Monday, March 24, 2008

Top 10 Favorite LDS Hymns

These do not necessarily appear in the order that I like them most. Even picking 10 of the over 300 hymsn in the LDS hymn book is hard for me to do, but I've selected 10 of my favorites and shared them here.

1. I Know that My Redeemer Lives (Hymn 136)

I frequently sing this song as a lullaby to my baby. Its refrain, as a result, is constantly in my mind and I hear the lyrics of "He lives to wipe away my tears, he lives to calm my troubled heart" and I'm given comfort that it was my Savior who did just that for me when I was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And now, as a mother, I am given the strength and faith to do just that for my child, while I also teach the other precious truths in this hymn.

2. How Great Thou Art (Hymn 86)

One of the parts of my testimony that is most sacred to me is my appreciation for God's creation and the earth I live on. This hymn captures my gratitude and love for my life, and my God who gave me life. I frequently sing this when I am struck by the beauty for the earth around me, while all the while feeling the pang oh homesickness knowing that this earth, however beautiful it is, is still subject to death, disease and destruction. This hymn presents this dicotomy of appreciate for the wonder of life with the hope of eternal life and the joy of being back in the presence of God.

3. For the Beauty of the Earth (Hymn 92)

This hymn was a welcome sight to me when I first sang it after my baptism. I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist religion and this hymn is also found in their hymnal. I was glad to recognize it as it was my favorite hymn from that hymn book. It like How Great Thou Art describes the wonder and appreciation for the earth on which we live, as well as underscores the importance of human and family relationships. It was for these reasons that I fondly remember singing this hymn at my grandmother's funeral at the Unitarian church she attended 4 years after my baptism into the LDS church.

4. I Need Thee Every Hour (Hymn 98)

In the six years since I became a member of the LDS Church, I have sang out (as well as inwardly) the lyrics to this hymn a number of times when I'm in need of the comfort of the Spirit of God. It remains a favorite of mine for that reason.

5. Be Still My Soul (Hymn 124)

This is another hymn that I sing when I'm in need of comfort and a reminder of the purpose of trials in life. But its not just the words of this song that make it a favorite, but its also the characteristics of the melody. To me, it is haunting with sweet cresendos of hope and light. When I sing it, I think of sunlight breaking through the dark clouds in my spirit.

6. In Our Lovely Deseret (Hymn 307)

Within the first year after my baptism, I heard this hymn sung for the first time at an Institute class. The melody is upbeat and happy. As a preschool teacher, it appeals to me because of the description of young children in the lyrics. When I hear it, I think of primary aged children all around and it makes me smile at the joy of the sight. But what got me about this hymn was the second verse, "That the children may live long and be beautiful and strong, tea and cofee and tabacoo they despise, Drink no liquor and the eat but a very little meat. They are seeking to be great and good and wise." I could not help myself but laugh at these lyrics. I was surprised (and impressed) to see such a clever rhyme about the Word of Wisdom. I still laugh when I sing it.

7. Lead, Kindly Light (Hymn 97)

As a convert to the LDS Church, I identify with the lyrics of this hymn because I know from experience the change from walking through life merely on my own direction as opposed to walking with the guidance and direction of God. I knew the darkness and gloom, and the sense of being far from home without a refuge in the world. And thn I learned where to find the light I was searching for and found the hope and peace of the gospel. I also love the description of faith in this hymn, "Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distance scene- one step enough for me." I've learned to walk in faith and face the unknown to find that my way is lit before me after I take the step into the darkness. I can have faith when encountering the bumps of life- the not knowing how or where or what to go and do next.

8. If You Could Hie to Kolob (Hymn 284)

Apart from the beautiful melody that this song has, I love it for the speculation into the creation of the earth, its part in the universe, the immensity of space and existence, as well as the infinity of eternity. These are the aspects of the gospel that make my mind hurt if I think about them too long, but they are what I yearn to understand when I am capable of it. It is this that drives my interest in astronomy and wanting to understand as much as I can about life and God while I'm alive. The hymn reminds me again of my desire to in some ways be done with this life so I can be with God again and get all the answers to my questions that cannot be answered by man on earth and which have not and will not be revealed.

9. Oh My Father (Hymn 292)

A theme is emerging through this list of my favorite hymns, and that is the desire of my heart to return to live with God after this life is over. I truly do want "to regain thy presence and again behold they face." I must remember however that I will not be able to do so until I've "completed all you sent me forth to do" so that "with your mutual approbation, Let me come and dwell with you." I also love this hymn because it mentions the LDS belief of Heavenly Mother by stating, "In the heav'ns are parents single? No the thought makes reason stare. Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I've a mother there." That's another burning question (or series of) that I desire to learn more about.

10.There is Sunshine in My Soul Today (Hymn 227)

As I stated previously, I felt that my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ rescued me from figurative darkness and gloom. So while Lead, Kindly Light may be a reminder of that, the hymn There is Sunshine in My Soul Today is my feelings of coming out on the other side of that change in my life. When I sing this song it is with joy in finding the gospel and gratitude for the happy, joyfilled moments of living of the gospel. Whenever I sing it, however, I make one slight change in the words. The refrain ends, "When Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in the soul," but I sing it "there in sunshine in MY soul."

The Accomplice to My Shame

I realize now.
I live in a climate of willfull ignorance, refusing to be aware.
Instead, hiding behind my excuses.
"I didn't know."
"I was just doing what I was told."
But now I know.
I will not do what I'm told.
Because what I was told is not right.
The abuses against the vulnerable,
the women heavy with new life,
ought to be called crimes against humanity.
But now I know,
I'm not the victim.
I am an accomplice.
With that knowledge, a bitter, revolted wave washes over me.
I cannot have peace knowing this is what I did to myself.
My own refusal to be more aware, to find what I needed to know--
Its out there, because I've found it now--
has made me the unknowing partner in the abuse
that left me damaged and weak.
After the hurt, I had a choice.
I could have desired to not know.
Never to acknowledge my part in it.
I could have blamed everyone else besides me and say,
"I was victim to my circumstance. They were wrong and I couldn't have known."
And then become a self-indulgent coward.
Participating in the type of cowardice that makes it possible for people to allow and participate in all the injustices and crimes of the world.
Perpetuating abuse by turning a blind eye.
But I learned.
Choosing to be unaware of another's suffering,
even my own, is no excuse for inaction.
I cannot chose willful ignores that exonerates me from culpability,
releasing me into a stupor of cowardice and irresponsibility.
I am facing the part of my blame.
Taking responsibility for my ignorance and inaction.
With this insight, I can choose to not be a victim again.
I will not let that abuse happen to me
And will work so that it does not happen to others.
I am aware. Now I know.
I will no longer be an accomplice to my shame.

This poem was inspired by the text from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the commentary of it written by Jean-Yves LeLoup. The text is written:
Then it entered into the third climate
known as Ignorance.
Ingornance inquired of the soul:
'Where are you going?
You are dominated by wicked inclinations.
Indeed, you lack discrimination, and you are enslaved.'

I feel that consquence of PTSD after childbirth, was in large part caused by my "wicked inclination" to avoid responsibility for the birth my child and hand it over to those who would take the responsibility upon themselves who for fear of culpability and litigation would act conservatively and agressively when treating my pregnancy and child. I did not have or did not seek out the discrimination (another word being discernment)to learn what my responsibility and role in birthing my child would be. I had false assumptions of my responsibility, my provider's responsibility and the roles we could play respectively. Because I did not take the time to make myself aware of the realities of birthing in a hospital environment, I became enslaved to their policies, their time schedule, their need to clear beds out quickly. And because of my ignorance, which is some ways could be labeled willful, I became one of the causes to my hurt. In the end, I was an accomplise because I did not seek out the information to make more appropriate decisions.

After my child's birth, I turned to research and publications about appropriate labor support and found that the information was out there that would have told me to avoid the controlling, rigid hospital environment for the birth of my child. I found that information after the fact and realized I hadn't educated myself and take the responsibility I needed to in order to prevent the abuse that was perpetuated against me. Of course, I know better now, so I can make different choices in subsequent pregnancies. I also have a level of empathy for other women who may have experienced similar feelings of rape, and control over their bodies in a sensitive and vulnerable time.

The experience also gave me an understanding of the power of God to create and bring forth life, the love he has for his children, and the awesomeness of life and existence. I have increased faith in God's processes of how babies are born, and the inate ability of the women of God to birth babies in love, gentleness and joy, all the while, experience the stuggle and labor of childbirth. The act of birthing a child is so very awe inspiring with the contradiction of love and joy in the midst of pain, and struggle. It is a real world example of the principle of the gospel states that we must know pain and suffering to understand happiness and joy, or else remain in total innocence knowing neither.

The Fruit of the Tree of Life

walked through wide open fields, mists of fog, along a flowing river,
until I came to a path that ran straight and true.
Culminating in a hill topped with a tree,
laden with heavy fruit.
It was pure and ripe, full of sweetness in its plump rosy flesh.
Delicious to the taste, desirable above all other fruits.
The fruit therof promised new life, full of wonder.
Ripe for the picking.

As I looked across the expanse of the hilltop,
I saw families gathering.
Fathers supporting mothers who like the tree were heavy laden and round.
Children watched as the process of new life unfolded before them.
Mothers leaned into their husbands,
and clinging, found support from a rod of iron leading to the tree.
A few looked distracted, their attention pulled from their task.

I followed their gaze to a large building off in the distance.
From the windows of the building, women leaned jeering with IVs in their arms.
Others, bedridden, looked from their beds to the women under the shade of the tree and scoffed.
Orderlies and attendants in white and shades of blue, hands covered in latex, mouths obscured by masks, too assumed the manner of mocking those beneath the tree.

The ashamed left their pleasant spot and found the path to the spacious building
where they joined the ranks of IV inserted, bed ridden, hermetically garbed.
There they were cut open, blood pouring from their wound. The pure fruit of their womb stained and bloodied.
Once sutured, they were expelled from the building in shame and hurt.
Then drowned in the depths of their sorrow.

While those undeterred by the jeers and mockery, birthed their babies in bliss and security.
And truly came to know the deliciousness of the fruit of love.

Harmony and Healing

Be in harmony;
a musical resonance in tune with all that is.
No willing or desiring of particulars
fixated on illusions separate from the flow of life.
Finding this resonance in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.
Tuning to our adversary,
in accord with those who offend
Not to simply give in and let them have their way.
Confronting the adversary without adding to and provoking new violence.
Skillfully allowing their violence to pass through us.
Without allowing the poison of their intent to contaminate.
To awaken a consciousness within them of their own trouble.
Turning the other cheek to those who strike.
The other cheek
To offer the same would be masochism, weak acquiescence.
Instead, offering new and unexpected oppostion,
standing our ground,
refusing to be a preditable object;
one that is acted upon.
Willing to face the unavoidable friction and conflict.

Where is the harmony? Is it possible when each attempt end in conflict?
First, we must be in harmony with ourselves.
The first possibility to be in harmony with others is to be in harmony with all aspects of ourselves.
No aspect claiming superiority over another,
integrating instead of dominating.
When finding ourselves out of balance within ourselves,
not seeking indulgence, justification or self-blame.
Acknowledging inner discord: fear, panic and hurt,
then finding inspiration
through the manifestations of peace that in within ourselves;
given by the Spirit of love ebbing throughout the universe
Seeking that integration of all part of our whole, leaving nothing out.

Then once again, turning to attune the vibrations of our souls with the souls of those around us.
Finding the strength to balance and be reconciled.
To be in harmony with ourselves before trying to harmonize with the world.

This poem was insprired by a commentary written by Jean-Yves LeLoup, translator of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene into French and then English. His insights into the text of this gnostic gospel turned my thoughts to the discordant environment I found myself in when I was pregnant with my child. My prenatal care, labor support and birth experience created an adversarial environment between my health and my baby's well-being, where I sought to do what the gospels say: "Be in harmony;" "Be reconciled to thy brother;" "And unto him that smiteth thee on one cheek, offer also the other." I struggle to apply these concepts to my birthing experience, feeling that doing any other that fighting would have further traumatized and damaged me. But then to realize that through standing my ground and not being "an object to be acted upon," that I was turning the other cheek as instructed by the Savior.

At the same time I realized that I was not fully in harmony with myself going into birthing my child. I failed to integrate two important aspects of my being: intellectual preparation and spiritual reliance. Why was I shocked at the care I received at the hospital? I did not take the time to read what the maternity care system is like in the US. Knowing what I know now from my crusade as a birth activist could have prevented the heartache I experienced because I probably would have made different choices regarding the care providers I worked with. Also, I went into labor trusting my body and surrenduring to the natural process of birth. I only acknowledged the aspect of will and body in my being, but left out the spirit. Once again I didn't take the time to do what was necessary: to turn to my God who gave me life, the life that is my own and the life of my unborn child. I failed to "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding." If I had done so, I would have been more prepared and stronger in facing the birthing environment and care providers there.

