Arrayed in Light

April 23, 2007 | 50 comments
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Our hymnals show changing themes through time, and the themes in older hymnals are a window into the concerns of the age. One striking theme from older LDS hymnals is the large number of funeral hymns, including several hymns for bereaved parents.

The 1928 hymnal contains several hymns that speak explicitly to bereaved parents, and Eliza R. Snow in particular composed such hymns. She penned the text to No. 86: Cease, Ye Fond Parents, Cease to Weep.

Cease, ye fond parent, cease to weep,
Let grief no more your bosoms swell;
For what is death? Tis nature’s sleep;
the trump of God will break it’s spell,
For He whose arm is strong to save,
Arose in triumph o’er the grave.

Why should you sorrow? Death is sweet,
To those that die in Jesus’ love;
Tho’ called to part, you soon will meet
In holier, happier climes above;
For all the faithful Christ will save,
And crown with vict’ry o’er the grave.

There’s consolation in the blow,
Although it crush a tender tie;
For while it lays its victims low,
Death opens to the worlds on high
Celestial glories proudly wave
Above the confines of the grave. . . .

She also wrote the beautiful words to #71, Your Sweet Little Rosebud has Left You, to the music for “Let us oft speak kind words”:

Your sweet little rosebud has left you
To bloom in a holier sphere
He that gave it, in wisdom bereft you
Then why should you sorrow and fear?
Your child in the grave is not sleeping
She joined her dear sisters above
The bright beings now have them in keeping,
In mansions of beauty and love.

They’ve gone where life’s ills cannot find them
They’re safe from each danger and snare
They are happy and free, would you bind them
To years of affliction and care?
Look up and you’ll find consolation
Which God by His Spirit will give
And through faith, sure manifestation
Those gems, your sweet children, yet live.

They’re treasure you’ve laid up in heaven,
Removed for a time from your sight,
To your bosom again they’ll be given
With fullness of joy and delight.

Other examples of hymns for grieving parents by other authors include Weep for the Early Dead (119); Weep Not for Him that’s Dead and Gone (178); They Have Passed Hence, but They’re Not Lost Forever (404); and, I think, Arrayed in Light (403).

The hymnal also contains a number of general bereavement hymns — Sing Ye of a Home Immortal (68); Mourn Not for Those who Peaceful Lay (103); We Lay Thee Softly Down to Sleep (100); Unveil Thy Bosom, Faithful Tomb (140); It is not Death, Though We Fade and Die (147); Resting Now from Care and Sorrow (201); Hark! From Afar a Funeral Knell (220); What Voice Salutes the Startled Ear? (226); To the Regions of Rest Where the Blissful Abide (232); The Bodies of our Dead are Laid (233); As Babe on Mother Breast (292); Sweet Friend of the Needy, Kind Helper of Youth (337); Tenderly Wipe the Bitter Tear (340); Sister, Thou wast Mild and Lovely (396).

Plus, there are a number of hymns commemorating the death of Joseph Smith. (E.g., Death Gathers Up Thick Clouds of Gloom, 245; O, Give me Back my Prophet Dear, 193; Joseph the Prophet, Martyred Saint and Seer, 323; Now He’s Gone, We’d Not Recall Him , 397; and I think, Thou Dost Not Weep Alone, 84).

The sheer number of funeral hymns is astounding. No less astounding is the degree of personalization — there are hymns for wife, husband, brother, sister, friend, and child. Death was too much with them, the Saints of that era, and they carried with them memories of burying loved ones — wife, husband, brother, friend, and child. That memory, and their faith in the face of those trials, is etched into their songs.

Every one of the old funeral songs has fallen out of use. The modern hymnal contain one explicitly funeral song (293, Each Life that Touches Ours for Good), and recommends a number of general-usage hymns, such as I Need Thee Every Hour and The Lord is my Shepherd, for funeral use.

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50 Responses to Arrayed in Light

  1. Mike on April 23, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    I live in the south and sometimes I attend other churches. I never had music lessons and I don’t pretend to know a thing about music, except that some music really moves me and most of it bores me. I know that the taste a person has for music is variable and that it is developed. But it is hard for me to get around the feeling that almost all of our music at church sounds like funeral music to me (except that street funeral jazz music in New Orleans) and has got to be at or near the bottom of the barrel. Is it just me?

  2. Bored in Vernal on April 23, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    (I follow the threadjack)
    I spent some time in the Baptist evagelical tradition as a young adult before joining the Church.
    When they added “How Great Thou Art” to the new hymnbook I was pretty ticked at how they changed the rhythm and meter. It’s a completely different song when sung by the Mormons. Funeral music indeed.

