I’ve had a great couple weeks, full of mostly good things and a nice break from my everyday routines. But despite all the positives I’ve definitely noticed a slip in my spiritual momentum, which I attribute to being somewhat overcome by the spirit of digression.
I have a lot of thinking time built into my regular life, time I haven’t necessarily had to set aside but which just exists and is available to me without much effort on my part. I use it to think about things I like and find interesting, which, as of late, have been largely spiritual in nature. Over the last few weeks my built-in thinking time essentially disappeared and my efforts to carve out time or dedicate mental energy to anything spiritual were half-hearted and mostly unsuccessful. When I did manage to carve out time, I spent it on social media or email. A few times I planned to do some thinking before bed but after long days, I would climb in bed and start to drift off – not a state conducive to good thinking.
Generally I didn’t miss my thinking time while I was with family or friends or off enjoying beautiful scenery or doing other things I love. But in retrospect I have been missing the moments of peace and rest, that call me from a world of care.
Studying, pondering, praying….I’ve never been great at those things nor have I ever really enjoyed them so I always thought this phrase from Alma 32 was only applicable to the overly-churchy (those who talk a big game) or the next-level spirits (those who might as well just be twinkled right now because we all know where they’re going to end up), and I never expect to be a part of either group. But the surprising absence of spiritual nourishment I’ve felt over the last few weeks truly has helped me recognize the way all the studying, pondering, praying, etc. is delicious to me.
I believe in the benefits of dedicating time to spiritual pursuits and have seen how they truly enlarge my soul and enlighten my understanding.
The closest I get to being a true appreciator of poetry is when I read, or more often, listen to the words of hymns. So, when I came across this sentence the other day (part of an essay called A Defence of Poetry, by Percy Shelley), I immediately thought of how it applies to hymns:
Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.
When Shelley mentions the veil, he is probably not referring to the veil between this life and the next, but for me it’s an apt description of the way hymns help me to connect with the spirit, something I think of as being somewhat other-worldly. Lifting the veil isn’t just about seeing the world with new eyes, but it’s about opening or widening the connection I feel between me and the Lord.
At first the phrase “makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” seemed wrong. I thought of poetry (hymns) as helps in connecting with ideas or feelings on a deeper level, increasing familiarity. But I think familiar here refers to regular, everyday, background “objects” which have lost any real sense of meaning because they seem so commonplace. The principles I have internalized and the beliefs I have come to as a result of singing/listening to hymns were not new to me, but they were made unfamiliar, extraordinary, and meaningful.
I love what John Wesley (founder of Methodism) said in the preface to a hymnal he and his brother Charles (a prolific hymn writer) put together:
I’ve taken Wesley’s advice in returning to the hymns over and over again as a source of spiritual strength. Through years of spiritual torpor and ambivalence I never stopped loving this music and I’m grateful for the role hymns play in my life as poetic vehicles delivering the spirit, confirming faith and increasing my love for God and man.
Lately as I have been driving to work in the morning I’ve have had unexpected and lovely surges of positivity, and these surges will recur throughout the day. I have come to describe these surges as “feelin’ the love”. Sometimes it almost seems like a drug-induced trance, “Sure, cut me off on the freeway little blond girl, I’m feelin’ the love.” Or “Hey creepy Tinder guy, you’re inherently valuable as a human being, and it won’t be me, but you’ll find someone.” But mostly I feel incredibly loved myself, I feel incredibly grateful for everything that I have, and for all the people I know – friends, family and others, I realize how much I love those people, and I want to share that love in some fashion.
In my mind I relate these “feelin’ the love” moments to charity, traditionally defined as the pure love of Christ, though the use of the word “of” leaves that definition open to three possible interpretations:
1) The pure love of Christ for us, as demonstrated throughout His life and ultimately through the Atonement. Greater love hath no man than this...
