Tag Archives: Evening

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 #37: The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close

Yes, this is a winter hymn, and yes, its summer as we’re posting this. We sing about the snow falling over the night and the accompanying stillness. Snow has a way of muffling sound, creating a solemn silence that “invites all wearied nature to repose.” The whiteness of freshly-fallen snow is lovely, too; it covers everything equally and evenly, smoothing out the roughness of nature and making everything look soft and gentle. There’s symbolism in that. Listen to the first verse:

Pale through the gloom the newly fallen snow
Wraps in a shroud the silent earth below
As tho ’twere mercy’s hand had spread the pall,
A symbol of forgiveness unto all.

New snow makes everything white and clean. It stays that way until we tromp all over it, smashing it down and dirtying it, but for those first few moments, everything is pure. It’s no wonder that the Lord chose snow as a metaphor for repentance when He spoke to Isaiah. ”Come now, and let us reason together,” He said. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” The difference between scarlet and white is substantial. Scarlet–really truly bright red–doesn’t appear often in nature, but blood certainly fits the bill. That’s a jarring and unsettling sight, filling the viewer with the sense that something violent and painful has happened before them. And yet, fresh white snow can cover it up in our metaphor. No matter how jarring or gruesome that scarlet is, it can be white again.

As we sing, it’s a symbol of forgiveness unto all. Just as each of us is all too capable of creating those stains of scarlet in our lives, we each have the opportunity to repent and have those stains made white again. And when we take that perfect white snow and stomp it down, filling it with dirt and grime, we can have it made white again and again through the miracle of the Atonement. The miracle is extended to all of us, and new snow, like so many other things in our world, is a symbol given to us to help us remember that gift,

We sing further about the snowy mountains. The author of the hymn writes that these snow-capped peaks remind him of his home in the mountains in the west with the pioneers. It doesn’t come out and say it explicitly, but it sure sounds as though this is a hymn about Utah. Like many Latter-day Saints, I’ve lived in Utah, and while I enjoyed it just fine, it wasn’t a magical land filled with milk and honey for me. We do a perhaps too-good job of glamorizing Utah in the Church, convincing ourselves that everyone there is a faithful member and that things have a way of going right. I’ve heard people tell me that things would be alright for them and that they could live more faithful lives if only they could just get to Utah.

That’s taking things a little too far for my taste, but I don’t think that’s the message this hymn is conveying to us. Rather than setting up Utah as a promised, perfect land, the author is telling us about Utah because that’s where he felt of the Spirit most deeply and came to know his Savior. In this way, it’s like the waters of Mormon as described by Mormon himself. Remember the story? The people of Alma were taught and baptized at the waters of Mormon, where they came to know the gospel. How did they describe it?

And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, in the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever. Mosiah 18:30

There’s nothing special about the land itself. It’s what happened there that makes it so memorable to the people of Alma. The author of this hymn is no different. It’s not the mountains, or the valleys, or anything else that makes the land stick in his memory. It’s the time he spent with the Saints, and the experiences he had that drew him nearer to his Savior. That makes Utah his “home, the spot [he loves] so well, whose worth and beauty pen nor tongue can tell.”

Our homes and neighborhoods can be like that for us, too. As we come to know our Savior, our homes will become beautiful to us. Our towns will remind us of drawing nearer to our Lord, and they will make us want to sing praises to Him just seeing them. Seeing the snow on the mountains or on the fields reminding us of the miracle of forgiveness is an added kicker that makes it even more beautiful to our eyes.

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.

night

Hymn #159: Now the Day Is Over

night

 

I’ve never heard this hymn sung in church before. The topics indicate that it’s a hymn of closing, but the topic “evening” seems a better fit to me. It’s less a hymn to sing at the close of a meeting and more one to sing before heading to bed. Since I’m rarely at church just before bed, I’ve never really been in a situation where I’d expect to hear it at church.

At just four lines and sixteen bars (and a scant 44 syllables), this is one of the shortest hymns in the book. In fact, it’s short enough that I’m going to quote it to you in full below. Listen:

Now the day is over;
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With thy tend’rest blessing
May our eyelids close.

That’s it. It’s getting dark, we’re getting tired, and we’d like His blessing as we go to sleep. We ask Him to watch over us as we sleep. We’re the ones singing to Him, but with just a bit of tweaking, it wouldn’t be hard to see this as a lullaby He sings softly to us as we drift off.

The image of a protective Savior keeping watch over us is a tender one. I have a little girl we’re training to go to sleep by herself, and while she’s getting better at it, she’s still resistant. One of us will set her down in her crib, and she’ll stay calm as long as she can see us. But the moment we step away and turn off the light, she starts to cry. She wants someone to be there with her. She wants to know that someone is there to protect her.

