Singing A Capella

The name C.L. Bruno may not mean anything to you, but you’ve heard of her before. She’s smart and insightful and, well, bored. She’s guest posting with us for a couple of weeks. Welcome!

Last Sunday my daughter had her missionary farewell–oops, I mean, she gave a talk in her singles ward, along with another young man who was going on a mission. The two sang an arrangement of “A Marvelous Work.” The boy’s father, an accomplished musician, accompanied them on the piano. I, the proud mother, thought they did a fabulous job. Except, in the middle of the song, the piano stopped playing. At first, I and the rest of the congregation simply thought they were singing a cappella. Their voices blended wonderfully. But then the boy cast a glance at his father, and I realized the pianist was frantically searching for a missing page. He finally found his place, came in on the last page, and all had stayed on key. My daughter told me later she was shaking and clinging to the podium during the “a cappella” section.

This incident made me ponder the times when we are singing a cappella through life. Sometimes it feels as if the Lord has deserted us; left us without accompaniment in this lone and dreary world.

Is he really right there with us all the time, totally involved in our lives, and due to lack of spiritual sensitivity we just can’t tell? (a la: Footprints in the Sand) Does he withdraw for a time so that we can learn and grow? Or has he placed us here to make our own way through life by faith, with little or no personal contact? At times in my journey, I’ve subscribed to each of the three positions.

1. The most scriptural support comes down on the side of the first option. “and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20) In fact, D&C 59:21 warns us that God’s anger is kindled against those who do not acknowledge his hand in all things. I would like to think that the Lord himself is continually taking a very personal interest in the details of my small life. But the only people I know who really live this philosophy are just a bit kooky. My friend TJ, a born-again Christian, believes as Corrie Ten-Boom that any little flea that comes along is there for a cosmic purpose. Whenever TJ so much as drops an egg on the floor, she will loudly proclaim, “Praise the Lord!”

2. When mankind turned to wickedness in the days of Noah, Jehovah told them, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” (Gen. 6:3; see also 2 Ne. 26:11 and D&C 1:33)
Perhaps this is true not only for the wicked, but for all. In the temple, where Adam and Eve stand as representatives of the human race, the Lord tells them that he will go away, but he will return and give them instructions from time to time. Many mainstream Latter-day Saints seem to hold this view.

3. You need not run the risk of being branded an apostate if you hold the third view. It is a comfortable place for Latter-day Saints who believe that “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) We have the scriptures and the revealed word of the Lord to direct us through life. This is enough to guide us and bring us back into the Father’s presence without the necessity of his personal intervention in the affairs of the common person.

How are we to know if the Lord is carrying us through the sand when it feels as if we are singing alone into the wind? Does a strong faith necessitate a belief in his ongoing presence? Should we strive to assimilate one of these paradigms, or is it OK to just follow what we’ve been told, cling to the podium, and wait for the accompanist to come back in?


  1. I’m reminded of Sections 121 and 122:

    How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

    Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I loved the story and the way you turned it into an entree to your subject. Nicely done.

    I think I would go with your last sentence.

  3. I’m reminded of the episode in the OT where Saul was moping around praying and being religious, trying to get the Lord to tell him how to fight Israel’s enemies, while his loyal son Jonathan was out in harm’s way, fighting Saul’s battle for him (and paying the price, as I recall). I think most of the time God just wants us to roll up our sleeves and get things done with the tools and knowledge we already have. Revelation is overrated. We’re singing a capella most of the time, whether we know it or not.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Great post, CL. Which alternative do you go with, yourself?

  5. Great post! I’m one of the kooks who believes in 1. =) I think he’s always there, as close as we want him to be. (If we want him to go away and leave us alone, he will do that too.) But sometimes we can’t feel his presence, either because of our own drifting or because we need room to grow and learn, or both. Also, there are probably lots of reasons we don’t really understand, as well.

