Thursday, October 31, 2013

As [Children] in Zion

I've never sat in a Relief Society meeting (no, they aren't secret, they are sacred), and we don't tend to sing songs arranged for women in Sacrament or priesthood meetings, so it was probably when I was working my way through the hymn book on my own that I came across the song "As Sisters in Zion." I've encountered the hymn since mostly in the context of how it manages to offend people in various ways. I am now experienced enough to understand how it is offensive. (It helps me to notice that, while the music is recent, the words were written long before the modern Feminist movement.) But setting that aside, I wish we had a song like this for Brothers. I want to share some of the words, here, and maybe take away a little of the sting of offense and highlight some of the glorious Christian aspirations that this song adds to our hymn book.

I like the poetry of "sisters" and "women" in the text, but I'm going to make it more inclusive, the way I "hear" it in my soul when I sing the song. First I'll give my personal summary, and then the words.

The first verse invokes God's blessing, states our commitment to building His kingdom--the Zion of old, where all were of one heart and there were no rich or poor among them--and equates that task with comforting the weary and strengthening the weak. Our efforts are toward the kingdom of peace long prophesied. I feel when I think of this Zion, and that means something to me in the midst of my frequent depression.

The second verse claims a blessing. This is not common to our current way of thinking. To approach God and say, you owe us this gift, seems very presumptuous, but it reminds me that we can and should claim good gifts from God. It's scattered all over the scriptures. We don't need to be shy about it, and Emily Woodmansee captured that. I don't want my kids saying to me, could I please, if it's okay with you, go to school and learn? I want them saying, Dad, take me to school. Why should I imagine my Heavenly Parents feels any differently? After claiming a gift, we see that Sister Woodmansee is claiming the gifts needed to build Zion. That's what I want.

The third verse glories in our vast calling and potential. Life is not small or insignificant. Then there is an idea reflected that I have had ever since I dug through a textbook on Ethics. There is no way to arrive at all the moral goodness I hope to achieve without relying on a God who knows more than any human. While I must learn all I can on my own, if God can tell me more, I need to listen in order to act in the ways that will ultimately bring about the greatest good. That is part of my faith, even if I don't listen very well or very often.

And Emily Woodmansee, whether she meant to or not, captured all of that for me in three short verses. It doesn't hurt that Sister Perry once again did her magic with melody. Here are the verses:
As children in Zion, we'll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we'll seek.
We'll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We'll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.

The errand of angels is given to humans;
And this is a gift, as God's children, we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity's name.

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
Oh, naught but the Spirit's divinest tuition
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

Text: Emily H. Woodmansee, 1836-1906
Music: Janice Kapp Perry, b. 1938. (c) 1985 IRI

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