Monday, November 24, 2008

Perfect Light

Looks like I'm speaking in sacrament meeting on Sunday. I started to look through some old talks of mine today to see what I've talked about in the past. I talk about light and faith a lot. I came across this one I gave six years ago. I really like it and I think it's appropriate for the season. And since I have nothing else to write about, I would like to say amen again to this.

September 15, 2002
Hidden Valley 5th Ward

When Edward L. Hart wrote "Our Savior's Love,” it was culminated as a reverent prayer to the Father. The hymn has three verses: the first speaks of the Son, the second speaks of the Holy Ghost and the third speaks of the Father. Analyzing a hymn is like analyzing a poem. Poets use words in their utmost meaning. Each word bears tremendous significance because in poetry each word must be chosen carefully making the meaning all the more eloquent and powerful. Another beautiful thing about poetry is what may mean one thing to one person, might mean something completely different to another. For me, the overlying theme in "Our Savior's Love" is about contrast, and how once we see how our life can be with the Savior up against our life without Him, the better choice is clear.

The hymn also illustrates the well-known simile comparing our Savior to light. The scriptures are full of verses and phrases that pair Christ with light: Jesus is the “light” of the world; knowledge is often referred to as the “Light” of Christ. In Doctrine and Covenants section 14 Jesus Christ describes himself as a light, which cannot be hid in darkness. The prophet Isaiah said:

"The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."

As I was preparing this talk, the scriptures I read and the things I pondered reminded me of a paper I wrote in college. The paper was about a small painting by a Northern Renaissance artist named Geertgen tot Sint Jans. I'm showing you two pictures here for the purpose of comparison and contarst: The first is by Robert Campin and the second is by Geertgen tot Sint Jans.

The Nativity is a common theme depicted by artists and was especially popular during the Renaissance. All the paintings depict a similar scene: a stable, Mary, Joseph, an ox, an ass, adoring angels and, of course, the Christ Child. But for me, Geertgen's painting stood apart from other Nativities our class studied. Most of the artists depicting the Nativity at the time chose to set the scene during the daytime. The sun was out and everything was uniformly lit. In many scenes you could see unrelated figures in the background. But Geertgen's piece struck me as the Holy Family was shown in the stable at night amidst the darkness.

Not only does this comparison between a daytime setting and a nighttime setting illustrate the literal contrast between light and dark, but it also explains the metaphorical contrast as well: the world before Christ came, and the world now that He has come.

In Geertgen's painting, The Christ child is the only source of light. The artist shows us the contrast of light entering a world of darkness demonstrating a moving metaphor. There is no sunlight; there are no lanterns, only the emanating light from the Savior. Each figure paying devotion to the Savior is illuminated by His radiance. It is because of His light that the viewer can even see Mary, Joseph, and even the angels in the scene. The simplicity of the painting parallels the simplicity of the message. If you take the Savior out of the picture, the painting is virtually extinguished.

I see this as being similar to what happens if we are to take Christ out of our lives. The choice is obvious. A life without the Savior and his love is a life of darkness and confusion. Meaning and purpose would be lost.

The first verse of “Our Savior’s Love” reads: "Our Savior's love shines like the sun with perfect light." The simile comparing the Savior to light is not a new one. But this lyric goes a specific step further comparing the love of the Savior to perfect light. What is perfect light? When I think of perfect light I think of it being pure, clear and unobstructed. All three of these words can be used to describe the love our Savior has for us: His love is the purest love we can find, it is clear, and it is unobstructed - or for the sake of a better word, unconditional. He offers it unconditionally and it will always be waiting for us. We don't even have to ask for it.

The second line of the hymn reads, "As from above, it breaks thru clouds of strife." The love of our Savior can penetrate any conflict, rebellion or dissension. President Monson once advised us to: "Look to the lighthouse of the Lord. There is no fog so dense, no night so dark, no gale so strong, no mariner so lost but what its beacon light can rescue."

Many say blessings follow tribulation. We are saved shortly after we're at our lowest, our darkest of hours. Maybe that is because seeing how awful things can be prepares us to accept and appreciate how wonderful and miraculous things can be.

You may have read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. At the end of the book, the Count addresses Maximelien in a letter and says something that has stayed with me ever since I read it in high school:

"Here is my secret of conduct toward you: there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss."

That is a noble perspective to have when trials begin to overwhelm us. When things get difficult, when bad things happen to good people, it is not because the Savior has neglected us or has ceased loving us. It doesn’t have to mean punishment for something we have done. The law of cause and effect doesn't work with love in the truest and purest sense of the word. Our Savior's love is one of the few things we don't have to earn.

Crawford Gates wrote the music to this hymn. He said that for him, the melody does not seem to tire easily. I believe the same can be said for the love our Lord has for us. It has always been there and it will always be there. His love and blessings are granted to everyone. It's what we do with that love that makes the difference.


Steph said...

That is a really beautiful talk. You are a great writer. I especially like the contrast between the two paintings.

Ilene said...


I remember you writing your paper about the sources of light in the nativity scenes for Martha's class.

I also appreciate that you left out any references to the works of the oh-so-popular "master of light," Thomas Kincaid.

Janey said...

I can't believe in the 6 years I was there, I missed you speaking in church! There is something wrong with that! Can't wait to see you either

SRA said...

:) Are you going to recycle this one on Sunday? jk

Anonymous said...

Laura Lee, I hope you will forgive me for reading your blog; however, my father-in-law served a mission with your great uncle Marsden. He also served in the military in Hawaii with him. He spoke at his funeral. My father-in-law was recounting stories of Marsden recently, so we googled his name and your blog came up. He would love to send you some of his recollections of Marsden to add to any history you are doing. He is 88 years old and has a clear memory. Please email me at Susan Adams