Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why I Love Mormon Culture

As I said in my previous post, I am ambivalent about Mormon culture. It is certainly not the reason I came back to the Church. But if there was one thing about Mormon culture that could draw me in, it is the hymns and the sacred music of the Church. Perhaps my greatest comfort in returning to Church has been the privilege of singing those hymns every Sunday.

Can culture be a vehicle through which the Spirit can work with us? The great hymns of the Church remind us that, Yes, culture can be a vehicle of the Spirit. With the presence of the Spirit, words written on a page, sung out loud in harmony with others, resonating in our ears and in our hearts, become a prayer to God, and can help unite our souls with him. And yet what is a hymn but a mere "cultural" production? The Spirit can use culture to reach us.

But then, anything can be a vehicle of the Spirit. But when the Spirit does this, the vehicle itself is always transcended. The Spirit can use culture to help us move beyond culture, into a truer relationship with God.

8 comments:

Abelard Enigma said...

I agree with you; but, 25 years ago I would have agreed more emphatically - before they came out with that stupid green hymnal, in 1985, where they dumbed down all of the hymns (simplified the arrangements, changed some of the words, etc.).

Who here still recalls "you who unto Jesus" in your mind whenever you sing that hymn? Who even knows what hymn I'm referring to?

GeckoMan said...

Abe, I know, I know!! But I'm not sure 'how firm a foundation' you're on by castigating the green hymnal. I could name a number of favorite hymns I love that were introduced in 1985: "Where Can I Turn for Peace?", "As Now I Take the Sacrament" and "How Great Thou Art" would be right on top.

John, thanks for bringing up our cultural treasure chest of hymn singing. When I visited you last month, I secretly wanted to sing a hymn or two with you, but I chickened out on asking. So next time, could we do that? I'd like to start with the lovely duet "Jesus, Lover of my Soul."

J G-W said...

Abelard - YES! Since I was away from the Church for 20 years, "You who unto Jesus" was what I remembered. We sang that song in church a while back (I referenced it in another post), and I remember looking at the lyrics and scratching my head. I just assumed I'd remembered it wrong! Ain't that funny?

Geckoman - I'll sing hymns, any time, any where. Next time, yes for sure!

Forester said...

John, you are right about the hymns but it's not necessarily the culture that leads us to feel the Spirit. Music is divine. Good music is inspired from God. We can feel the divinity in the resonance of the tones. There is a physical dimension as the soundwaves penetrate our ears and body and makes a connection with our spirit. All good art does this.

MoHoHawaii said...

I used to be enraptured by LDS hymns (the blue book!). If there's anything that might bring me back to church it would be the music.

But... there's an amazing selection of great secular music that produces the same hair-raising effect. I just saw Wagner's Flying Dutchman at the opera yesterday. It was an overwhelming experience.

I'm not saying that religion can (for everyone) be replaced by transcendent art, but for me it seems to work that way.

J G-W said...

All great art touches us in profound ways. Recently I went to see the "Nordic Summer" exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The exhibit was a collection of Scandinavian landscape art. Some of the paintings were so moving, they literally brought me to tears. I never thought a landscape could be so powerful.

What was it about these paintings that moved me so profoundly? I think it was my sense of the struggle to harmonize body and spirit that was so evident in the work of some of these artists. It was the sense, conveyed in some of these paintings, of the transcendent, of God, expressing himself through the mundane, through creation. The work of the artist is, in a sense, an image or a parable of God as artist. I think that is what caught my attention.

As I reflect on the experience, I believe that, yes, this very secular art became a vehicle through which the Spirit spoke to me. This doesn't make Scandinavian landscape art a Church. And it would be wrong to conclude that just because the hymn "If You Could Hie to Kolob" makes me weep, that that somehow makes the Church true.

I have a testimony of the Church that has come to me apart from the great art and cultural production of the Church. The testimony comes in a living relationship with a living God, through a living Spirit who speaks to me and interacts with me in unique ways, sometimes very directly, but sometimes using other individuals or situations as vehicles to teach me profound truths about the nature of my existence and about my relationship with God.

I believe the work of the Spirit encompasses teaching us all truth, truth which literally cannot be contained in any creed or community, truth which you will find "out there" beyond the walls of any church, including the LDS Church, open and available to all who listen and seek.

But that same Spirit has born witness to me of the truthfulness of the LDS Church. I'm not sure if I'm expressing the distinction well, but there is a distinction and I think it's very important.

MoHoHawaii said...

And it would be wrong to conclude that just because the hymn "If You Could Hie to Kolob" makes me weep, that that somehow makes the Church true.

I had a conversation with a former missionary companion years later after we had both left the Church. We talked about the fervor of testimony meetings and how the meetings gave us a burning in the bosom.

He then told me, somewhat wistfully, "You know, I'll never again devote my life to a cause just because it makes my nipples hard."

Seriously, I do hear you about the witness of the Spirit and I respect your experience.

J G-W said...

That's an interesting way to put it, but I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.