Tag Archives: Nature

sparrow

Hymn #75: In Hymns of Praise

sparrow

We sing praise to the Lord for a lot of different things in the hymnal. We sing about His mercy, His grace and goodness, and His love. We sing about His power and might, and we sing about His righteousness. There’s a lot to praise, certainly. Here, we sing about his strength, as we hear in the chorus. Listen:

Exalt his name in loud acclaim;
His mighty pow’r adore!
And humbly bow before him now,
Our King forevermore.

We sing of His strength, and we do so with strong voices. This is the One who “ruleth earth and sky” and commands the “shining planets.” He is the Ruler and the Creator of the universe, and it is His to command. He tells mountains to move, and they move. He tells the ocean to draw back, and it draws back. Nature recognizes its Master, and it obeys. We do our best to obey as well, but we’re nowhere near the perfect servants that nature is. Which is fine, of course; it’s our free will that makes us disobedient at times, but also what makes us worth fighting for and redeeming. When we freely give our will over to our Lord, we are of infinitely more worth than nature, and have so much further that we can progress.

We are the purpose of all of this. “This is my work and my glory,” the Lord said to Moses, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” We exist so that we can have what He has. We are of infinite worth to Him. He knows us, He loves us, and He wants us to grow and progress.

It doesn’t always feel like that, of course. We have difficulty hearing His voice or feeling His presence sometimes, whether it’s because we’ve strayed from Him, or simply because we need time alone to grow. I’ve felt that loneliness, just as you have. It’s difficult to feel like no one is there for you, and that no one understands your sorrow and pain.

Verse three gives us hope:

The little flow’r that lasts an hour,
The sparrow in its fall,
They, too, shall share his tender care;
He made and loves them all.

We stop and consider the lilies of the field. These little flowers, small, insignificant, and utterly common, one of thousands and millions, do not fall without the Lord knowing. He is aware of each of His flowers. He created them, each of them. He knows their petals, their stems, their pistils and stamens. He knows the contour of their stalks and the number of their seeds. They are His.

He knows the sparrows, each as they flit through the air, peck at the ground, and gather twigs for their nests. He knows their feathers, their toes, and their eyes, each unique, even though they are one of millions of seemingly-identical birds. They are not unremarkable to Him. He knows them, because He created them.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

“Ye are of more value than many sparrows.” The Lord knows His sparrows, and He loves each of them; how much more so will He not love us, in whose image we are created? We are His work and His glory. We are the reason He suffered, bled, and died, and we are the reason He rose again. I can promise you that He who loves His lilies and sparrows loves us so, so much more.

And so we sing in the fourth verse, which ties together the seeming dichotomy between the all-powerful ruler of the universe and the gentle Lord who knows the details of that universe:

Then sing again in lofty strain
To him who dwells on high;
To prayers you raise, and songs of praise,
He sweetly will reply.

Image credit: “Sparrow Tree Branch Bird,” pixabay.com user gabicuz.

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 #276: Come Away to the Sunday School

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

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

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

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

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

In my defense, I was really really tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn #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