustration of helplessness or just the general stress of life, sometimes we truly feel like we are perishing. Hope is lost, and there is nothing to do but lay down and die.

And yet.

We are protected when the Savior is in our midst. Maybe we aren’t spared from being tossed about by the waves, but let’s not forget the wise man who built his house on the rock. The rains came down on his house just as they did on the house built on sand, but his house was not washed away.

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the arock 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)

If we center our lives on Jesus Christ, he will be with us to lift and guide and sustain us in our most trying times. Remember, as the chorus says:

Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.

Our God will not let us fail if we put our trust in him. We might be as Job and lose every single thing we have in this life, but still he gives us hope of eternal peace and joy in the life to come.

And so, when “the terror is over” and “the elements sweetly rest”, we should not (to continue the metaphor) kick Jesus out of our boat because we don’t need him to protect us anymore. Let our prayer be, as in the third verse, that we will live our lives in such a way that his Spirit will remain with us until we live with him again:

Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more,
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor
And rest on the blissful shore.

 

Image credit: “The ‘Grace Harwar’ sailing in a storm,” Flickr user National Maritime Museum, 1929, via Flickr. CC-NY-NC-ND 2.0

Hymn #120: Lean On My Ample Arm

This hymn is one of the least well-known in the hymnbook. It’s also one of my favorites. Like the more popular Be Still My Soul, this hymn reminds us that constant peace is available through the Savior no matter what the circumstances. I have loved that message of rest and comfort ever since I was introduced to this hymn, but it wasn’t until I started looking more closely at the lyrics that I began to appreciate its gorgeous imagery.

The hymn’s title comes from the very first line:

Lean on my ample arm,
O thou depressed!

Throughout the hymn, the Savior speaks to us personally and closely. He is not depicted addressing us out of heaven, but as our intimate companion, walking next to us. This, in fact, is why he can request that we “lean” on his arm—the only way you can lean on someone is if they’re walking beside you.

As the hymn progresses, however, we learn a bit more about our surroundings:

And I will bid the storm
Cease in thy breast.
Whate’er thy lot may be
On life’s complaining sea,
If thou wilt come to me,
Thou shalt have rest.

We are tossed on “life’s complaining sea,” and that upheaval is reflected in the “storm … in [our] breast.” Jesus promises that he can “bid the storm / cease” and give us “rest.” The metaphor of stilling a storm, of course, comes from the New Testament (see Matt 8:23–27; 14:22–33). The God who commands all of nature can certainly grant the same peace to an anguished or turbulent heart.

Thus, we’re not invited to lean on Jesus’ arm because he is simply walking beside us, but because we are like Peter, and the Savior is reaching out to grab us as we take a few impetuous steps on the water. His “ample arm” is not just a convenient (but ultimately unnecessary) luxury; it’s our lifeline, the only thing between us and the storm.

If possible, the second verse contains even more moving imagery than the first:

Lift up thy tearful eyes,
Sad heart, to me;
I am the sacrifice
Offered for thee.

This is a scene I imagine taking place at the foot of the cross. If we “lift up” our eyes, we will be confronted with the image of Jesus’ “sacrifice / offered” in our behalf. I find it interesting that out of all the possible moments of the Savior’s ministry that could have been used to illustrate peace, this hymn draws on two of the disciples’ most difficult and tempestuous experiences. In spite of the frightening and discouraging outlook, the Lord extends this promise:

In me thy pain shall cease,
In me is thy release,
In me thou shalt have peace
Eternally

In one sense, this assurance is deeply troubling and almost ironic—how can He offer us peace, rest, and release, when he himself is currently portrayed in captivity and experiencing intense pain? It’s precisely this incongruity, I think, that I find most tender about this hymn. Jesus is speaking to us from the moment of his most intense suffering. Rather than saying “I’ve been through that in the past,” he’s saying “it’s okay; I’m going through it, too.” The second verse is an image of divine empathy rather than sympathy. We often try to encourage others by offering hope, by playing up the happy ending. We see this, for example, with Be Still My Soul, whose lyrics address us from the perspective of the “joyful end” when “grief and fear are gone.” By contrast, Lean on My Ample Arm is sung when the grief and fear are radically present, and assures us that we can have peace even then.

This message is at its most explicit here in the culminating line:

In me thou shalt have peace
Eternally

As Latter-day Saints, we’re used to hearing the word “eternal” used to refer to the afterlife. It’s noteworthy, I think, that this hymn uses the adverb (“eternally”) rather than the noun (“in eternity”). Its most basic definition is: “in a way that continues or lasts forever; permanently.” The peace offered to us is available during our trials, not just when they end. The Savior offers us constant, unending peace, no matter our circumstances. When we, like the Savior, are feeling the weight of the cross we’ve taken up, peace is available even then, and it’s available precisely because of the cross He willingly bears.

All we have to do is lift up our eyes, and notice our surroundings. If we look closely we’ll see Christ right there.

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: