One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the…
The new Joseph Fielding Smith manual for the Relief Society/Priesthood lessons presents a minor logistical problem—it has 26 lessons, which may mean teachers will have to drop two of the lessons (since two lessons each month are taught from the manual). Because of this I will post poems for the next few weeks so that teachers can choose from at least 4 of the lessons each week. The first lesson focuses on God, his attributes and nature, and our relationship with him. But while we have poems and hymns that discuss this, I though the following poem would be a different way of introducing and thinking about this subject.
For the coming year, I’ve decided to post poetry for use in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society classes two weeks ahead of when they would normally be used, instead of a week ahead as I’ve done in previous years. I’m doing this to allow teachers a bit more time to prepare and integrate the poetry into their lesson plans (if they wish to use the poetry), and because, in the case of the Priesthood/Relief Society manual, there are more lessons than can be covered in a year. Working two weeks ahead will give the teacher time to decide which lessons to drop, and still (I hope) have the poetry available on time.
Since Time named its Person of the Year this past week, and named a religious figure at that, it must be time to select the Mormon of the Year.
Finding Mormon poetry that talks about Christ is not hard at all. In fact, of all the Mormon poetry that I’ve read (considering only poems written by Mormon authors), the number of poems about Christ surpasses by far the number of poems about any other single individual. If this is a good proxy for what Mormons believe, then there is no doubt: Mormons worship Christ, not Joseph Smith. But the final Lorenzo Snow lesson for the year focuses on the mission of Christ, mentioning also that he has visited the earth in the latter-days and will come again. That particular mix of ideas is actually quite difficult to find in Mormon poetry (or at least in what I’ve collected so far). The following poem is nice, and its short, and actually does mention many (but not all) of the ideas in the lesson.
There is no shortage of poetry about Joseph Smith, the subject of lesson 23 of the Lorenzo Snow manual. But Snow’s views on Joseph Smith are focused not on his martyrdom or on his role as the initial prophet of this dispensation. Instead, Snow focuses on Joseph Smith’s character—an unusual subject for the early Mormon poetry I’ve collected so far. But the following poem does briefly mention some of Joseph Smith’s character traits:
Perhaps the most difficult issue in discussing the idea of Zion is defining exactly what we mean. Even though D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #46 is titled “Zion—The Pure in Heart,” its first section is titled “The word Zion has several meanings” and lists no less than six. Of these, I’ve seen evidence in Mormon poetry for two or three definitions. First, the early Mormon poets used Zion in a millennial sense, to mean “The New Jerusalem.” They also used ion to mean “The dwelling place of those who are exalted,” or perhaps even simply “Those who are exalted.” And, from the poetry I’ve read, it seems that Zion was also used to mean “The Church and its stakes” and “The members of the Church.” In the following poem John Lyon seems to use all three.
The Mormon conception of marriage is central to our theology and understanding of the next life. We see marriage as the beginning of eternal families, and a key element of eternal progression. Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson #45 explores this belief, but, I think, doesn’t quite get at how or why marriage might be so central to eternal life. The following poem may explain somewhat.
Mormons believe in being good citizens, and Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson #44 discusses a little how that is supposed to work. We are supposed to participate, obey the law and to serve others in our communities. But are there limits on this responsibility? How much should we give to our communities? Are there limits on the sacrifice we should make? Things we should not do? In the following poem, Eliza R. Snow lauds those who serve the Nauvoo community, in response to a very real need at the time: defense against mob violence. And some of the Nauvoo community ended up sacrificing their lives for the city.
Its been a decade or more since practicing “random acts of kindness” became a kind of fad here in the U.S. I’ve always liked the concept, and I’ve practiced it on occasion. But I don’t think its a substitute for the kind of doing good to others that Lorenzo Snow manual lesson #22 is talking about. While “random acts of kindness” might be a starting point, its no substitute for “mourning with those that mourn” or “comforting those that stand in need of comfort.” Perhaps the difference between the random, transitory nature of the “random acts of kindness” fad and the true care for others spoken of in Mosiah is behind what William W. Phelps is describing in his poem below:
What exactly is the “whole armor of God?” Lesson 43 of the Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine manual explores this concept, drawing from D&C 27:15-18, and its inspiration, Ephesians 6:13-18. But while both these scriptural texts point to principles that represent various pieces of body armor, its sometimes hard to see how these principles actually protect us. If we look at an actual struggle, what pieces of armor will we see in use? The following poem may provide some insight.