    I think there are some lovely hymns in our hymnal, can we just please speed up a little? A few weeks ago on Easter Sunday I saw that we were going to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” I whispered under my breath, “Please let them sing this song right.” My girls must have felt the same way. When the hymn started we all sang at the top of our lungs a beat ahead of the chorister. By the end of the song we had succeeded in speeding the song up a little. (heehee) I still felt sad. When they sing that song in other churches on Easter Sunday there is no way you can hear the sound of your own voice.

  3. Ardis Parshall on April 23, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    While we no longer have many explicitly funeral hymns in the book, there are plenty of songs that refer to mourning (like “Lead, Kindly Light” with its “those angel faces smile that we have loved long since and lost awhile” or “Do What Is Right” with its “eyes that are wet now ere long will be tearless”) — as you’ll very quickly realize on the first Sunday after a friend dies, when your song director seems to have chosen every song calculated to make you cry and to make your nose drip. If you haven’t thought to bring tissues with you, you can count on it.

  4. Adam Greenwood on April 23, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    The words to No. 86 seem a bit hectoring and the first line is unfortunate, since “fond” can mean “foolish” as well as “affectionate” in antique language such as we use for our hymns.

    No. 71 hectors a little bit too but worse is the melody, which really doesn’t work for the subject and the words.

    Very interesting post.

  5. lief on April 23, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    I wonder if the decrease in overtly funeral-related hymns is in any way related to the overall sanitisation of death and burial process over the course of the last century (i.e. increased corporate concentration of the funeral industry, concrete vaults with 16-gauge steel caskets, etc.)

    Also, haven’t LDS funerals themselves become blander affairs from a doctrinal standpoint since the 19th century? My impression is that current norms dictate that anything overtly mournful or even personal is rejected in favor of a doctrinal sermon given by the bishop, or something similar to create missionary moments for any non-members who are present. I realize that Joseph Smith gave at least one important doctrinal sermon during an early Mormon funeral, but is it possible that funerals were more personalized and mournful in the 19th and early 20th centuries than they generally are today?

  6. Adam Greenwood on April 23, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    All of the funerals I’ve gone to have had a format of one ‘doctrinal’ sermon and one or two personal/mournful talks, usually by close friends or family members.

  7. Ardis Parshall on April 23, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    current norms dictate that anything overtly mournful or even personal is rejected in favor of a doctrinal sermon given by the bishop, or something similar to create missionary moments for any non-members who are present

    lief, not really. While there is usually a “plan of salvation” sermon, I’ve never been to a funeral that did not also include two or three or four additional talks by family members or friends or colleagues, focusing on the life and our memories of the deceased — and I’ve reached the age where I go to a half dozen funerals a year. And of course NOBODY could successfully dictate an absence of mourning, even should anybody want to (where are you that you’ve heard anybody try?). I see lots of tears, generally confined to immediate family members. Mormon funerals are too much like family reunions for very many people to be mournful.

  8. Kaimi Wenger on April 23, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Good point, Adam, about the tone. Clearly, the two texts here take a very different tack than modern funeral hymns (Each Life).

    My initial reaction was to attribute that to Eliza’s own clear desire to have children, which was never filled, despite her marriages to two prophets. (Her inability to have children is often linked by tradition to awful events in her own life — the tradition that a physical confrontation with Emma caused a miscarriage; and another tradition that Eliza was one of the sisters who was raped by Missourians.)

    But the more I think about it, the more I think that explanation is wrong. Because the thing is, they’re _all_ like that. It’s not just Eliza’s texts, and it’s not just the hymns about children. They all draw on similar themes, which are very different than we would think today: Death is not sad; the bereaved should not weep; Mormons need not weep over death, because we know that we will be resurrected.

    Many of them give brief mention to the good attributes of the deceased, but from there, it’s all a “cheer up, death is not sad,” pep talk. (Think of Come, Come, Ye Saints: “And should we die, before our journey’s through, happy day, all is well.”) And so I think that the choice of upbeat music for Rosebuds was not an accident — it conveys the approach to death from the Mormonism of the time.

    This sounds strange to our ears, because we tend to think of funerals as a time for reflection and solemnity. The hymns of a prior era went directly against that approach. It’s really remarkable.

  9. Rosalynde Welch on April 23, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Sorry, Kaimi, I think the lines “Why should you sorrow? Death is sweet, /To those that die in Jesus’ love” could never have been written by a woman who lost a child, no matter the era.

  10. lief on April 23, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Ardis,

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve only been to one LDS funeral in the last five years and it was a disappointing experience. It was the funeral for my uncle (who had been a lifelong inactive) and, by the time the bishop, who had never met him, finished a 30-minute sermon some of the family felt a little deflated in giving their personal tributes. Other comments in the bloggernacle led me to believe that this is a common experience – glad to know that is not generally the case for you.

    The other side of my family has run a Catholic-centered funeral home for many decades where I worked for a high school summer. The staff would frequently comment on the lack of a mournful atmosphere at LDS funerals and church members seem to pride themselves on this. I think Kaimi has pointed out the upbeat nature of many of the old funeral songs, I just disagree that LDS funerals are necessarily more solemn today without those hymns.

