A Hymn, A Witness, and A Hope
Updated: Feb 4
“A poor wayfaring man of grief,” our congregation sang, as tears welled in my eyes. This hymn often makes me emotional, but usually not until the final verse or two. Today, as we sang together, I struggled to get the words out as tears ran down my face and sobs choked my throat. I sang about half of the hymn, spending the other half simply feeling the promise of Mormonism that calls to me and rings throughout my soul.
As I joined my voice to the voices of all those in the pews around me, I felt a truth that I don’t always feel, but do strive to believe and make true—that this is my faith, these are my people. And this is my home.
Cece and I have been sporadically joining our congregation in person over the last few months (taking turns with one of us watching the kids, while we still wait for them to be eligible for vaccines). Singing together is powerful and something that I have missed, which may have been a part of what I experienced today—a reminder of the collective endeavor that we’re engaged in to build Zion where we are, to care for one another, to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. Perhaps it was the embodiment of the power of raising our voices together, everyone having a part to play, whatever their skill level or ability.
And some of the power was almost definitely the spiritual witness of the hymn’s message, a message that always brings tears to my eyes. I mean, a hymn all about giving your life for your friends (a la A Hidden Life or A Tale of Two Cities)? And that small acts of charity and kindness extended towards the least of us are all done to Christ? That we have an obligation, a responsibility to care for all those that cross our path in need? That’s the core of the Gospel in my eyes, serving our neighbor, because as King Benjamin taught, when we’re in the service of our neighbor, we’re in the service of our God.
There was something powerful in having that witness born to me, through the singing of our congregation this week, of all weeks. This week, where pain, anger, and suffering has riddled many of my fellow Saints. This week where a country descends into violence and chaos and countless families are fleeing for their lives. This week as I’ve returned to school and work, leaving Cece and the kids for much longer than I have in months.
The Mormonism of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” is my Mormonism. That is the Mormonism that I have deep in my bones. The Mormonism that I can never forsake. The Mormonism that calls to my soul, that reaches out across eternity and calls to me. The Mormonism that I gave two years of my life to share with the good people of Lithuania. The Mormonism that calls me to love all those that cross my path. The Mormonism that pricks at my conscience when I avoid eye contact with the homeless man on the corner because I don’t have any cash or food to offer him. The Mormonism that stands as a witness of what we as a people can become. The Mormonism that I’ve experienced from friends and strangers bringing us meals and service and friendship. The Mormonism I’ve witnessed in my extended family members’ lives, driving them to do acts of kindness and generosity for all sorts of folks.
There’s much that I don’t know, much that baffles and frustrates and pains me about the Church and the world today. Today, a hymn struck a chord deep in my soul, reminding me of who I am, the faith of my ancestors, and the power of pure Mormonism.
I felt the weight of the words in the penultimate verse more keenly than usual today, as I tried to sing through tears and sobs:
“My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, ‘I will!’”
As I sang these words with my congregation, I knew that my flesh was weak, I felt my blood run chill, and I hope that my free spirit can cry ‘I will’, when I’m asked to serve, to consecrate, to sacrifice. I felt strengthened by the presence of those around me and hope that I may have added some strength to them too.
May we all feel the call of the poor wayfaring man of grief, and heed it when it comes to us.