    I’m beginning to feel that every egg that’s dropped is indeed for the best, if only because the splatter of yolk on a white floor makes a lovely pattern! I do tend to see fleeting beautiful cloudscapes and such things as personal gifts, just little jewels of experience tossed at our feet for our pleasure and edification. I do see everything around us as beaming God’s love at us with delicate strength. The wind caresses our brows, the bird song delights our ears, or crickets sing hallelujahs at evening, etc. I believe all these things and myriads of others are gifts for our joy and comfort. But they are subtle and delicate, so as not to offend any of those who don’t want such intrusions. Waking up your eyes and heart to see them is neat!

    I guess the answer is different for every one of us. For me, though, it seems I discover again and again that even when it seemed like he wasn’t there, he was there. =)

  6. I’ve heard people bear testimony of God changing the stoplights to green so that they could get to work on time, which I must confess struck me as a bit strange. (Then, again, God is sometimes strange.) I don’t tend to see God as a micromanager, carefuly arranging every event in our day-to-day lives; I’m not sure that human agency means much if that’s what’s going on. On the other hand, I like the idea that we live in a world of grace, that God’s love is always there reaching out to us. So I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts on this.

    By the way, my favorite version of “Footprints in the Sand” ends with the lines:

    “During your times of trial and suffering,
    when you see only one set of footprints,
    that was when we hopped!

  7. I’m thinking about my experience as a mommy. I have a very strong willed 2 year-old. A lot of times when she is working things out, or about to make a horrible mess of things it takes all my willpower to just sit back and let her get through it. I think that God is involved in my life in the same sort of way. He’s there, he’s watching, he’s hoping that I decide to set the jar of jam carefully back on the counter, and I think he even laughs a little at my sticky eyebrows, but he will come help me clean up my messes and wipe the tears from my eyes when I’m ready for it. He will hold me and rock me to sleep when I am afraid if I will let him. But he knows that he has to stand back sometimes and just watch things fall apart. It’s part of letting me grow up.

  8. Tatiana, sometimes we do need more kooks in this world.

    Steve, as I said, I’ve been in all three places. Right now I lean toward the second option–God goes away and leaves us from time to time. My favorite Footprints version is now this one:

    Buttprints in the Sand

    One night I had a wondrous dream,
    One set of footprints there was seen,
    The footprints of my precious Lord,
    But mine were not along the shore.

    But then some strange prints appeared,
    And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?”
    Those prints are large and round and neat,
    “But Lord, they are too big for feet.”

    “My child,” He said in somber tones,
    “For miles I carried you along.
    I challenged you to walk in faith,
    But you refused and made me wait.”

    “You disobeyed, you would not grow,
    The walk of faith, you would not know,
    So I got tired, I got fed up,
    And there I dropped you on your butt.”

    “Because in life, there comes a time,
    When one must fight, and one must climb,
    When one must rise and take a stand,
    Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

  9. Part of what God does for me is invest my life and choices with divine meaning. When it comes down to it, without God, how can even the grand sweeps of history have meaning when you put them in their true perspective in time and space? Face it, we are a brand new species (10 million years is an eyeblink beside the universe’s 13 billion), living on a tiny mote in space (the Earth is a miniscule speck in the vast ocean of the solar system, ditto the solar system in our galaxy, ditto the galaxy in our cluster, etc. up to the level of our universe). The whole story of life on earth is about as important as a single bacteria spot in a petri dish somewhere, without God. It’s exactly the same kind of thing as that.

    So where does this idea we have come from that traffic lights are not important enough for God to pay attention to? Our perspective isn’t his. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. I expect he knows a good deal about what goes on in the quantum mechanical level of the atoms and quarks that make up our bodies. The gnat I accidentally swallowed on my run yesterday may have a story that God cares about. He probably loves that gnat.

    My guess is that the whole vast tapestry of space and time is a gigantic work of art, one in which we all are collaborating with God. Probably there’s no better sequence of traffic light firings that will suit all the trillions of purposes God might have in mind. (laughs) I really do think that such things are interwoven, with my story and the stories of all the other beings (human and otherwise) that encounter those particular traffic lights that morning, being optimized, in some way. Of course, the free agency of the engineers and designers is also being expressed.

