Sacred Music: The Spirit of God (#2)
I’ve taken somewhat more of a traditional approach to sharing hymns that mean something to me. This suits my mind and the place where I am, and allows me to indulge in seeking for information about the Hymns that have inspired me.
The Spirit of God, in particular has an odd, personal history within me. Like most hymns, I recall singing it as slowly as a dead-man’s march as a youth, but I still liked it. I recall being taught that it was sung at the dedication of the temple in Kirtland. I recall visiting a ward in Provo when I was about 19 and finding the congregation belted the song in a passionate fashion that was foreign to my familiarity. This congregation especially enunciated the lyric, “SHOUT!”… and it felt good -and right– to hear such fervour at church. And I remember listening to the hymn as I made the 10 hour drive to the Brisbane temple a few years ago. I had been contemplating my anticipated temple visit, and this hymn — the imagery of the bursting veil—made the temple suddenly seem colourful, and bright and happy….. rather than white, blank and bland. It made me think of the temple as being a place that held a veil that was “beginning to burst” and that bright colours, as well as loud and joyous voices would one day sing and shout praises to God—
God. This is one of the hymns that uses the term, God. And so, I wonder now, if that itself was inspired to be reflective of the plural term, Elohim. Heavenly Parents—united as one God. The Spirit of God the Mother as well as God the Father, bringing peace to my heart. So, with joy, jubilation and peace– this song worked its way into becoming one of my favourites.
So for this post, I looked for the words of wise women on the subject of music, and I found my beloved Susa Young Gates’ article in the July 1922 Relief Society Magazine. This is a summary quote of her words in 1922 (My emphasis in bold):
The great interest taken in the study of our hymns suggests in inquiry into the history of the hymn book which has been so vital a part of the worship of our people for nearly a century. (349)
The Catholic and pagan churches had good and beautiful music always in their church services, but this music was formal in character and sung only by men or boys…With the violent breaking away from Catholic traditions, inaugurated by Martin Luther, in the music of the church, at least for all protestant churches, women were allowed to assist male singers. Hymns were sung at the opening and closing exercises by the whole congregation… (349)
In all protestant churches after the seventeenth century, with the exception of the English Episcopalian church, this custom of congregational singing was and is, followed largely; although within the last half century most protestant churches have hired quartets and choir leaders to carry on their musical worship. (349)
All of the founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out of these protestant churches and they brought with them this democratic custom of congregational singing. (350)
Gates then discussed the development of hymns within the Mormon church, and joyfully added this historical piece to the hymn that was growing to become one of my favourites:
A little story was told by the wife of Brother (William Wines) Phelps concerning this hymn. She said it was composed several days before the dedication ceremonies took place, and when the Prophet happened to come into the Kirtland printing office he found Brother Phelps there; the author read the hymn to the Prophet who was so cheered and uplifted with the spirit and words that he instructed Brother Phelps to publish it on white satin for the Dedicatory Services in the temple. (352)
I love the idea of white satin being used as a way to manifest the inspirational nature of the words of The Spirit of God. In this hymn where I found informal shouting, the vision of brightly coloured veils bursting in and through temples, the sense of united Heavenly Parents who form one God echoing Mark 10:8, and the voices of women being evenly matched to the voices of men. This combination as manifest in the hymn is passionately and deeply beautiful to me.
So I have chosen this song and this video, because an all-female choir suits my mind in representing the ideology of women having equal voice to men in regard to song, voice, assignment, revelation and position.