Tag Archives: Home

Hymn #301: I Am a Child of God

This is one of the first hymns LDS children learn. The melody is simple, the words straightforward. It’s difficult to find anything to say about it because the message is so clear: I am a child of God and my goal in life is to learn and do all that is necessary to return to live with Him again. Every Latter-Day Saint believes this to some degree or another. This hymn is part of our core identity and explains why we do all the things we do.

However, this line has often troubled my mind: [He] has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

I grew up in a home with kind and dear parents. They are some of the best people I know. But not every family looks like mine did, with parents and children who respect each other and live together in love.

Many children have only one parent, or none at all. Many parents are neglectful or abusive. So many families are broken in one way or another. For these people, singing about “parents kind and dear” might feel hollow and false. It might trigger painful memories or feelings of bitterness, loneliness, or worthlessness.

Whatever your background, please know that you are not alone. You have worth.

Although our earthly parents might not always be what we wish they were, our Heavenly Parents are perfect. They love us. Always. Whether we are loveable or not. They want what is best for us, and even when our present circumstances are not ideal, they are constantly watching over us. Chastening us when we are rebellious. Blessing us when we obey. Gently encouraging us when all hope seems lost.

Because They love us, our Heavenly Mother and Father send people to lighten our loads and lead us by their examples. Neighbors, teachers, friends, coworkers…so many people can act as a “parent” when needed. I know I am grateful for the influence of non-traditional parent-figures in my own life.

No matter how broken your “real” family is, undoubtedly there is someone out there who will love you like family. If you don’t know who it might be, pray. Ask your loving Parents to help you find a person who can lead, guide, and walk beside you. Let them help you learn and do what you must in order to “live with Him someday.”

Because you, my friend, are a child of God. He has sent you here and you can live with Him once more. He loves you. I hope you know that.

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.

Hymn #87: God Is Love

bloom 3

It’s summer where I live. In many places around the world, summer is something to look forward to, with its promise of popsicles and fresh produce and beautiful weather. Here, however, summer just means hot. Sweating to death, celebrating when you find a parking spot in a tiny scrap of shade, cranking the air conditioning until October kind of hot.

Most summers I want to hide in a cool place with a tub of ice cream until temperatures outside become bearable again. This year, though, something is different. I’m seeing the desert in a new light.

Dozens of geckos congregate by our porch light to feast on bugs. A family of birds has made its nest in my neighbor’s cactus. Much to my husband’s chagrin, a persistent cricket sings lonely love songs outside our bedroom window every night. Our bottle tree is filled with busy bees and hummingbirds.

The saguaro are blooming.

You see, even here in this scorched desert there is life and hope and beauty and wonder. There are bougainvillea and kangaroo’s paw and oleander and desert honeysuckle. The century plants have sent up twenty-foot spires that will soon be topped with fiery orangey-yellow fluff like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

This hymn speaks of nature–earth and air and sea, hills and woods, breezes and birds–as a manifestation of God’s love for us. He created “Earth and her ten thousand flow’rs” specifically for mankind. Think about the magnitude of that undertaking for moment.

Sure, God gave us wood and stone with which to build, water to drink and to bathe in, and broccoli and berries and bacon to eat. But he also gave us mountains to climb and caves to explore. He gave us oceans to sail, rivers to cross, lakes to swim in. He gave us dogs and cats to domesticate and love, birds to mimic our own voices, horses and oxen to bear burdens we aren’t strong enough to bear.

And what of all the things in this world that don’t necessarily “serve” us? The fangly fish in the depths of the ocean? The tiny tree frogs in parts of the rainforest where no human has ever been? Hippos and javelinas, polar bears and penguins, obscure fungi and weird mosses and other innumerable, unfathomable flora and fauna?

Maybe He made them to give us something new to discover. Lightning storms to demonstrate the power of electricity. Stars for us to study and navigate and wish on. Ants to show us how to cooperate, and elephants to teach us about caring for our young, and butterflies to remind us that change can be beautiful.

Maybe He made them to make us laugh. Giraffes with their crazy long necks. Monkeys acting like funny little old men. The duck-billed platypus, for goodness’ sake.

And maybe He made them to remind us who He is: our Creator. He can make anything, has made all things. His might and power are boundless, and He uses them for our benefit. He made this world in all its wonderful weirdness because He loves us.

He loves even those of us who live in the burning desert. He loves us enough to make the saguaros bloom.

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 #304: Teach Me to Walk in the Light

304-TeachMeToWalkInTheLight_600

This is one of the few hymns included in both the LDS hymnal and the Children’s Songbook. Its melody is simple, its message sweet. Its words are straightforward enough for a small child to understand, and it is from a child’s perspective that we begin to sing.

Teach me to walk in the light of his love;
Teach me to pray to my Father above;
Teach me to know of the things that are right;
Teach me, teach me to walk in the light.

The second verse is a response to the first, as someone–we’ll talk about who in a moment–agrees to do what the child has asked. The perspective has shifted, though, so that we are no longer the child but the teacher. Together, we reply, we will study God’s word, learn what He would have us do, because we hope to eventually live with Him again.

Based on the fact the this song is listed under the topics of “Home” and “Motherhood” in the hymn book, I think we often assume that the dialogue is between a parent and child. The only parent named, however, is our Heavenly Father. This leaves the hymn open to include many “children” and their teachers. A young woman and her youth adviser. An investigator and a missionary. An aging patriarch and his home teacher. The possibilities really are endless.

Ours is a gospel of learning.  The Lord instructs:

“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 109:7)

And so we do. We attend Sabbath services to teach and be taught by one another. We read the same books of scripture over and over, seeking new insights and personal revelation. We strive constantly to gain a better understanding of the gospel and what is expected of us so that we can return “home to his presence to live in his sight.”

Frequently we find ourselves in a position where we can mentor others, but even the prophets seek regular instruction in the House of the Lord.

And so we pray to our Father and thank him “for loving guidance to show us the way.” We’re all learning together so we can walk gladly in the light.