Tag Archives: Word of Wisdom

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Hymn #307: In Our Lovely Deseret

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In our lovely Deseret,
Where the Saints of God have met,
There’s a multitude of children all around.
They are generous and brave;
They have precious souls to save;
They must listen and obey the gospel’s sound.

For a long time, I had a sharply negative association with this hymn. I thought of it as you might, as the brainwashing hymn. It has a cloyingly catchy tune, and the “hark! hark! hark!” chorus lends itself to easy mocking (we always pretended to be seals, clapping our hands and barking to the music), and the second verse feels a little too on the nose with its specifics about the Word of Wisdom. We’d sing it at the start of meetings for comedic value, certainly, but never more seriously than that. It was a joke, and nothing more.

That’s my daughter up there at the top of the post. Everything changes when you’re no longer singing about a “multitude of children,” but about your child.

It’s easy to see this as a brainwashing hymn telling children how they must live their lives, but I prefer to think of it as instructional. Children come into the world pure and innocent, not knowing how to do, well, anything. If you’ve ever spent time around a child of virtually any age, you’ll understand as I’ve come to over the last year just how little children actually know. I’ve spent the better part of a year teaching my daughter which things she puts in her mouth are food and which aren’t. You might be teaching a child when it’s appropriate to be loud and playful and when it’s better to be quiet and still. You might be helping a child learn to share, to ride a bike, to sing, or any of a number of things. And every time you come across something that this child can’t do, you may be astonished. “What do you mean you don’t know how to whistle?” you may catch yourself thinking. “Doesn’t everyone know how to whistle?”

Everyone knows how to whistle, or fly a kite, or throw a frisbee that first has been shown how to do those things. Those who have gone before are responsible to teach those who come after how to do things. Why should the gospel be any different? Children need to understand the gospel, the same as you and I do. An instructional hymn, particularly one with a catchy tune that is easy to learn, can aid in their understanding. The next time the child is tempted to be mean, the lyrics, “They should always be polite, and treat ev’rybody right, and in every place be affable and kind” may come into his or her head, causing an unkind thought or action to be forgotten. When laying down to sleep after a long day, the lyrics, “They must not forget to pray, night and morning ev’ry day, for the Lord to keep them safe from ev’ry ill” may present themselves as a reminder to offer a prayer of their own. And yes, when a child finds him or herself tempted with a cigarette or anything else similar, this tune and the words “tea and coffee and tobacco they despise” may come to mind.

We are responsible for teaching our children to love the Lord and to obey His law. We can do that by reading the scriptures with them, praying with them, having talks with them, and yes, we can do so through music. Primary songs like “I Am a Child of God” and “Families Can Be Together Forever” are just as didactic as this hymn is, and for good reason. We want these tunes stuck in their heads. We want them thinking about the Lord and His gospel constantly. We want these principles to never be far from their hearts.

And why is that? To put it simply, it is because “they have precious souls to save.” You can read that as the children needing to grow up strong in the gospel so they can go and rescue others. It’s true. We need to be strong in the faith so that we can help others along the path. But I think it’s just as appropriate to interpret that phrase as referring to the children’s own souls. Their souls are precious, and they need saving, just as ours do. They are our responsibility, and now that I’ve held one of those precious souls in my arms, I’m determined to use any means necessary to save it, including a song I was only too happy to dismiss as cloying and jingoistic.

Hark! Hark! Hark! ’tis children’s music–
Children’s voices, oh, how sweet,
When in innocence and love,
Like the angels up above,
They with happy hearts and cheerful faces meet.

 

Hymn #132: God Is in His Holy Temple

Mount Timpanogos Temple

A few weeks ago my wife and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. We decided to do something different this year—we celebrated it as our family’s birthday!

We first took our children to the temple where we were married. The oldest is only 5, so they’ve never been inside the temple. We walked around the temple grounds, looking at the flowers, the trees, and the beautiful stained glass windows. I pointed out the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars on the exterior of the building. We talked about the Angel Moroni on top.

After we’d walked around for a while, we took our kids briefly into the lobby of the temple, the small waiting room before the recommend desk. We taught our children about the sacred nature of the temple. When the oldest asked why everyone was so quiet there, we taught them that reverence helps us to hear the Holy Spirit and understand what our Heavenly Father wants us to do.

