Orson Scott Card: Sharing in the spirit of song — and praise

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

TWICE NOW IN our ward we have received our sacrament-meeting programs and found no speakers listed.

Instead, between the passing of the sacrament and the closing hymn were these words: "Worship through music."

As with a testimony meeting, the bishopric member who was conducting started things off. He spoke about a favorite hymn and what it has meant in his life. Then the chorister led us in singing one verse of it.

From the congregation, people trickled forward, then became a stream, adding and explaining their choices.

A Brazilian-born member of our ward spoke of the time when, not long after his conversion, he had the chance to meet then-LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball face-to-face in Brazil. For him we sang "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet."

This meeting took place only eight days after the passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley, and one sister spoke of what it had meant to her and her family to watch his funeral on television, over and over, and how they missed him. For her, with her, we sang, "God Be With You Till We Meet Again."

A brother who had recently traveled through the west and realized what bleak landscapes the pioneers had traveled through had us sing "Come, Come Ye Saints."

Our Relief Society president spoke on behalf of her "favorite daughter" (i.e., her only girl child), asking us to sing the third verse of her favorite hymn: "I Am a Child of God."

I am a child of God.

Rich blessings are in store;

If I but learn to do his will

I'll live with him once more.

One of our ward organists, a dear friend who used to bring music to play and books to read to our handicapped son, asked us to sing "If You Could Hie to Kolob" — but what she wanted were the "extra" verses, 4 and 5, which are almost never sung:

There is no end to virtue;

There is no end to might;

There is no end to wisdom;

There is no end to light.

And on it goes: "There is no end to" union, youth, priesthood, truth, glory, love, and finally "there is no end to being; there is no death above."

Singing only these verses, I actually enjoyed taking part in the hymn. Usually I dread it, because of the last word of the third stanza — "race."

This is a word whose meaning and context have radically changed since W.W. Phelps wrote these words. He meant, by "race," the ongoing propagation of an individual's progeny.

The word continues to have that meaning in the old phrase "him and all his race," meaning him and all his kinfolk, especially his descendants.

But to most English-speakers today, the word race, when it doesn't pertain to an athletic event, carries a vastly different meaning. It implies that the superficial racial divisions of the human race will persist eternally, which is not the meaning of the hymn.

Given that this misunderstanding is certain to be extremely common, I find it baffling that the word has not been changed in our hymnbook to the obvious replacement: "Grace."

It is even more baffling that this hymn is stopped after three verses, so that this is the word that is left to linger in our minds. Nothing could be easier than to cut out the last half of the third stanza and replace it with the first half of the fourth stanza.

Because the fifth stanza consists of four lines repeated to make eight, removing half the third stanza makes this into a standard four-stanza hymn.

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