    So, yeah, definitely one of the kooks! :-P

  10. C.L.,

    People will say that when tragedy strikes in their lives, something all of us have experienced to one degree or another, that oftimes they feel an overwhelming comfort that is attributed to the Spirit. For instance at a funeral or the aftermath of some hospital stay where the loved one survived.

    Knowing that I cannot comprehend the suffering of watching a loved one “blown-up” on the streets of Bagdad, or perhaps worse witnessing the death of a child from starvation in some other corner of the world, I wonder if this same “feeling” of comfort follows these people’s lives.

    My stuff pales by comparison having had only to deal with the occasional wayward child, financial disappointment and relationship hassles. I know the peace is available and that He can in fact be involved in our lives but I think that involvement is not ever-present hand holding.

    I read with interest the different versions of the “footprints” saga. My take for just over a decade now has been that when we see the one set of footprints, they are our footprints. The Lord understanding the end from the beginning, knows when we need to stand on our own two feet to utilize the spiritual genetics that His and our Father passed on to us.

    And even though the pages to the music are not temporarily misplaced but rather temporarily unused, He is ready to start tickling the ivories when He sees that we have achieved the growth that He had in mind. Not to spend too much time waxing metaphorically, but it will always be better for us coming out of a trial to be in the same key as the Master.

    I recently performed a selection from the hymn book A Capella in a Stake Meeting and felt my Savior with me; two sets of footprints. There have also been the times when some task or some news was seemingly so devastating, that (IMHO) I needed to experience growth for a moment, some moments longer than others. I was alone; one set of footprints; mine.

    There have been many thoughts on why the Savior on the cross states, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me.” I would propose that this was one of many times the Savior was at least partially, on His own.

  11. I’m with Tatiana. I’m one of those annoying people who can pray, open the scriptures, and have an answer jump off the page at me.

    However, I think that God generally gives us the bare minimum of what we need (when we ask for it).

  12. Pemble, That was lovely. I’m glad you brought up the Savior on the cross. Surely if God was ever present with us, he would be ever present with His Son. And if he was indeed with Christ at the moment of crucifixion, why did Jesus feel forsaken?

  13. Most of my life, I subscribed to 2 or 3. At this point in my life, I subscribe mostly to 1.

  14. Behind door # 3 you said:

    We have the scriptures and the revealed word of the Lord to guide us through life…

    I just read in the last week or so the news report of president Hinckley’s first press conference. When he was asked what he had planned for the church, he replied with words very much like your words I’ve quoted. It struck me that when it comes to church administration, GBH himself think of God in a more hands-off way than perhaps many members would feel comfortable acknowledging.

  15. All 3 doors exist. You have to go through door 3 [the scriptures and the prophets] and door 2 [patience in waiting for the Lord’s help] to get to something like door 1. If we’re not willing to obey the scriptures and the prophets, obviously the Lord is not going to give us additional revelation. And if we’re impatient with the Lord and act on our own, then we’ll miss many revelations. But even when we reach door 1, door 1 depends on how much we want it. For example, if we are interested in doing mediocre visiting teaching or hometeaching, medicre home evenings, mediocre prayers, then revelation is not needed to be mediocre. But if we really want to bless other families and our own families, then we do all we can. But we know that our mightest efforts are insufficient without the Lord’s assistance; therefore, we seek His assistance to aid our utmost efforts. That’s when revelation comes – and comes on a regular basis.

  16. I agree with 3,6, and 14…

    I think D&C 58: 26-27 is fairly clear on the matter.

