When I was younger I was pretty good at basketball. When I was in seventh grade I started on the eighth grade team. When I was a freshman I played varsity.
For some reason, this talent led many of the girls on my team to dislike me. Because of this dislike, I was often left to myself on bus rides, picked on once in a while at practice, and sometimes other subtle forms of dislike were exercised against me. I nearly always felt awkward, embarrassed, and alone even though basketball was one of my favorite things. Sometimes this dislike even affected game play.
One night on a late bus ride home, I was sitting by myself in the back of the bus feeling miserable. I was tired. It was after the game and was the end of a long day that began with early morning seminary. I felt so alone and I fought back tears.
In my mind, the words of a hymn suddenly appeared:
Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee
E’en though it be a cross, that raiseth me
…angels to beckon me, Nearer my God to Thee
Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee
Random words from the hymn answered what my heart was really feeling. I was wishing that I was away from that bus, somewhere closer to God. I knew in that moment that God was my friend. He cared about me. I wanted so much to be “near to Him.”
This moment to me was what I like to call a “golden moment.” I felt God’s love and I knew even if no one else cared about me, He did.
All of us have golden spiritual moments in our lives. Moments where our testimony is sure. Moments of immense gratitude. Moments of peace and comfort. Moments where we feel the Lord’s love and know He is aware of us. Moments when we have received an answer to prayer. Moments where we are granted the power to forgive, or to heal from a past wrong.
In Alma 5:26 we read:
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Alma is asking us, in this verse, to look back on these golden spiritual moments. And he asks us, “Do we feel the same right now? Do we feel the impact and the power of those golden moments? Have we have a golden moment lately that we can think on?”
A Spiritual Maillard Reaction
One of my favorite things to eat in the world is golden-brown toast. And I like to toast bread that browns, or gets golden. It’s sort of disappointing to me if I put toast in and it comes up hot and dry but without that beautiful browning. Why is that so disappointing? Because all the flavor is in the browning. It’s the browning that makes eating the toast so wonderful.
This browning is actually caused by a chemical reaction called a Maillard (my-yard) Reaction. This is the same reaction that causes the browning on a marshmallow, in caramel, on a pie crust, and many other roasted, toasted, or baked foods. The Maillard Reaction is what makes them golden. And tasty.
This browning reaction is more likely to take place on non-acidic surfaces. Acidic foods, with a pH of 1-6 don’t brown, or at least not without a catalyst. Alkaline foods, with a pH of 7 or more brown. And in fact, we use alkaline substances as catalysts to help food get brown. We put egg washes on pie crusts and milk washes on breads before baking. If you want to caramelize onions quickly, you can sprinkle them with a little bit of baking soda.
Non-acidic, or alkaline/basic, substances act as catalysts. They increase the speed of the browning reaction. They can also cause a browning reaction where there wasn’t one before.
Sacred music, especially the hymns of the church, are the spiritual equivalent of a Maillard, or browning, reaction catalyst. Sacred music increases the speed at which a golden moment comes to us, or creates the possibility of a golden moment where there wasn’t one before. Sacred music is a spiritual catalyst for golden, testimony building moments.
In his 1994 conference address, Worship Through Music, Elder Oaks shared the following:
Last spring, some of our children and fourteen grandchildren had a family outing in the mountains. One of our activities was a meeting to share experiences. We gathered at the appointed time, but the little people were only gathered in body. The large spirits in those little bodies were clamoring for more of the exciting outdoor activities they had been enjoying.
The cabin where we met was too small to contain them, and it seemed as if a dozen restless children and their cries were ricocheting off the walls in every direction. I felt apprehension in trying to sponsor something serious in that setting. Suddenly, the instinctive wisdom of young mothers rescued our efforts. Two mothers began to sing a song familiar to the children. Others joined in, and within a few minutes the mood had changed and all spirits were subdued and receptive to spiritual things.
In this experience, we see that sacred music hastened the spiritual receptiveness of the children, and all in the cabin. It was a spiritual catalyst, increasing the speed with which a golden, spiritual moment became possible.
Catalysts, however, also have an opposite. They are called inhibitors. An inhibitor slows down or prevents a chemical reaction or process. It can reduce the activity of a catalyst, or even suppress it completely.
In food browning, the inhibitor is acid. Acidic foods don’t brown. And, when we attempt to brown them they often go from not brown at all to burnt, or minimally they become exceedingly dry, especially meat. The acid inhibits the browning, or golden reaction.
Though sacred music is all around on us a Sunday, and is available to us 24/7 in these modern days of ipods, mp3’s, online radio, etc., there are spiritually acidic behaviors, attitudes, and actions that can prevent the golden spiritual moments we all seek. Elder Oaks, in his address, suggests the following are spiritually acidic:
- If a hymn is sung too slow at church it can inhibit the golden reaction
- If a hymn is sung too fast at church it can inhibit the golden reaction
- A lack of participation in hymn-singing, a lack of listening to a hymn, or not even mouthing the words, can suppress the possibility of a spiritually golden reaction
- As a performer, if we become too caught up in entertaining or projecting our own talent rather than facilitating the Holy Spirit, we can inhibit a golden reaction
- If the words of a song are doctrinally incorrect it can inhibit a golden reaction
It goes without saying that a great deal of the music we listen to outside of church, even if it has no purposefully evil intent, can and does inhibit our ability to have spiritually golden moments. Even a tiny bit of acidity (6.5 pH) can stop the golden, browning reaction.