We’re much the same. We go through our adult lives having to take responsibility for ourselves, and in time, for others, but we all have moments where we want someone to protect us, and more often than not, those moments come when it’s dark. I think it’s no accident that we are counseled to pray before we go to bed for the night. It not only serves as a benediction on the day, but also as a safeguard against the time when our fears and anxieties often come out most powerfully.

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma counseled as much to his son Helaman:

Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

We are to pray always, but praying just before bed is mentioned explicitly as an ideal time to pray. (It’s also mentioned in Proverbs.) As we sleep, we entrust ourselves to His gentle care.

The catch, though, and what makes me different from the Lord (among many other things), is that while I love my daughter, I also don’t want to have to maintain unbroken eye contact with her all night, every night. I’d like to get some rest, too. My goal is to get her to a point where she feels secure enough that she can go to sleep without seeing someone standing over her. He, however, has no difficulty standing watch for the entire night, and for all of the nights. His love is all-encompassing. He can be, and is, there for us every time a bad dream wakes us in a cold sweat. He’s there for us when worries and doubt keep our rest fitful and fleeting. He’s there to pull the blanket back over us so that we can sleep soundly. And when we pray at night, we invite Him to keep that watch and trust ourselves to His care. Our eyelids close, knowing that we will surely enjoy His “tend’rest blessing.”

 

Image credit: “Starry Night,” Flickr user KΛ13, 2005, via Flickr. CC-NY-NC-ND 2.0

Hymn #164: Great God, to Thee My Evening Song

Candles

I’m not sure I’ve ever actually heard this hymn. The lyrics suggest that it would be most appropriately sung at the end of day, as one is preparing for sleep. Since we rarely have church meetings right before bed, it comes as no surprise that it’s not in the devotional Top 40. If you, like me, are not familiar with this song, you can hear it in the LDS Music Library.

When I find an unfamiliar hymn like this, I like to read it through a couple times and look for the phrases that draw me in. I find that often, there’s something that resonates (or should resonate) with my own life. As I wrote this article, I found myself asking lots of questions. I hope you’ll take the time to consider some of them. Let’s examine a few phrases.

Oh, let thy mercy tune my tongue
And fill my heart with lively praise.

Usually we speak of “tuning” a musical instrument, yet here it is applied more broadly. I don’t believe that the author was pleading that God would help us sing in tune with the organ, much though she might appreciate it. Rather, the text imagines our every word as music, a hymn unto God. This extends beyond the duration of this hymn; in every word and deed, we strive to act as Christ would do. If God were to “tune your tongue,” how would your speech change? Would you be more kind and patient? Would you be quicker to express gratitude? How could your day-to-day speech be brought more in tune with God?

[...] And ev’ry onward rolling hour
Are monuments of wondrous grace
And witness to thy love and pow’r.

Is “every onward rolling hour” of your day a testament to God’s grace? Does your life constantly witness of God’s love and power? I’m reminded of Alma 37:36, where Alma counsels his son:

Let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord

We’ve probably all known a child (or an adult) with an obsession. I have a two-year-old daughter who loves hats. Everything she sees is evaluated based on its potential to be a hat. Crocheted hats are wonderful. Baby blankets work just fine. Even dirty dishrags work pretty well as a hat, it turns out. Pants can be hats. Shirts can be hats. If it’s made of cloth and is not too heavy, it can probably be a hat.

In the same way, our thoughts can be centered around the Lord. We can evaluate everything we do against the Light of Christ. We can consider how our words and our actions reflect the covenants we have made. This need not be a paralyzing over-evaluation, but simply a constant acknowledgement of our eternal purpose. As we strive to center our thoughts around Him, we will find that it becomes easier with time—eventually, such thoughts can become habit.

With hope in thee mine eyelids close;
[...] And wake with praises to thy name.

We’ve been counseled to begin and end each day with prayer. If “all our thoughts” are to be directed unto the Lord, there’s no point in waiting until we roll out of bed for our morning prayer to start. What do you think about when you wake up? What is the “natural state” of your thoughts, the place where they go when you don’t have anything else to think about? I hope that someday, my thoughts will naturally turn to Him of their own accord. Our thoughts can be trained; that which we think about most will continue to fill our thoughts, but we can choose to redirect them and to build habits of thought.

This hymn reminds us that when our priorities are in order, our thoughts will naturally turn to God. Have we not covenanted to “stand as witnesses of God, at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in?” What better way to fulfill that promise than to make our every thought centered around Him?

Image Credit: magnuscanis, Candles, 2003 via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0