    26. For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all thiings; for he that is compelled in all things the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; therefore he receiveth no reward.
    27. Verily I say, men (and women) should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

    Thank goodness I have an opportunity to prove my self, use my agency and practice what I have learnt…

  17. tluck 16

    Sometimes D&C 58:26-27 is misused to mean that revelation is often not necessary. But look at the previous 2 verses when the Lord says:

    24 And now, as I spake concerning my servant Edward Partridge, this land is the land of his residence, and those whom he has appointed for his counselors; and also the land of the residence of him whom I have appointed to keep my storehouse;
    25 Wherefore, let them bring their families to this land, AS THEY SHALL COUNSEL BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND ME. [CAPS ADDED]

    In other words, counseling with the Lord is a part of “being anxiously engaged.” How could we possibly be “anxiously engaged” and not even seek the Lord’s counsel?

  18. YL
    I appreciate your perspective and agree at times in our lives we need to seek Fathers councel but I think (beleive) that we can be “anxiously engaged” in good works without constantly going to Father for “further light and knowledge” in many aspects of our lives. Aren’t you or haven’t you ever been proud of your child when they have done something good without your prompting. It makes you feel that all thos FHEs have not been in vain.

    And remember when JS said “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves…” I believe that this is one of the least appreciated tenets of the church in regards to how we govern ourselves in all we do…

  19. Mark Butler says:

    I think “Now Let Us Rejoice” (Hymn #243), by Evan Stephens, teaches the truth of this subject very effectively:

    Let us all press on in the work of the Lord, That when life is o’er we may gain a reward; In the fight for right let us wield a sword, The mighty sword of truth.

    Fear not, though the enemy deride; Courage, for the Lord is on our side. We will heed not what the wicked may say, But the Lord alone we will obey.

    We will not retreat, though our numbers may be few When compared with the opposite host in view; But an unseen pow’r will aid me and you In the glorious cause of truth.

    (repeat chorus)

    If we do what’s right we have no need to fear, For the Lord, our helper, will ever be near; In the days of trial his Saints he will cheer, And prosper the cause of truth.

    (repeat chorus)

    Now this is one of the most Mormon hymns ever written, as should be apparent by the nature of the relationship taught here.

  20. tluck 18

    You’re right that too many of us wait to be commanded rather than act. And you’re right that most of us could improve ourselves drastically by simply following our conscience [the light of Christ] and doing our obvious duty. And you’re right that too many of us don’t even do the obvious good we could do. For the obvious good – such as paying tithing, keeping the word of wisdom, doing the bare minimum standards in our church callings, holding some kind of home evening and family prayers – we don’t need further revelation [and probably won’t get if we’re not even willing to do the basic good]. In fact, many non-Mormons put some LDS to shame because of their virtue and service.

    But when it comes to being Christ-like, that requires an additional power: the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I believe it is impossible to think like the Savior, talk the Savior, and act like the Savior without the help of the Spirit. That’s one of the main purposes of the Gift of the Holy Ghost: to enable people to think, talk, and act like the Savior. I think that’s one of the characterisics of the true church: it is the only church on the face of the earth that provides the power to become like Jesus Christ.

    A classic example of D&C 58: 26,27 [be anxiously engaged] is Oliver Cowdery in D&C 9: 7, 8 when he is chastised for praying only. D&C 9: 7, 8 show how to be anxiously engaged:

    7. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
    8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

    Thus, we can do much good on our own, but the question becomes: which good are we to work on now; and how are we do that good. I don’t think President Hinckley is deciding on good versus evil; he’s deciding which good to do, and how to do that good. President Hinckley does not fall into Oliver Cowdery’s trap: you took no thought save it was to ask me.

    Thus, a mother on one occasion may feel impressed to hurriedly put together a dinner several days in a row because she feels impressed to visit a sister several times; then on the 4th or 5th visit, the sister being visited, breaks down and says she’s thinking of leaving her husband. Then this busy mother [who may have been ignoring other good duties] is there to help a marriage.

    Then on another day the busy mother may feel impressed to spend all afternoon with her daughter making a cake from scratch – not because of the cake – but because she has a wonderful bonding time with her daughter.

    To be good requires only the light of Christ. To be Christlike requires the Holy Ghost.