We didn’t stay there too long; perhaps only 5 minutes. Then we went out, took some pictures, then went and got some ice cream as a family. But those brief moments in the temple stuck with our children; they’ve brought it up a few times since.

Today’s hymn, God Is in His Holy Temple, speaks of the reverence that prevails in the temple.

God is in his holy temple.
Earthly thoughts, be silent now,

One of the defining characteristics of the temple is how removed it is from our everyday cares. When we visit the temple, we are often able to let go of the pressures and concerns of everyday life and simply bask in the reverence that exists there. With nothing to distract us, we are able to recognize the guidance of the Spirit more easily. We can be taught from on high as we recognize this Spirit.

And yet, our constructed and dedicated temples are not the only temples of God here on the earth. Paul wrote: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth within you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)  While the first verse of this hymn focuses more on temples where we gather together in worship, the second verse opens with this phrase:

God is in his holy temple,
In the pure and holy mind,

One of the great blessings we receive upon joining Christ’s church is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This gives us the opportunity to have the Spirit with us always… if we live in a way conducive to His presence. The same closeness to the Spirit that exists in the temple can be ours outside it too. But in this temple, there is nobody else checking temple recommends for us. Each of us is responsible for choosing what enters our own mind.

Let our souls, in pure devotion,
Temples for thy worship be.

Is my soul a temple for the worship of God? Is yours? What could you change to make your soul a more temple-like place? How can you invite the Spirit to be with you more constantly?

CTR

Hymn #239: Choose the Right

CTR

This is an instantly recognizable hymn for most members of the LDS Church. It has a simple, catchy melody and simple, easily-remembered theme (the BUM BUM BUM progression really solidifies the words “choose the right”), and, along with “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” might be one of the most-played hymns in the book by beginners.

The message is a familiar one. As children, we have the message “choose the right” drilled into our heads from a young age. There’s easily-recognizable imagery to go with the message, and children are given rings to help them remember. Many Latter-day Saints choose to wear those rings well into adulthood to give them a constant reminder to always choose the right.

On the surface, this seems like a hymn that further reinforces that theme. When a choice is placed before us, we can look at our finger and see that familiar shield. We can hear the BUM BUM BUM of the first three notes of the hymn and remember that we need to choose the right. And that’s certainly what this hymn is designed to do. It’s  a potent earworm that lodges itself in our brains, just as many of the other instructional Primary songs seem to do. But there’s a lot more that this hymn can teach us than simply choosing the right. Consider the first two lines:

Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.
In the right the Holy Spirit guides.

“In the right the Holy Spirit guides.” As we choose the right, the Holy Ghost can more effectively guide us to make right choices. It’s an almost tautological statement, but that’s the way it works. Making right choices fills us with an influence that inspires us to make more right choices. The light of the Holy Ghost will be “forever shining o’er [us]” as we continue to make choices that allow Him to remain with us. The inverse is just as applicable; if we make poor choices, we limit the ability of the Holy Ghost to remain with us, making us less able to feel His influence and more susceptible to making poor choices.

Not only does the continued influence of the Holy Ghost make it easier for us to choose the right, but constantly making right choices while under that influence helps to train us to make those choices more readily. The old saw is true; it’s easier to make a decision about a difficult issue beforehand than it is to make it in the moment. In the second verse, we sing that choosing the right will “let no spirit of digression overcome [us] in the evil hour.” If we’re already choosing the right, we won’t be led astray by any spirit of temptation when a thorny choice is placed before us. We’ve already chosen the right, and thus the Holy Ghost is already there with us, helping to chase away distractions and temptations. Even if we haven’t already made the choice for the issue we’re facing, the companionship of the Holy Ghost can make those choices simple through His guidance. We can be safe through inspiration’s power.

So we choose the right. There is peace in righteous doing, and there is safety for the soul. We invite the Holy Ghost into our lives, whether we’ve been safely on the right path for years or whether we’re just returning to it. The Spirit helps to guide us on that path through the light of inspiration. And in its light, we choose the right, and even if only by helping us to draw nearer to the Spirit (although we know we can and will receive so much more), God will bless us evermore.

Image credit: “CTR Ring (LDS Church)“, Wikipedia user Ricardo630.