  11. Mark IV on April 23, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Kaimi,

    The first Mormon funeral I remember attending featured a woman with a beautiful alto voice who sang this song solo. It also used to be in our hymn book.

    One Sweetly Solemn Thought

    One sweetly solemn thought
    Comes to me o’er and o’er;
    Nearer to my home today am I
    Than e’er I’ve been before.

    Nearer my Father’s house,
    Where many mansions be;
    Nearer today, the great white throne,
    Nearer the crystal sea.

    Nearer the bound of life
    Where burdens are laid down;
    Nearer to leave the heavy cross,
    Nearer to gain the crown.

    But lying darkly between,
    Winding down through the night,
    Is the deep and unknown stream
    To be crossed ere we reach the light.

    Father, perfect my trust!
    Strengthen my power of faith!
    Nor let me stand, at last, alone
    Upon the shore of death.

    Be Thee near when my feet
    Are slipping over the brink;
    For it may be I’m nearer home,
    Nearer now than I think.

  12. Adam Greenwood on April 23, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    That is so pretty, Mark IV. Thank you.

  13. cew-smoke on April 23, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    I have a small amount of experience in attending funerals for one reason or another. I\’ll say this about LDS funerals, they really vary depending on the ward, families, person conducting the funeral, etc. I knew a brilliant and wonderul young woman who had passed away and lived a very full life to say the least. The funeral was ANYTHING but boring or preachy. It was the most reaffirming and inspirational funeral I have ever been to. The music and speakers were fantastic. A dear friend of hers was a very talented native american floutist who played a beatiful native funeral song. It pierced every heart in the room. There was so much love in that room it was simply amazing. The bishop spoke for about five minutes, but let the people closest to this woman express the things that everyone needed and wanted to hear.

    On the flipside, I went to a funeral in a different denomination and it was just the opposite. People were constantly sobbing as if the world had already ended and all of the speakers were sad and morose. The music was too loud and tried to force the mood to be better, but ended up making it even worse. It was about as life affirming as a Fred Phelp\’s protest.

    So, I think the secret is for someone (outside of the family as they have enough to worry about) to spend some quality time with the bishop who will be conducting the funeral and explain to them how the family would want it to be. If the bishop can\’t see eye to eye, then flat out tell him that the family would like someone else to conduct. This is a funeral after all and who conducts a funeral is up to the family, not the bishop.

  14. Ann on April 23, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    I’ve been contemplating asking them to sing “Sister, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” at my funeral, just to see if anybody can do so with a straight face.

  15. Adam Greenwood on April 23, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    “This is a funeral after all and who conducts a funeral is up to the family, not the bishop.”

    I want bishops to be sensitive to families and to think of the funeral as a chance to meet their needs, but saying that the family gets to decide who conducts an LDS funeral is un-Mormon. We’re not consumers of religion.

  16. David Brosnahan on April 23, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    The reason all Mormon Hymns sound like funeral hymns is because that is exactly the point of the sacrament meeting. It is supposed to be Christ’s funeral, over and over again. The talks are supposed to be Christ’s eulogy. Ever noticed that the sacrament table looks like there is a body under the sheet. And then the decons serve the congregation the body and blood of Christ. Kind of morbid. But that what going on.

  17. Sarah on April 23, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Erm, I wasn’t aware that funerals are an official church meeting, Adam. They’re not on church property (at least, none of the ones I’ve heard announced in our ward have been — including the one coming up this week,) and there aren’t any Aaronic-Priesthood-directed ordinances taking place (and dressing the body happens ahead of time, and I’d assume blessing the grave is similarly a non-ceremonial function.) Bishops serve the people in their wards. At times — especially when they don’t know the people involved very well, or disagree with those people on what should be said — that service might mean that they step aside and let someone else do the conducting. What’s so “un-Mormon” (!) about that?

    Then again, I also don’t think that not inviting your bishop to speak at your ring ceremony is a cardinal sin, so maybe I’m just not Mormon enough under any circumstances. ^_^

  18. Hans Hansen on April 23, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    The great quantity of funeral songs in the older hymnals, and particularly those for children, was probably due to the high rates of infant and young child deaths during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The lack of antibiotics, vaccines, etc. undoubtably contributed. The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 claimed millions of lives worldwide and probably was still remembered in 1927 when the “new” hymnal was published.
    #1. “all of our music at church sounds like funeral music to me”

    Only because choristers don’t follow the meters indicated above the music. If they did, the hymns would not be sung so slowly in our churches. If the chorister won’t do it right then it is up to the organist. I’ve only known a few choristers with the “guts” to challenge me (the organist)on my tempos and I win every argument!

