Tag Archives: Funeral

fear

Hymn #97: Lead, Kindly Light

fear

Like many other Latter-day Saint men, I served as a missionary from the ages of nineteen to twenty-one. I packed my bags, put on a suit, and did my best to teach the gospel to everyone I saw in northern Japan for two years. It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you haven’t served as a missionary yourself or if you aren’t familiar with the process, then it’s worth understanding that missionaries stay in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah for a bit before they’re sent to their appointed mission. Those being sent to an area with a language they already speak usually only get a couple of weeks; those who don’t (like me) get a little longer so they can get a crash course in the language. But whether you’re there for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, the experience is mostly the same for everyone. You see young men and women walking around carrying books, reading scriptures, practicing teaching techniques, and big bright smiles on their faces. And while those smiles are wonderful to look at, if you look just a bit higher, you’ll usually see terrified eyes.

For many young missionaries, this is the first time they’ve been away from home for this long, and it’s certainly the most consequential thing they’ve ever been asked to do. It’s daunting, and it’s downright scary at times. I was ready to pack up and go home after my first night, but I gathered myself and promised that I’d stick it out. Just look at that picture of me at the top. That’s the picture they took of me my first day in Japan, and you can see the fear in my eyes. I suspect I wasn’t the only one that was scared, though. And I suspect that’s true because of how often I heard other missionaries tell me that today’s hymn became their favorite while in the MTC.

This is a hymn about faith in the face of fear. “The night is dark, and I am far from home,” we sing, and for many young missionaries, it was the first time. It’s still true for many of us. Despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves trapped in the dark night, surrounded by the encircling gloom. The world is scary, and the things we are asked to do are daunting. But through the darkness we catch a glimpse of the light, and even if it only lights one step in front of us rather than the “distant scene,” that’s enough. We can take a single step toward the light, trusting that more will be illuminated for us.

The tune of the hymn is a gentle one, and the modest tempo and 3/2 time make it feel like a lullaby. The lyrics are comforting, but so is the music itself. I’m sure that contributed to my humming it while the horrors of life in a foreign country far away from my family and friends bore down on me. It’s soothing and peaceful, and it always calmed me down when I felt especially panicky. It also helped to strengthen my faith when it wasn’t particularly strong. When I wasn’t sure I would be able to carry on, or when I found doubts creeping into my mind about whether or not I was doing the right thing with my life, the lilting refrains of “lead thou me on” gave me strength.

Being a young missionary filled with fear is no different than being a young parent with wide eyes, or stepping into any new phase of life with that look of excitement and terror on your face. Life is scary sometimes. Life is scary a lot of times, but, well, let’s listen to the final verse and see why it’s not so bad, after all:

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

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 #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 #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 #135: My Redeemer Lives

This hymn is probably best known for two reasons; first, it’s frequently mistaken for much better-known “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (it’s the next hymn in the book, and they even share the same first line), and its lyrics were written by Gordon B. Hinckley.

Like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” we declare our witness that the Savior lives. We sing about all the wonderful reasons we have to rejoice in His life. He is “victorious over pain and death,” and He paved the way for us to be free from them as well. He is the “one bright hope of men on earth.” It is only through the path He teaches that we can return to Him and become like Him. That path is the “beacon to a better way, the light beyond the veil of death.” We sing joyfully, and there’s a lot to rejoice about.

All of that is wonderful, of course, but how do we know it?

I haven’t seen the Savior in person, and I very much doubt that I ever will during my stay here on earth. I suspect the same from virtually every other person on the planet. There’s speculation that the Twelve have seen Him, since they’re called to be special witnesses of Christ, but that’s all it is, speculation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them haven’t seen Him, either. Seeing Him in the flesh removes our need for faith, the bedrock principle of the gospel. We trust that He lives, and as we place our faith in Him, we are blessed and supported in our lives.

That’s not to say that we’re left to trust blindly that He lives, though. We are given every opportunity to know that He lives, loves us, and is eager to take an active role in our lives if we will but let Him. The third verse of this hymn begins, “Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,” and therein lies the key. Relatively few of us are given the chance to see the Savior face to face, but all of us have the opportunity to receive the Holy Ghost. The Spirit testifies to us of the Father and the Son. He does so gently and quietly, inviting rather than compelling us to listen. When we hear truth, more often than not the Spirit confirms that truth to us softly, saying (although usually not audibly) something simple like, “Yes, that’s true, and you know it because you remember it, don’t you?”

The Holy Ghost brings all things to our remembrance. He doesn’t teach truth so much as confirm it. When it comes down to it, each of us already knows in some corner of our mind that Jesus is the Christ; after all, we lived with him before we came here, and chose the Father’s plan for our lives, knowing that He would be our Savior and Redeemer. We already know that He lives. We’ve seen Him and known Him. Our minds are covered with the veil that makes faith and obedience meaningful here on earth (there’s no need to have faith in a being you can constantly see before your face), but the Spirit can pull that veil back from time to time, giving us a dazzling glimpse of knowledge we once had.

That powerful feeling manifests itself differently for everyone. For some, it’s a rush of emotion, leading them to tear up. For others, like myself, it’s a powerful flash of insight and clarity. In any case, the word “sweet” is well-chosen to describe those feelings. The Spirit touches our hearts and helps to reconcile us to God. We can know that He lives, and that He loves us. And as we receive that sweet witness, reminding us of truths laying dormant in our hearts, we receive courage to carry on. We receive, as we sing in the conclusion of this hymn, “the faith to walk the lonely road that leads to thine eternity.”

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?

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