In our lives as Saints, we come to know what feelings and state of mind are associated with the Holy Ghost. I remember experiencing that feeling for the first time when I was six years old. It was in the days when we had Sunday School in the morning, went home for lunch and then returned to church around 3pm for Sacrament meeting. (Something we’ve lost with the three-hour-block system is the evening meeting: in the winter, those afternoon sacrament meetings would end at dusk and the evening hymns were especially poignant. We don’t often get to sing them in context any more. There’s something moving about singing, as the daylight fades in the windows, “O Saviour, stay this night with me; behold, ‘tis eventide.” Hmmm.)
Anyway, back to my story. It was an afternoon sacrament meeting, except on a glorious summer day. I had left the chapel for a bathroom break, and as I wandered down the hall I looked into the primary room which was deserted and quiet. There was a piano there, which was always an irresistible draw for me, so I went in and sat down at the piano bench. Through the window behind the piano, the late afternoon sun was lighting up the big cumulus clouds in a deep blue sky. There was a hymn book there which I leafed through until I came to Love At Home. My reading was pretty rudimentary, but I started to make my halting way through a verse, playing just the melody. When I finished, I sat with that hymn resonating in my mind, looking out of the window through the trees at the beautiful clouds, and I was filled with a feeling of peace and joy and what I can only describe as “clarity”. I had the thought come into my mind, more of a feeling really, “I love you; you are in the right place; life is good; you are my son.” That was nearly 50 years ago, but I can still see the scene from that window as though it were yesterday.
I remember on my mission riding my bicycle through the residential streets of Las Vegas one day and being amazed that I could remember all seven verses of A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. I don’t really know where that came from – I didn’t ever sit down and memorize it, but it was sitting in there in my brain anyway. What a beautiful spirit enveloped me as I went through the whole narrative in my head. Then I remembered a line from my patriarchal blessing, that on my mission I would come to know the truthfulness of King Benjamin’s teaching, that when you are in the service of your fellow men, you are only in the service of God. I felt I was reaping the blessings of service like the narrator of the hymn, in my small way.
Which brings me to my final point: memorization is a great thing when it comes to the songs of Zion. It’s rare these days that I ever pick up a hymnbook in church. I don’t mean to brag, but I can generally sing melody, tenor or bass and all the verses of most of the common hymns (and some less common ones, with a little prompting along the way). Okay, I’m bragging. But it amazes me that people who have been singing these songs all their lives still need to read the words to Come, Come Ye Saints or I Need Thee Every Hour. Let no one who calls himself a Latter-day Saint require a book to sing We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet – all three verses! Let the hymns in; let them become part of the fabric of your being. They will bless your spiritual life.
One last illustration: I once sat in a bishop’s council with a man who could not see his way out of his predicament; he couldn’t see how he could follow the bishopric’s counsel and repent; he was distraught and in tears. An inspiration came to me and I looked around to find a hymn book. Shockingly there were none to be found (bishops, take note: a hymn book should sit on your desk beside the scriptures). No matter, I had the verse that I needed in my head, a quaint, folksy ditty that I had always thought trite, but now spoke with great power: “… Eyes that are wet now ere long will be tearless: blessings await you in doing what’s right. Do what is right, let the consequence follow … God will protect you, then do what is right!” Simple, but powerful advice. The Spirit encircled us with fire as I quoted those lines to one “encircled about”, as Alma puts it, “with the everlasting chains of death”; and when the Spirit burns, it is a sign that you’re on to something good. I was grateful that day for my habit of memorizing.