    #2. “How Great Thou Art” is a Lutheran song, written by the Swedish Lutheran pastor, Rev. Carl Boberg, translated into English by Stuart Hine, and sung to an old Swedish melody. Years ago I was the organist and choir director at Lutheran Church of the Master, six blocks down Santa Monica Blvd. from the LA Temple. The Lutherans know how to sing this with vigor!

    #11. “One Sweetly Solemn Thought”

    One of my favorites. I conducted this with the ward choir several times, with an alto solo in the middle. Great hymn.

    #14. Another “good” one is:

    “The bells of hell go ting-a-ling,
    Where, O Death, is thy sting-a-ling!”

  19. Hans Hansen on April 23, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    #16. “The reason all Mormon Hymns sound like funeral hymns is because that is exactly the point of the sacrament meeting.”

    I suggest that you reread the opening pages of the Hymnbook and maybe the Music Section of the Church Handbook of Instruction.

  20. Ardis Parshall on April 23, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Sarah (17) — LDS funerals are, indeed, official Church meetings under the direction of the priesthood, with a prescribed general format. Bishops are supposed to consider the wishes of the family and can make alterations within limits that don’t interfere with the spirituality of the meeting, but just as sacrament meetings don’t stray too far from the pattern, neither do LDS funerals.

    See Boyd K. Packer, “Funerals–A Time for Reverence,” Ensign, November 1988, 18. (This is one of those key talks that causes President Packer to be widely reviled and scorned in dark corners of the internet; nevertheless, he spoke officially.)

  21. David Brosnahan on April 23, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    Hans: My comments are only to explain the reverant nature of LDS meetings and why we dont follow the current evangelical fad of contemporary services with a band and a lot of dancing and shouting in the isles. Ofcourse, LDS funerals are never as mournful as non-LDS funerals. There is plenty of room during the Sacrament and a Funeral for thanksgiving, joy, and happiness.

    “We need to strengthen our sacrament meetings and make them hours of worship in very deed. Cultivate a spirit of reverence, an attitude in which people come into the chapel and are quiet and reverent and thoughtful. There is too much noise. We are a social people, but I wish we would not keep it up so loudly in the chapel” (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, regional conference, 27 Apr. 1996).
    -Pres Gordon B Hinkley

    Elder David B. Haight on the Sacrament:

    http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b12f9d18fae655bb69095bd3e44916a0/?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=5f9ad7630a27b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

    Elder Boyd K Packer on Official Church Policy on Funerals:

    http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b12f9d18fae655bb69095bd3e44916a0/?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=30f7d7630a27b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

  22. queuno on April 23, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    The operative point about bishops and funerals is that it only applies IF (and only if) the funeral is held in a Church building. If you choose to have your funeral at the beach, you can do whatever you want…

  23. Ardis Parshall on April 23, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    Well, yes, queuno, that’s true. And if you choose to have your wedding at the beach, the same is true. Ditto if you choose to hold your Sunday worship at the beach. You can pay your tithing to some guy at the beach, too, if you want to.

    Any one of these activities would be exactly as LDS as any other such activity.

  24. Kaimi Wenger on April 23, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Ardis,

    Some of us _have_ had LDS meetings at the beach! I remember an ocean baptism from my mission, quite well.

    Hmm. I wonder if we could hold Sunday School on the beach . . .

  25. Ardis Parshall on April 23, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    You don’t usually deliberately misunderstand me, Kaimi, but thank you.

  26. Coffinberry on April 23, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    My nephew’s funeral this past winter, held in the meetinghouse chapel, was a Boy Scout Court of Honor. I was going to say more, but I find now that I cannot.

  27. Glenn on April 24, 2007 at 12:06 am

    My last LDS funeral experience was a bit reminiscent of Lief\’s experience with his uncle (#10). One of my closest boyhood friends had taken his own life in his early-30\’s. He had not been active in the church for many years. He had not been close to his family much either. And yet the family — who came in from out of state — arranged his funeral through the local LDS ward where his records were held but where no one really knew who he was — the bishop included. The family asked me to speak, so I flew in from out of state to do it.

    It was a very awkward situation because I had loved my friend and had been very aware of and sympathetic towards his problems with the church his entire life (he was paraplegic since he was five — President Kimball, the prophet at the time, gave him a personal blessing that he would walk again and run and play with other children, and as a faithful little kid he firmly believed it would happen. I am sure you can imagine how difficult it was for him to grow up without this blessing ever coming true — and please don\’t anyone say anything about President Kimball probably meaning that he would run and play in the resurrection — that pat answer gave him no comfort whatsoever — at any rate…).