I’m usually a little uncomfortable when we discuss the evils of the world, as happens in Teachings of Lorenzo Snow lesson #21. Its not that I don’t see evil in the world, but its that I also see good there. And the optimist in me even sees some progress—the world getting better than it was. The following poem makes me wonder if the whole dichotomy of the world v. the kingdom of God should be seen in another way. Is the problem not, in part, that the world doesn’t see life from an eternal perspective? Is the world focusing on the here and now, on real circumstances and in the process forgetting and frustrating the better ideals that the gospel promotes? Or is it vice versa in some way? Can we even draw a neat line between the world and the kingdom of God, putting all the world on the side of evil?
The Mormon belief in continuing revelation (the subject of Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine Lesson #42) is rare if not unique among Christian religions, and it is one of the features of Mormonism most promoted. What is perhaps less discussed is the range of meanings of this term in Mormonism. We use it to mean everything from impressions each of us receive personally to written documents produced by the Prophet and accepted by the body of the Church as scripture. Revelation is perhaps most effective when it leads to a significant change in our behavior, or the behavior of the Church as a whole—when, as the following poem describes, it ‘turns a key’ to open a whole new perception of what our duties and blessings as members of the Church are.
The idea that every member is a missionary depends on a certain kind of commitment to the Church. For the Church to make the kind of progress outlined in D&C Gospel Doctrine Lesson 41 missionaries, even member missionaries, must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary. Recently, the level of commitment that some missionaries end up making has been very public — the Church seems to have switched policy and made public information about missionaries who died in the field. At last report the number who have died is up to 12 (probably fewer than the number of currently serving missionaries that would have died had they all stayed at home — but little consolation to relatives). The subject of this poem was the first missionary to die in the field outside of the United States. Enthusiastic when he left, Barnes wrote a long poem announcing his mission entitled The Bold Pilgrim (which I excerpted for D&C Lesson #11).
Temple and Family History work (discussed in Gospel Doctrine lesson #40) are perhaps the most unique of LDS doctrines. The doctrine behind them solves both the problem of making salvation universally available and the need for high-church ceremony in a religion that focuses on low-church ideals in its regular worship. The origin of this doctrine appeared in Mormonism in late 1840, and by the following year it was popular enough that it was the subject of the following poem.
We often use the phrase “a marvelous work and a wonder” to describe the restoration and subsequent spread of the gospel across the earth. And this work is marvelous and wonderful, as lesson 20 of the Lorenzo Snow manual discusses. As a story it has conflict and drama and surprise. And it is, I think, easy to see the hand of God moving the work forward. It may be, however, that the work doesn’t move forward in a straight line, continually growing and improving. Our history shows, I think, some steps back, times when problems led many to leave the Church and the number of active, participating members diminished. So, given that, what does “a marvelous work and a wonder” mean? The following poem is an excerpt, the first four stanzas of a longer, politically-oriented poem describing the Mormon situation in the 1880s—one of the most dramatic times in Mormon history. Still, despite the difficulties, its author opens the poem…
The doctrine of baptism for the dead is unique to Mormonism among religions today. Our focus on performing ordinances on behalf of those who haven’t been part of the Church in this life leads us to genealogical research to discover enough information to distinguish between individuals, and sometimes even allowing us to discover who our ancestors were—what kind of people they were and what were they like. While our family history efforts are rightly focused on getting temple work done for our ancestors, we should find value also in getting to know those ancestors, and in that way building eternal relationships with them. The records they left behind are the key to doing this, as the following poem illustrates.
Conductinng: Elder Henry B. Eyring Elder Quentin L. Cook: Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware Of Bondage Turning from the worship of the true and living God and worshipping false gods like wealth and fame and engaging in immoral and unrighteous conduct result in bondage in all its insidious manifestations. These include spiritual, physical, and intellectual bondage and sometimes bring destruction. Bondage, subjugation, addictions, and servitude come in many forms. They can be literal physical enslavement, but can also be loss or impairment of moral agency that can impede our progress. Addictions that impair agency, contradict moral beliefs, and destroy good health cause bondage. The impact of drugs and alcohol, pornography, gambling, financial subjugation and other afflictions impose on those in bondage and on society a burden of such magnitude that it is almost impossible to quantify. Addictions or predilections that while not inherently evil can use up our precious allotment of time which could otherwise be used to accomplish virtuous objectives. …
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf conducting. President Henry B. Eyring: To My Grandchildren I have seen those same tears of happiness in the eyes of someone who recounted the words of an apostle of God: He had said to her, after a searching and tender interview: “I forgive you in the name of the Lord. He will forgive you in His own time and in His own way.” And He did.