How I Came to Be Jenneology

I was introduced to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through my dad. He was a substitute teacher in the local school system and was told by one of his students about a show for a performing company for children and teenagers. I was hesitant to go because earlier that year my dad and I had had a falling out. I knew that this was his attempt at reconciliation. I am so glad that I went to that performance. I knew that I wanted to join the company and dance on stage with them. A few months later, I joined the group and found that the director, producer and many of the performers were LDS. At that point in my life, I was atheist attending the Unitarian Universalist Church so it was very difficult for me to comprehend my dad's death from a car accident just 6 weeks after joining the company. I became depressed, despondent and spent a year barely living each week. But I was in the perfect place to get my questions answered and to receive the consolation that I desperately needed. I needed to know that I would see my dad again, that the end of this life is not the end of existence and how I could be with my dad again. I started asking members of the performing company about the LDS views on the afterlife and the purpose of this life. A family gave me a copy of M. Russel Ballard's book "Our Search for Happiness." After reading it, I knew that I had to learn more. I started attending church and meeting with the missionaries. I prayed to know that God was real and received the sweet assurance from the Spirit that God knows and loves me. I was taught that I could be with my dad forever through the ordinances of the priesthood in the temple. I found that the gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses all truth and beauty found in this world and that my search for truth and meaning brought me to the true Church of God on the earth. In October of 2001, I was baptized. At the time of my baptism I felt that the following scriptures described how I felt:

Rev. 21:4-5
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things anew. And he said unto me, write: for these words are true and faithful."

I felt new that I had started a new life and that the gospel has turned the pain of losing my dad into joy. My tears had been wiped away and I knew that I would never have to think that death was the end of existence again.

Because of my depression, I felt like Alma has he described his conversion story in Mosiah 27:28-29:

"Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.

29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more."

Since my baptism six years ago, I have experienced great joy as I attended Institute, studied the scriptures and learned the deeper doctrine of the gospel and had my unending questions answered. In 2002, when attending my high school graduation, I happened to sit next to a friend of mine who hadn't seen me since before I joined the church. After talking for awhile, she asked me "What happened to you? When we were hanging out you were always so sad but now you are so happy." I couldn't not explain to her the change that had taken place in my life so I told her about the gospel and my conversion. She was interested in knowing more so I invited her to Institute for a fireside. She started attending Church and I was privileged to work with the missionaries in teaching her the doctrines of the church. She was baptized 364 days after me.

I also had the joy of being guided to attend BYU in Provo where 3 weeks after I transferred there as a junior, I met the man who became my husband. I remember the overwhelming joy I experienced as I waited in the dressing room of the Salt Lake Temple to be sealed to him and I fell to my knees overcome with joy. We are now expecting our first baby who is due to be born in a few short months. The happiness I've known being married to Peter surpasses any previous happiness I've known.

One of the activities of the church that has brought the greatest amount of joy in my life is doing the temple work for my family members who have passed away. A few months after my baptism and on my first trip to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, I witness the proxy baptism for my dad and felt the assurance of the gospel that he had accepted those ordinances. I felt the same joyous assurance when I completed the work for my grandmother who passed away a few months after my dad. I didn't know how she would receive those ordinances but I knew because of the feelings of the Spirit that I experienced that she accepted those ordinances. Since those experiences, I've felt strongly compelled to work on my family history and I thoroughly enjoy the spirit of Elijah in my life as I excitedly find new information.

I have experienced some disappointments and losses since joining the church but I don't experience the same degree of fatalistic despair that I knew before being changed by the gospel. My mother has yet to join the church and it has been a struggle for me to wait patiently for her to find that the time is right. One of the most bittersweet experiences I've ever encountered was when she told in a Christmas letter a few years ago to "Keep trying." In 2006, four years after my baptism, my mom and I watched my grandmother slowly pass away after a debilitating stroke. But this time, I wasn't plunged into the same confusion and darkness as when I lost my dad. I had the sweet assurance of the gospel to comfort me so I knew that she was free from the bondage that her body had been subjected to.

In 2007, our first child was born. We have had great joy watching him develop and learn new things. But the happy event of his birth was marred by a traumatic and abusive birth environment. While adjusting to motherhood, I struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by inappropriate treatment by hospital staff. But the love I felt for my child from God and my husband was enough to give me strength. I have been chronicling my struggle with that on my
birth advocacy blog .

I share these struggles to show that although I feel I was give a new life with my baptism, I still suffer the pains and sorrows of life. I still have faced death. But my life as a member of the LDS church and my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gives me hope that someday, after this life, I will know the peace and joy John described in Revelations.