    My friend\’s closest circle of friends in his last few years were not Mormons, and while they were not invited to the funeral by the family or even made to feel very welcome, they came anyway to show their support and to grieve for the loss of their friend. They expressed to me afterwards how strange and nearly-empty an experience it had been for them. During the program, sitting in the chapel with a group of Mormons on one side and non-Mormons on the other, I was so embarrassed when the bishop — who I am sure was very well-meaning in his own way — turned his comments into a missionary opportunity for the non-Mormons. It was a sermon fraught with tension with themes of paradise and prison, procrastinating repentance, and other awful suggestions that, given the context of his passing, implicated that my friend may not actually be existing in a happier place.

    Thankfully, I was the last to speak, and was able to deflate (I think — I hope) at least a little of the awkwardness created by the bishop\’s sermon by sharing memories of my friend and our not-always-the-most-reverent exploits (like the 6-day 50-mile scout hike where we pulled him every inch in a specially-made cart like mules and he threw pinecones at us and shouted \’giddup! \’hya! hya!\’ the entire time — or the time he tried to trick me into eating some of his mother\’s frozen breast-milk because I thought it looked like a homemade popsicle) — stories that allowed us to grieve his loss through laughter and celebrate the energy and spunk that defined so much of who he was. And at the end of my talk, rather than turning to the hymnal, I broke out an acoustic guitar (much to the apparent horror of the bishop who did not know it was coming) and choked my way through \”Here Today\” (Paul McCartney’s tribute to John Lennon).

    I don\’t have much experience with Mormon funerals and even less with non-Mormon funerals, but from what little I do know, I agree with those here who have said that while the ecclesiastical Mormon experience can be a little stifling, the involvement of family and friends can ultimately shape the overall tone. And I am very glad that I did not have to rely solely on our hymnal for music to do that.

  28. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2007 at 1:26 am

    I’d assume blessing the grave is similarly a non-ceremonial function.

    Its an official priesthood ordinance with a prescribed format. What’s more, though I don’t know that this is always the practice, when we buried our daughter our bishop directed us to contact the bishop whose ward included the grave for permission to perform the ceremony. We were not only willing to comply, we were happy to comply. It made us feel like the blessing meant something and was not just a sop to the bereaved.

    Generally speaking, we did not see her funeral and burial as our family’s private affair since our hope is in a resurrection and a reunion beyond the bonds of death that we ourselves are helpless to effect.

    The only awkward part of her funeral was an individual who felt the need to improvise a little.

  29. Alison Moore Smith on April 24, 2007 at 2:08 am

    Very interesting. Thank you!

    Mike #1, I’m reminded of Gladys Knight telling President Hinckley…what was it?…that our music needs to be jazzed up a bit or something. I concur.

  30. Thomas Parkin on April 24, 2007 at 2:11 am

    I like my dirges. The more funereal, the better.

    One of the real downers about the new block schedule (smirk) is that we no longer have an excuse for singing “Now The Day is Over” every week to close Sac Meeting.
    Really. I live for chances to sing death haunted hymns.

    ~

  31. Mark B. on April 24, 2007 at 10:42 am

    David Brosnahan hits precisely the wrong note if his “My comments are only to explain the reverant nature of LDS meetings” is meant to suggest that singing softly and slowly is the same as being reverent.

    We’ve beaten the old “quiet does not necessarily mean reverent” horse to death previously, but I’d like to get one last lick in here (since, like Hydra, it keeps rearing its ugly head). In fact, mumbling through a hymn should be considered near the height of irreverence–since when should you be praising God so insipidly?

  32. greenfrog on April 24, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Favorite funereal hymn missing in action from our sacrament meetings:

    The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close. I like the shroud-wrapping metaphor.

    And as for who gets to conduct an LDS funeral, I’d agree that the responsibility would belong to the Church if the Church were the one being buried. Otherwise, I’m pretty comfortable letting the decedent or her family make that call, and if she or they are LDS, then it’s an LDS funeral, even if the Church refuses to permit it to occur within the confines of an LDS chapel.

    ***Speaking as one (evidently un-Mormon) who sang Ave Maria at a Catholic’s funeral conducted in an LDS chapel a few years ago. (If an acoustic guitar gave a bishop heart burn, imagine how he would have responded to Schubert’s (magnificent) piece.)***

    “…we’re not consumers of religion…”

    Of course we are. If we didn’t perpetuate it, it wouldn’t exist. Ask Hephaestus or Mithras.

  33. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Consumerism is an attitude, not a fact of life.

  34. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    God and Christ don’t depend on us to perpetuate them.

  35. Ardis Parshall on April 24, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I’m not sure I understand — in fact, I’m sure I don’t — the tendency by a few to want to evade Mormon funerals. The whole point of the gospel, so far as I’ve been able to figure it out, is to learn to bend my will to God’s, to rid myself of selfishness and learn a better way. This quite often takes the form of listening to those who have been called as my religious leaders.