2) Our pure love of Christ. We are told that developing this love is the first great commandment, and that we should always have this love in our hearts. This love dispels contention, causes us to hate evil, motivates us to keep the commandments and walk in his ways. Untold blessings are promised to them that love Him.
3) The pure love of Christ for others, extended through and emulated by us. We are essentially delivery mechanisms for this love as we try to instil our own approximation of that pure love for those around us. We are asked to follow Christ’s example, to walk the path that He has shown and go about doing good: to love our neighbors and our enemies, to be patient and kind, to visit the afflicted and succor those in need.
I am grateful that I am feeling the soul-warming love of Christ (in each of its forms) all around me with more and more frequency.
Continuing my hymn-oriented gospel studying….I was reading through How Firm a Foundation yesterday and about some of the history behind it. The song is structured so that the first verse sets up the foundation on which we should build (God’s word) and then the subsequent verses all come from various promises in the bible (third verse – Isaiah 41:10, seventh verse – Hebrews 13:5, etc.). But the one that I spent the most time on was verse four*:
Opposition in all things, the value of trials being greater than that of gold, the refiners fire, glorying in tribulation…I’ve heard all of these phrases over and over of course, but I’m not terribly good at remembering that all these things will give me experience and be for my good in the middle of “these things”. Most people aren’t of course.
The perspective I am gaining on the past, however, is allowing me to appreciate the value of problems that have passed. I was talking with my aunt a few days ago and we both mentioned some of the darkest periods of our lives and how, despite the utter misery we felt, neither of us would go back and change what happened. It is a little bit crazy not to want to avoid life-derailing despair, but for my part I can’t seem to be okay with losing everything I felt and learned.
It’s pretty easy to feel that way when the good experiences seem to be in the present and future and the worst experiences in the past, but I believe that “to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth.”
I wouldn’t consider my experience with Depression sacred or spiritual in any sense as my attempts to find a religious lifeline resulted in anger, frustration, and a feelings of being forgotten or unworthy or even valueless. I can’t really identify what pieces of the experience allowed me to arrive where I am now, but because of it I believe the promise of the fourth verse. I’m grateful for the sanctification I’ve received from my deepest distress.
*Verse four is added as one of those supplemental verses at the bottom of hymns that we never actually sing, despite the fact that most hymns include four verses as the “regulars”, and it’s a shame. This is one of the many changes I would like to propose for the next edition of the hymn book.
Continuing my reading/studying of hymns….I discovered that more hymns start with the word ‘Come’ than any other word. There are 23 hymns which begin with ‘Come’, and hymns starting with the word ‘God’ are next at 15. I don’t necessarily believe there’s a lot of significance to the first word of a hymn, the people on the church music committee who made the hymn selections had lots of factors they were considering, and I’m sure there were more important spiritual influences at work, or maybe all these ‘Come’ hymns just sounded nice. Who knows. But I do think it’s interesting
The second verse of Come, Follow Me specifically talks about the word ‘Come’ – Come follow me, a simple phrase, yet truth’s sublime, effulgent rays, are in these simple words combined. To urge inspire the human mind.
First of all you’ve got to love any hymn that uses the word ‘effulgent’. Second, to think that sublime rays of truth are contained in a phrase that we hear all the time is interesting. But that’s really what it’s all about. We are constantly coming to Christ, there is never an arrival point, we can’t come far enough…more coming is always required.
References to knocking at doors are used in the scriptures, wherein Christ is the knocker, I stand and knock, and He is seemingly coming to us, as well as references where we are the knockers, knock and it shall be opened unto you. But in either case, a degree of coming to Christ is required of us, whether it’s knocking or coming to open the door.
For my own part, I think I’ve been willing to follow and come to a point, but there are lines I hadn’t crossed. If there’s anything I’ve come to believe over the last few months it is that faith isn’t faith if it’s easy, and if it doesn’t include a little bit of stretching. Continuing to come, despite not knowing or feeling or wholly believing, is what faith looks like for me, and it’s been unbelievably rewarding.