Ring Out, Wild Bells

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After finding the words to the poem Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson I started playing the Wikipedia game of following linked to pages. I was led, obviously, to the page about Alfred, Lord Tennyson and then down to the section of the titles of some of his works. One of his other poems is called Crossing the Bar, which has been cited by various LDS Church leaders in Conference talks and church magazine articles. That led me to an article by Pres. Thomas S. Monson from the Ensign in 1992 (not directly, I jumped to lds.org to search for citations of the poem). His article is entitled The Long Line of the Lonely. I knew it was going to be good with a lovely alliterative title like that! Pres. Monson did not disappoint – he never does. The article is focused mainly on caring for the widows, something few people do as well or as consistently as Pres. Monson does.

In the article Pres. Monson quotes the Tennyson poem in a touching exchange with a widow:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me,
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea. …
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

The old year is dying, a new one is born. As we cross the bar into the new year, are we ready to spiritually and proverbially “see [our] Pilot face to face”? Do we face each year with a renewed resolve to be a little better and do a little more good? Are we resolved to serve others more and focus more on the poor and needy, as Pres. Monson encourages in his article? I urge you to read Pres. Monson’s article and then put into practice what he counsels.

One story was particularly touching. Each Christmas season, Pres. Monson would make the time to go visit the widows from the ward he was a bishop over in his 20s. Of one such visit he recalled:

At a nursing home on First South, we might interrupt, as I did a few years ago [from 1992], a professional football game. There, before the TV, were seated two widows. They were warmly and beautifully dressed—and absorbed in the game. I asked, “Who’s winning?” They responded, “We don’t even know who’s playing, but at least it’s company.” I sat between those two angels and explained the game of football. I enjoyed the best contest I can remember. I may have missed a meeting, but I harvested a memory.

Widows, whose only company was each other, the commentators, and the players, were comforted by the visit of Pres. Monson. He was warmed by the experience as well. Pres. Monson closes his article with the following statement:

Today wise men still look heavenward and again see a bright, particular star. It will guide you and me to our opportunities. The burden of the downtrodden will be lifted, the cry of the hungry will be stilled, the lonely heart will be comforted—and souls will be saved. Yours, theirs, and mine. If we truly listen, we may hear that voice from far away say to us, as it spoke to another, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21.)

There will be many opportunities this coming year to lift the burdened and comfort the lonely. In light of a tragic death just a couple months ago, I’d like to include another quote from Pres. Monson’s article.

“The ranks of those in special need grow larger day by day. Note the obituary page of your newspaper. Here the drama of life unfolds to view. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey, and it often hushes the laughter of little children.

“After the funeral flowers fade, the well-wishes of friends become memories, and the prayers offered and the words spoken dim in the corridors of the mind, those who grieve frequently join that vast throng I shall entitle ‘The Long Line of the Lonely.’ Missed are the laughter of children, the commotion of teenagers, and the tender, loving concern of a departed companion. The clock ticks more loudly, time passes more slowly, and four walls do indeed a prison make.

“Hopefully, all of us may again hear the echo of words spoken by the Master: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me.’ (Matt. 25:40.)

As we resolve to minister more diligently to those in need, let us remember to include our children in these learning lessons of life.”

There are many who need our love and comfort, even if we might be members of that lonely line ourselves.

And now to the poem that started all this – Ring Out, Wild Bells:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

As we approach the new year, we should ring in the Christ that is and that is to be.

Sons of Helaman

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In the Book of Mormon we read of a group of Lamanites who renounce their past murders and other sins. They covenant with God to never fight again lest they return to their old ways and sin again. They vowed to never fight even to save their own lives or the lives of their family. Here is this account in the book of Alma:

“12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
14 And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us that we might not perish; yea, and he has made these things known unto us beforehand, because he loveth our souls as well as he loveth our children; therefore, in his mercy he doth visit us by his angels, that the plan of salvation might be made known unto us as well as unto future generations.
15 Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16 And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.” (Alma 24:12-18).

These faithful followers of Christ gave up their sins. For them, killing had been a common occurrence. They were a wicked and warlike people. By giving up fighting altogether they demonstrated their desire to change.

Some time after this covenant was made some of the children of these people decided they needed to go to war to fight to protect their families, freedoms, and religion. They had not promised that they would not fight again – their fathers and mothers had made that covenant. These stripling warriors were of great faith. It is written of them: “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 56:47-48).

Recently I pondered this scripture. Why were the teachings and faith of their mothers so important to these young men? Mothers are always important, they do most of the teaching of children. Mothers are important and should be recognized but why were these mothers recognized here? Was it the miraculous nature of the survival of these young men? I’m sure that was part of it but there was more.

I then realized that this group of people – the Anti-Nephi-Lehis – had been slaughtered by fellow Lamanites a few years before. Those are the verses I quoted from Alma 24. Most of those killed probably were men. Both men and women faced death fearlessly after they covenanted to never kill again. However, it is my opinion that most of those killed were men. I think they would have placed themselves in a position so they were the first attacked by the Lamanites. So many of these young men had likely lost their fathers in this attack. A lot of the attackers when they saw what they were doing, threw down their weapons of war and joined with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis but I doubt any of the mothers would have remarried any of those other Lamanites – it’s possible but not probable. They were forgiving people but there is a difference between forgiving the person who might have killed your husband and turning around and marrying them.

While some of these widows might have remarried (men other than their converted attackers), it’s likely that many were left to raise their children on their own (with the help of the church and community). There were fathers involved (“they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives”) but the mothers played the larger role. Again, I believe that it is because many of their fathers had been killed by the wicked Lamanites. These were “Momma’s boys” because for many of them, a mom is all they had. This is all opinion (and maybe literary license) but it makes sense. These sons of widows were taken care of by He who watches over and cares for the fatherless and widows.

This might also explain why Helaman referred to these youths as his sons (even “little sons”) and they him as their father. “And I did join my two thousand sons, (for they are worthy to be called sons) to the army of Antipus…” (Alma 56:10). The young men were upstanding, honest, and righteous. They had great faith: “For as I [Helaman] had ever called them my sons (for they were all of them very young) even so they said unto me: Father, behold our God is with us…” (Alma 56:46). While many of these young men might not have had living earthly fathers, they had Helaman who cared for them as sons and they had their Heavenly Father who watched over and protected them.