    I’ve been to a hundred Mormon funerals, at least, besides a lesser number of non-Mormon ones. Some of them have been for my most immediate family members. Others have been for aged aunts, distant cousins, ward members, the parents of friends, colleagues, mission companions, and others. I’ve read the transcriptions of ancestral funerals, and typed the tapes of services for people whose funerals I didn’t attend in person.

    I’ve never known of a Mormon funeral where the deceased was not the “star” of the services, regardless of the inclusion of a plan-of-salvation sermon — which, by the way, doesn’t need to be given by the bishop: the funeral is conducted by him or his appointed representative, but he isn’t necessarily the speaker. How in the world (this world or the next) does being reminded of what comes after this life interfere with remembering and honoring the life of the deceased? How does having one short gospel-themed talk prevent other speakers from saying whatever they want? And since when is the family responsible for “inviting” anyone to attend a funeral? That’s what the obituary or funeral notice does! Mormon funerals are open to all, and you’re looking for reasons to be offended if you complain that in the midst of their grief the family doesn’t take the time to extend personal invitations to people they may or may not even know exist!

    It’s disturbing to see people so openly boast of actions that they seem to think are somehow a violation of the rules (they usually are not), and advising others to do whatever it takes to prevent a religious service. Weird. Not lovely, or virtuous, or of good report, or praiseworthy.

  36. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 24, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    “Death was too much with them” — amen.

    Good points made about how the music isn’t always executed the way it is written, not everything is a dirge, though there are some who prefer that.

  37. greenfrog on April 24, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    The whole point of the gospel, so far as I’ve been able to figure it out, is to learn to bend my will to God’s, to rid myself of selfishness and learn a better way.

    It’s disturbing to see people so openly boast of actions that they seem to think are somehow a violation of the rules (they usually are not), and advising others to do whatever it takes to prevent a religious service. Weird. Not lovely, or virtuous, or of good report, or praiseworthy.

    I suspect the reasons for the different perspectives on the latter point depends significantly on differences about the former point. I think “the whole point of the gospel” is to learn to love my enemy and neighbor as myself, and I view the Church as a vehicle that is suited in important ways to assist me in getting there.

  38. Hans Hansen on April 24, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    From “Using the Hymnbook” at lds.org:

    Mood and Tempo Markings

    The mood markings, such as “Prayerfully” or “Resolutely,” suggest the general feeling or spirit of a hymn, although the mood of some hymns may vary according to the occasion or local preferences. Metronomic markings indicate a tempo range (such as “quarter-note” = 69–76) and are also given as general guidelines; the locale and context in which a hymn is used may suggest greater flexibility.

    Selecting the Right Hymn

    The hymns you select should reflect the general character of the meeting and help establish the proper spirit.

    The opening hymn may be one of supplication or praise; it may express gratitude for the gospel, joy in being able to gather together, or enthusiasm for the work to be done.

    The sacrament hymn should refer to the sacrament itself or to the sacrifice of the Savior.

    An intermediate hymn provides an opportunity for congregational participation and may relate to the subject of the talks presented in the meeting. The congregation may stand during this hymn as appropriate.

    The closing hymn is an opportunity for the congregation to respond to the spirit and content of the meeting.

    http://www.lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,4990-1,00.html

    *************************************************************

    In other words, you shouldn’t sing all of the hymns soft and slow, like a funeral dirge. Imagine “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” sung at a glacial pace and very softly!

  39. KLC on April 24, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Could slow, dirgelike hymns come from semi-accomplished organists who are struggling just to play it correctly? It’s easy to have excellent accompaniment if you hire a professional musician, as many non-LDS churches do.

  40. Glenn on April 24, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    “How in the world (this world or the next) does being reminded of what comes after this life interfere with remembering and honoring the life of the deceased?”

    Ardis (#35), if you are not too disturbed by my previous comments (openly boasting and advising others to prevent a religious service? Wow – you came at me pretty hard, don’t you think?), I’ll tell you what I think, from this single experience (not intended to be extrapolated to the whole of Mormon funerals past or present), in response to your question.

    In the case of my paraplegic non-active friend who took his own life, we were reminded that people who commit suicide and don’t repent of their sins are damned to spirit prison (admittedly, the bishop’s actual remarks were not that heavy handed, but the impact it had on many of the listeners was). The image this created in the minds of many who listened – the image of my friend suffering in spirit prison – did, in fact, interfere with the honoring of his life. In fact, many felt that it dishonored his life. But maybe everyone who thought that was wrong (or weird or devoid of any loveliness or not worthy of any praise – please do let me know your position on that).