President Henry B. Eyring conducting. Elder L. Tom Perry: The Doctrines and Principles Contained in the Articles of Faith This doctrine is to the Church like a battery is to a cell phone. When you remove the battery from your cell phone it becomes useless. A church in which true doctrine is no longer taught is similarly useless. It cannot guide us back to our Heavenly Father and our eternal home.
President Uchtdorf conducting. President Henry B. Eyring: Sustaining votes of the General Authorities and Church Officers
President Eyring conducted this opening session. President Thomas S. Monson: Welcome to Conference I am happy to announce that two weeks ago the membership of the Church reached fifteen million. It has scarcely been one year since I announced the lowering of the age of missionary service. Since that time, the number of full-time missionaries serving has increased from 58,500 in October 2012 to 80,333 today. What a tremendous and inspiring response we have witnessed! Now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord’s vineyard to bring souls unto Him. He has prepared the means for us to share the gospel in a multitude of ways, and He will assist us in our labors if we will act in faith to fulfill His work.
Lorenzo Snow lesson 19 highlights several purposes for missionary work in its collected statements from Snow’s discourses. Clearly bringing the gospel to others is the chief purpose of this effort. Snow also suggests in these statements that missionary work is a sacrifice that missionaries make when they are sent out into the world. Perhaps the sacrifices that Snow himself made taught him the value of missionary work and the sacrifices made. Snow’s sister evidently thought these sacrifices were important, since she made them the subject of the following poem.
Often when we discuss the principles of welfare today, we talk as if the whole idea of welfare developed in the 1930s, along with the current program. In reality, before the current program caring for the needy, poor and promoting self-reliance were largely the purview of the Relief Society. And so it is a Song of the Sisters of the Relief Society (familiar today since it is the poem on which the current hymn, As Sisters in Zion, is based — Julie also posted here on Times and Seasons about this poem) that I present below to help us understand the principles of welfare.
In Mormonism our definition for the term Prophet is usually more specific than that employed outside of the Church. To us, a prophet is not only someone who has been inspired to prophesy, but it is also the president of the Church, the leader called to preside over the membership, the person who is to receive revelation for the Church, the chief teacher and the chief person who testifies of our Savior. There are other prophets, but we focus on THE Prophet. We didn’t always mean this in quite the same way–at least before 1848 THE Prophet was Joseph Smith, who still occupies something of a special place among prophets. That is the position taken by the author of the following poem, but in the process of describing Joseph Smith, he also illuminates something of what it means to be THE Prophet.
The place of Utah in LDS history is occasionally a topic of lessons like Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine lesson 36. And while today not all church members live in Utah or want to live there or feel that it is a place to admire, still, it is hard to argue with the fact that Utah played an important role in the formation of what Mormonism is today. As the lesson observes, the pioneers went to a place that no one wanted, a veritable desert, and created an impressive civilization. Its hard to say what they would think of Utah today. In some ways its not what they intended, or what they achieved some 30 or more years later when the following poem was written. Like all geographical locations, Utah, and its place in Mormonism, continue to evolve.
The world today treats leaders with honor and deference, giving those who manage to become leader of government and society the benefits available to the rich, while shielding them from many of the cares of life, and, at times, from their own errors and sins. Lesson 18 in the Lorenzo Snow manual makes it clear that such benefits and deference are not what Church leadership are about (and I wonder if governmental and other leadership shouldn’t also avoid these trappings). Instead, Church leadership is about serving others, and whatever benefits from that leadership should come after this life. The following poem says as much about the Church’s second prophet and president, Brigham Young.
In recent years the attention on the tragedy of the Martin and Willie handcart companies seems to have increased. Their situation and rescue has been the subject of books and movies (and lessons) in a process that seems to mythologize the events. The current lesson (#35 in the Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine manual) explores the saving nature of the rescue, and compares that to the Savior’s atonement and our own responsibility to save those who are lost. The following poem helps to set the stage for this discussion, describing the difficulty and the courage necessary to face it.
When we discuss the Mormon trek, the focus is almost always on the physical suffering that many of the immigrants endured while traveling west. While certainly the physical struggle to cross the plains (covered in Doctrine and Covenants Lesson 34) was difficult, the pioneers suffered in other ways also. For example, many left family behind, generally compounded by their conversion to Mormonism, and often assuming that they would never see their family members again. The poem below describes just such a situation.