Golden Spiritual Moments at Church
At church, our lack of participation in singing (or at least reading along or mouthing the words of the hymns) is perhaps the greatest inhibitor to our ability to have spiritually golden moments. In America (with some exceptions) we seem to lack heart and gusto in our singing. We often sing as if the hymns are a side-thought, like a plate of mediocre food that we have to swallow down. Or perhaps the hymns have become a tradition to us rather than a sacred privilege.
Elder Oaks related:
I stopped at a convenient ward meeting house and slipped unnoticed into the overflow area just as the congregation was beginning to sing these sacred words of the sacrament song:
Tis sweet to sing the matchless love
Of Him who left his home above,
And came to earth—oh wondrous plan—
To suffer bleed and die for man
My heart swelled as we sang this worshipful hymn and contemplated renewing our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. Our voices raised the concluding strains:
For Jesus died on Calvary
That all thru Him might ransomed be
Then sing hosannas to His name
Let heav’n and earth his love proclaim
As we sang these words I glanced around at members of the congregation and was stunned to observe that about a third were not singing. How could this be? Were those who did not even mouth the words suggesting that for them it was not “sweet to sing the matchless love” or to “sing hosannas to His name?” What are we saying, what are we thinking, when we fail to join in singing in our worship services?
When I have asked people why they don’t sing in choir, even when I have heard them sing and they can clearly carry a tune, I nearly always hear the response, “because I can’t sing.” And I always sorrow for the loss. Little do they realize the golden moments missed because they are focused on their performance, or their own talents. And the same applies to congregational singing. If our attitude is that we can’t worship because we don’t sound as good as someone else, we are placing the focus of our worship on ourselves, instead of on God.
Golden Spiritual Moments During the Week
In our day-to-day lives, during the week, there are many times when sacred music would much better bless our lives than even the best songs on the radio with good words. If we are seeking comfort, peace, answers to prayers, help to forgive, an uplift before dealing with a tough day at work or school; there is nothing more powerful than inviting the Holy Ghost into our mind and hearts through the catalyst of sacred music. Our whole day can be transformed as we are transformed (made golden) by sacred music. Our power to resist temptation and choose the right will be increased exponentially.
The Holy Spirit is powerful, but it’s presence in our lives is delicate. The “sweet spot” for the Holy Ghost falls in the golden area. We have to create an environment where He can comfortably dwell. We can upset the spiritual pH, or entirely suppress it without actively being evil. The Spirit is a personage of spirit, an actual being. His presence is conditional on us inviting Him to be with us by our thoughts and actions. We have to invite Him in. We do that quickly, and powerfully, with sacred music.
I see a lot of people who jam to iTunes while working out. And, there is nothing wrong with this. But, I can’t tell you how many revelations I have received while I have been working out, walking, and running. Some of the most powerful revelations and guidance I have received for my life in the last ten years have come during a long run or a long walk.
I tend to exercise in silence and ponder. My biggest hurts have been softened or silenced during these times. Sure, “rocking out” gives me a rhythm and sidetracks my mind from the annoyance and sometimes pain of trying to get healthy or stay in shape. But, I suggest that it’s something worth sacrificing since it can be replaced with something infinitely better—a golden spiritual moment.
Most recently in my life, sacred music has again saved me on some very desperately down spiritual, emotional, and mental days. It was counter to my feelings at the time to turn the sacred music on. I didn’t believe it would help. But, within moments it quieted my brain and set my thoughts down avenues where the Spirit could reach me. Sacred music is incredibly, and wonderfully, powerful.
Seek Out Golden Moments
The purpose of the hymns, music with a clear Christian focus, and all sacred music is to provide a spiritual catalyst that we might tune into the Holy Ghost and receive answers to prayers, comfort, a renewed shine on our deep testimonies, peace, messages of love from our Father in Heaven, and a number of other things we pray for daily. It’s not about us, it’s about God granting us those golden moments we seek. But first, we have to remove the acid of our attitude, thoughts, environment, or actions.
Elder Oaks also said:
Many have difficulty expressing worshipful feelings in words… Sacred music has a unique capacity to communicate our feelings of love for the Lord.
In Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 we read:
For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart, yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.
When we refuse to participate in the singing of hymns, we create an acid barrier inhibiting our ability to worship the Lord, our God. We refuse to offer Him one of His favorite avenues of prayer, praise, and worship. We refuse to make use of one of the most powerful ways to express our gratitude and love to God.
Sacred music is not only a powerful catalyst to the golden spiritual moments we crave, it has the power to draw us closer to God. Perhaps that is why when it works the moments feel so golden, because in that moment we are close, both mind and heart, to our Father in Heaven.
Elder Oaks concluded with this. He said:
We who have felt to sing the song of redeeming love need to keep singing that we may draw ever closer to Him who has inspired sacred music and commanded [not requested] that it be used to worship Him.
I don’t know about each of you, but I crave golden spiritual moments far more than I crave a good piece of buttered, golden toast. If you are hungry for such golden spiritual moments, as I am, then I hope you will renew your interest in participating in singing at church. I hope you will make more use of sacred music in your homes and in your cars and in your lives. I hope you will remove the acidic inhibitors and desire to worship and come closer to the Lord far more than you worry about the quality or talent in your singing voice.
I hope that if you have felt to sing the song of redeeming love in your hearts at any time in your lives, that you will remember those times and renew that feeling often.
Sacred music has saved my soul on countless occasions. It has kept me from sinking too deep into despair. It has reminded me of God’s love. The words have come to me when I needed comfort or needed a prayer but didn’t know exactly what words to offer. Sacred music has helped in the process of trying to make me more golden, more Christ-like. It can do the same for you.