    And despite the Sherlock Holmes hat and oversized magnifying glass I smuggled into the chapel with me that day, I am pretty sure I was not looking for a reason to be offended (although, again – let me know for sure). It made me sad to see the disconnect (i.e. living in the past) between my deceased boyhood friend and his mother – that although I had not been a very big part of his life for almost twelve years, she would openly champion me as her son’s best closest life-long friend (not boasting, it’s how she introduced me to people) and completely snub his real best closest life-long friend, who was not a Mormon, because she had never approved of that friendship. It was difficult to see her open disapproval of that group of friends who played a significant roll in my friend’s life, but were not acknowledged or appreciated for their friendship at the time of grieving. It seemed contrary to the whole point of the gospel being love and forgiveness to all sons and daughters of God (which is, to paraphrase what you stated, bending our selfish “natural man” petty tendencies to the magnanimous and infinitely atoning will of God).

    Anyway, reading through these posts sparked this memory for me. I shared it.

  41. Hans Hansen on April 24, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    #39: “Could slow, dirgelike hymns come from semi-accomplished organists who are struggling just to play it correctly? It’s easy to have excellent accompaniment if you hire a professional musician, as many non-LDS churches do.”

    Quite possibly, however it is the responsibility of the Ward Music Director to work with the organist ahead of time, to evaluate the playing ability, and give the organist enough notice so that they may practice the hymns.

    Being both a professional musician and a Ward Organist for the past 40 years, playing the hymns the way they’re supposed to be played has never been a problem for me. *(see related joke below).

    When I was teaching music at UCLA and California State University Northridge I played professionally (paid positions) for the Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Seventh Day Adventists. Just my luck to be in the one church that doesn’t pay its musicians!
    ——————————————————————————–
    * The great concert harpsichordist, Wanda Landowska, got into an argument with another female harpsichordist over the interpretation of some passages in a work by J.S. Bach. Getting nowhere in the argument Landowska finally exclaimed, “Very well, my dear. You can play Bach your way, and I’ll play Bach his way!”

  42. Ardis Parshall on April 24, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    A few years ago my cousin committed suicide, immediately after having shot her 9-year-old daughter in the head. (My apologies to those who have read this on BCC; it’s the second time today I’ve written about this.) It was a double funeral, and one without the usual optimism and outright cheer of a typical Mormon funeral. A member of the presiding bishopric spoke. He acknowledged the unusual circumstances, but his sermon was still one of hope and ultimate joy — he reminded us that we were in no position to judge what had been in the mother’s muddled mind on that awful night, and that we must not let our fears and any holdover from misguided sectarian philosophy drive out our hope of Christ’s mercy and our sure knowledge that life continues after death and that we will eventually all be redeemed. He did not blithely assure us that there would be no consequences for my cousin’s actions, or perhaps for the actions that had brought her to that point — he’d have been doing us no favor had he told us something he did not know — but he did leave us with hope and the instruction not to be weighed down with undue fear.

    From what little Glenn has told us of his boyhood friend’s funeral, it sounds as though the speaker gave a perfectly ordinary talk on the plan of salvation, stressing that repentance and growth and healing were necessary and do-able in the spirit world. Of course it is possible that some inept speaker could have clumsily mangled his intended presentation. (I’ll pretend your sarcasm was sincere, Glenn, and say this next line, although I wouldn’t have done so without your invitation — yours was not the only comment that spoke of evading Mormon funerals and I wasn’t writing only in response to you): It is also conceivable that yes, you were oversensitive and looking for reasons to take offense — your condemnation of your friend’s mother’s neglect of specifically inviting her son’s friends to attend the funeral suggests that you are not being entirely fair. But I wasn’t there, and have only your slightly suspect account to go by.

    Regardless of the probably inevitable occasional insensitive funeral sermon, I am still puzzled by the multiple suggestions that Mormons should avoid Mormon funeral services. That claims that you know better than the apostles who have counseled us on our conduct of a profound occasion over which the church claims the right to preside. If for some reason your judgment in a particular case is valid, it’s irresponsible to advise it as a routine and general course of action for others.

  43. Glenn on April 24, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    My sarcasm is always sincere, as is, I suppose, my apparent condemnation of others and my delivery of unfair and slightly suspect narratives.

    And for someone who admittedly was not at the funeral I wrote about, you assume quite a bit (I guess in defense of the mantle of Bishop – I certainly didn’t intend to attack the mantle of Bishop). In my specific experience (not intended to be extrapolated to the whole of Mormon funerals past or present), this bishop’s “ordinary” talk underlined the importance for repentance and growth and healing in this life or else — not as gracious as you are painting him. But I’m not “condemning” him for it, nor am I “condemning” my friend’s mother. I just felt embarrassed about the way it was handled and thought it was an unfortunate mistake. I make them, too. We recognize them and move on. I don’t know where this condemning business came from.

  44. Glenn on April 24, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    “I am still puzzled by the multiple suggestions that Mormons should avoid Mormon funeral services.”

    I am a bit puzzled myself. I have re-read these posts three times, and I do not see multiple suggestions. I see only two references to anyone talking about “evading Mormon funerals” – the first is your own post in #35 and the second is your “I am still puzzled…” post in #42. Where are you getting this? Is this from other posts you have seen outside of this thread?

