Platonic hymn-singing

May 18, 2008 | 6 comments
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We have a sick daughter–so going shifts, the lovely one and I, I went to another ward’s sacrament meeting, where we sang one of my favorite hymns.

Reverently and meekly now,
Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.

-Hymn No. 185.

The singing and the organ-playing varied in quality, as in most wards. But it didn’t bother me. My secret is hymn platonism. You don’t take the singing and the organ-playing as the hymn itself, but rather as a pointer or a reminder of the ideal, everlasting version of the hymn. You outwardly join in the outward hymn and inwardly join in the inward hymn. Its easier than it sounds.

6 Responses to Platonic hymn-singing

  1. Julie M. Smith on May 18, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Maybe we should take the same approach to lessons. :)

    Hope your daughter mends quickly.

  2. Edje on May 18, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I think your outward- and inward-joining model is a useful approach. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Katie P. on May 19, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    I think that works for just about all of church events and activity. And part of the purpose of General Conference is to reinforce that Platonic ideal.

  4. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 19, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I seem to remember President Kimball saying something along those lines in response to someone who criticized the quality of a Sacrament Meeting speaker. He said that he would think about the topic that the speaker was trying to articulate, and enjoy his inner dialogue and the spiritual influence it provoked. He therefore concluded that it was up to each of us whether or not we enjoyed or profited from a meeting. I believe Henry Eyring (the chemist) said something similar, but of course, they were brothers-in-law.

    I think that’s great if I am a member of the congregation who has no responsibility for the program. On the other hand, if I were the speaker or the person in charge of the meeting, I would feel a lot of responsibility. I would not be justified in hoping that everyone had their platonic ideal talk on, e.g. King Benjamin’s sermon, in mind. Rather, I should be envisioning ahead of time what MY platonic ideal of the talk would be, and try to make that a reality.

    I think that is basically what guides me in preparing my Gospel Doctrine lessons. I try to be the kind of teacher that I would enjoy listening to. It means that my preparation takes three to six hours a week, depending on how much additional information I need to digest and visual aids I need to prepare, including mundane things like putting all the citations of scriptures I want the class to read on Post-it (TM) notes that I hand out at the start of the class, so we don’t waste time picking someone to read each passage and find it.

    By the same token, when I was Sunday School president I felt responsible for ensuring that the teaching in all the classes was good and consistent. That meant that when our ward was split and I was short on teachers, I reassigned them to different age groups more appropriate to their abilities. I sat in the various classes and observed how well they taught. At the start of each year I assembled a full kit of materials for each teacher, including their own video cassettes and basic illustrations so they wouldn’t have to hang out at the library, paying out of my own pocket. I checked the rooms ahead of time to make sure they had enough chairs in each (the other ward never put them back).

    I have had various callings over the years in priesthood quorums, branch presidencies, and high councils. But Sunday School often seems to be sort of a stepchild, which is run with the assumption that the hard work is done by the lesson manual, and that teenagers learn the important lessons in Seminary and adults already know everything they need to know about the Church and the scriptures. I wonder if those of us with responsibilities for Sunday School just assume that both the teachers and students are experiencing their Platonic ideal of Sunday School, so it’s not that important what goes on in the “shadow world” inside the cave. How does that practice approach the Platonic ideal of educating the Saints to understand the scriptures and live according to them?

  5. Rosalynde Welch on May 20, 2008 at 10:38 am

    This hymn is always interesting to me for its unique voicing: a congregation of Saints admonishing itself in the voice of Christ. The experience might be a little like what Joseph experienced when he wrote out revelations admonishing himself in the voice of Christ.

    In general we’re pretty wary about representing Christ imperfectly: there’s always lore surrounding the inspired casting of the Christ actor in church films, etc. My mother was once reprimanded by a higher-up for having a child act the role of Christ in a sharing time activity. I even hesitated a moment when I was planning a recent sharing time in which the children would stage familiar tableaus from the Gospel Art Kit—could I have a girl representing Christ? should I have any of the children stand in for Christ? In the end I answered both questions “yes,” and it was a good activity.

  6. Jonovitch on May 20, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Saturday evening I attended our stake conference’s priesthood leadership session and sang Jesus, Lover of My Soul (#102). Not exactly my favorite, but I agreed to do it. After my duet partner skipped town, I reasoned that with the lyrical quality of the melody and the sincere, personal tone of the text, I could get away with a solo, a capella version. Bold, I know, but It worked — the room was pin-drop silent as I sang, and I made it through intact. I received many positive acknowledgments afterwards — more heartfelt than just the usual “good job” — and I felt like my offering had been accepted as appropriate and sufficient.

    Later that night, at the end of the adult session of our stake conference, the closing hymn was Abide With Me, ‘Tis Eventide (#165), a definite favorite of mine. I sat alone, since my wife was seated with the stake choir. I had received a couple impressions from the talks that I had written down, and reckoned it was the Spirit trying to tell me something. The two meetings were subtly and gently incredible, with the examples of our genuinely kind stake president, the soft-spoken temple president, the well-loved mission president (on his last few months), the humble new area authority, and the wise and caring (and high-ranking) general authority all shining through their words but not blinding.

    As I sang the closing hymn, I started focusing on the words —
    “Savior, stay this night with me…O, Savior, stay…”

    I thought of my little boy who often asks me to stay by his bed as he falls asleep –
    “Abide with me; ’tis eventide, and lone will be the night if I cannot commune with thee…”

    Thinking of the issues I deal with and the children I try to guard, I sang:
    “The darkness of the world, I fear, would in my home abide. O Savior, stay this night with me”

    Having felt the spirit (through the words of the wonderful men who spoke), I choked through the last verse —
    “Thy walk today with me has made my heart within me burn, as I communed with thee…”

    One last time I pleaded the double refrain:
    “O Savior, stay this night with me.”

    I noticed even more the woman sitting next to me, consumed by her tears. I struggled to keep my voice, as I begged through my own tears —
    “O Savior, stay this night with me…”

    I couldn’t finish the rest of the line. I closed the Hymn book and listened to the rest of the congregation complete the request for me.

    I haven’t been that taken by a hymn since my boy was born.

    We were, for one Sunday, part of the American Fork Hospital branch, run by a caring older couple each week for the benefit of the patients. My wife and I sat next to each other (she sat a little more gingerly that day than I). Hymn 169 contains this line:

    “We contemplate thy lasting grace, thy boundless charity.”

    Filled with the thrill of being a dad to my own little boy (and exhausted from the lack of sleep the previous nights) I thought about how much trust God was placing in us to take care of his child. It was an incredible and humbling thought. And then this line followed immediately:
    “To us the gift of life was giv’n…”

    It was all over for me at that point. We had literally been given a new life to take care of. Unfortunately, the hymn had two more verses to go, beginning with this:
    “As now our minds review the past, we know we must repent…”

    My gross and many errors came to mind, thinking how in the world am I expected to raise someone else if I’m so degraded? — I have to get my life back on track. The verse continued —
    “Forgiveness is a gift from thee we seek with pure intent.”

    It was as if this hymn was chosen specifically for me, specifically on this day, at the birth of my first boy.
    “The blessings of this day will linger in our thankful hearts…”

    My wife and I were holding hands tightly at this point, as we both fought to get through the hymn.
    “And silently we pray for courage to accept thy will… We love thee, Lord; our hearts are full.”

    I knew then for the first time what that sometimes trite phrase felt like. I was full of emotions of joy and incredible humility, and the hymn had touched me like no other.

    I’m not much of a weeper, but I’ve got an old softy side to me that sneaks up every once in a while. (I got it from my dad.) Sacred music can have incredible power, if we open ourselves up to it. Thanks for this post, Adam.

    Jon

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