    Now, admittedly, my concluding statement in #27 “And I am very glad that I did not have to rely solely on our hymnal for music to do that” was a pretty stupid thing to write – it was a (failed) attempt to connect back to the main theme of this thread. What I meant to say is that I was grateful for the opportunity to share a piece of music that, while not in the hymnal, had a special meaning between me and my friend. But even then, I wasn’t suggesting that we should evade Mormon funerals or – holy cow –disrespect the apostles. So who was?

    Do you mean that if someone other than a bishop is asked to conduct that it is no longer a Mormon funeral? Maybe this is really a much larger discussion about what it means to be “Mormon.”

    So please show me these “multiple suggestions” in more detail, as I only have your slightly suspect comprehension of these posts to go by.

  45. Ardis Parshall on April 24, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    “This is a funeral after all and who conducts a funeral is up to the family, not the bishop.”

    “Bishops serve the people in their wards. At times — especially when they don’t know the people involved very well, or disagree with those people on what should be said — that service might mean that they step aside and let someone else do the conducting.”

    “The operative point about bishops and funerals is that it only applies IF (and only if) the funeral is held in a Church building. If you choose to have your funeral at the beach, you can do whatever you want…”

    And your own comment 27, which you admitted fit my criticism ["my previous comments (openly boasting and advising others to prevent a religious service? Wow – you came at me pretty hard, don’t you think?),"] although I did not quote or refer to it in my comment.

    Glenn, I voiced my discomfort without pointing to any particular commenter in my original criticism. I responded to you directly only because you took my remarks personally and have repeatedly challenged me to defend them. I have answered your objections and hope I have been courteous in doing so — at least I have avoided returning your sarcasm. I will not continue this discussion with you.

  46. Glenn on April 24, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Dear Ardis,

    Not looking to fight – really – but I also cannot let your claim of not pointing to any particular commenter go unchallenged. You did. You even used quotation marks and several exclamation points to make your point:

    And since when is the family responsible for “inviting” anyone to attend a funeral? That’s what the obituary or funeral notice does! Mormon funerals are open to all, and you’re looking for reasons to be offended if you complain that in the midst of their grief the family doesn’t take the time to extend personal invitations to people they may or may not even know exist!

    It’s disturbing to see people so openly boast of actions that they seem to think are somehow a violation of the rules (they usually are not), and advising others to do whatever it takes to prevent a religious service. Weird. Not lovely, or virtuous, or of good report, or praiseworthy.

    When you say “you’re looking for reasons to be offended” you are clearly taking aim at me. When you talk about people boasting of actions etc etc, you are referencing my comment about the acoustic guitar. I am still puzzled about the “advising others to… prevent a religious service” bit (I would argue that you can have a Mormon funeral with Mormon people and Mormon values whether a bishop is directing it or not). But the last two paragraphs of your post were clearly directed to my comments, and clearly judgmental. It’s easy to bow out of the conversation now, but to say “not lovely, or virtuous, or of good report, or praiseworthy” was pretty direct and very strong.

  47. Adam Greenwood on April 25, 2007 at 10:09 am

    A. Parshall chose to keep her remarks general. It was obvious how they applied, but it was you who made them rude by applying them, not her. You’ve been as judgmental and combative in this thread as you accuse her of being.

  48. Mary B on April 28, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    David wrote: “The reason all Mormon Hymns sound like funeral hymns is because that is exactly the point of the sacrament meeting. It is supposed to be Christ’s funeral, over and over again. The talks are supposed to be Christ’s eulogy. Ever noticed that the sacrament table looks like there is a body under the sheet. And then the decons serve the congregation the body and blood of Christ. Kind of morbid. But that what going on.”

    Interestingly a couple of Sundays ago my mother had my niece and nephew on either side of her during
    sacrament meeting. The talks were a little over their heads and she had brought
    clip board and paper and pencil for each. After a while they needed a
    project so she handed each one a hymn book and had them look for the adverb at the top
    left of each song to see how the song was to be sung.
    They made lists and tallied. There were 43 different
    adverbs directing how the songs should be sung. The top three, by a long shot,
    were JOYFULLY, REVERENTLY, and BRIGHTLY.

  49. Taryn on April 30, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Hi, my name is Taryn. I was asked today by my seminary teacher, to sing a song as a tribute to the death of Joseph Smith, and I find myself in dire need of the music and the words to the song “Oh Give Me Back My Prophet Dear”. It appears you know a lot about these older songs in the hymnbook and I’m very interested in them, but if you could find a way to send a scan of that song to me, I’d be very obliged.

    Thanks!

  50. D. Fletcher on May 2, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    “Abide With Me, ‘Tis Eventide,” and “Abide with Me,” numbers #165 and #166, are actually about the end of life.

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