A Song of the Spirit

by Becky Thomas

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    A confusion and blackness interfered with my train of thought. “Not today!” I silently prayed.

    I walked briskly to the campus library, a number of thoughts racing through my mind. The sun was bright, turning the snow to glitter. The mountains stood majestic against the blue sky, begging me to stop and gaze for a while. But there was no time. Despite the beauty of the day, I had to study. Other students passed me, anxious as I was to prepare for midterms. I felt, however, that they would not have the same difficulty studying that would inevitably confront me. I tried to squelch these negative thoughts, telling myself that this time it would be different. I pushed the library door open and was hit by a warm blast of air, a welcome contrast to the chilling temperatures of February. As I hurried down the stairs to the second floor, I mentally reviewed the composers I needed to know for my humanities test.

    Music had always been a part of my life. My grandfather was a percussionist for the Cleveland Orchestra, and both my parents sang and played instruments. We children inherited our parents’ love for music and were all involved in both playing instruments and singing. The holidays were wonderful as we vocalized our way to our grandparents’ house. And at home, singing always accompanied vacuuming, dishwashing, or any other task that didn’t require mental concentration. Not only did I love music, but I loved to write words to simple melodies. Sometimes the words would be serious, expressing my innermost sentiments; other times they would be nonsensical, usually written to entertain the children I baby-sat. Now here I was at Brigham Young University studying the humanities and having a difficult time. Try as I might, for several weeks I had not been able to retain the information needed to do well in my schoolwork. Maybe I would do better today.

    I quickly situated my coat on an adjacent chair and opened my humanities book. Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, born 1756 in Austria and died 1791. Composer of …

    It started. “Not today!” I silently prayed. “Oh please, not today!” A confusion and blackness interfered with my train of thought. For two weeks now I had battled this. Every time I tried to concentrate on an important matter it happened. A stream of black, evil thoughts from an outside force would fill my mind. As a recent convert to the Church I was just learning ways to overcome the adversary. I had tried prayer, petitioning the Lord for help. But still this black cloud entered my thought process making it impossible to study or read.

    “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born 17 … 16. … I couldn’t remember. I felt my mind being pulled in different directions. As I tried to memorize, a hazy blackness distorted my thinking. Wolfgang … Mozart, what was his middle name? Words bounced around in my head having nothing to do with the subject at hand. Try again. Ignore the confusion in your mind. Who was I studying? I glanced back at the page telling of Mozart’s life. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born 1756 … a deluge of vulgar words made their entrance.

    Frustration mounted within me as the intensity of this blackness grew stronger. I felt my head would burst. My eyes filled with tears. “Please, Father,” I pleaded silently, “Please help me. I can’t go through this much longer.”

    No sooner had I offered up this prayer than the heavens responded. Cutting through the confusion, a beautiful poem was spoken to my mind—not only spoken, but imprinted so that after hearing it only once I knew it by memory. Each word was clear and full of meaning. The mental anguish I had experienced moments before gave way to a beautiful message of hope:

    Fear not, I am with thee;

    Oh, be not dismayed,

    For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.

    I’ll strengthen thee, help thee,

    And cause thee to stand,

    Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

    For the next few minutes I sat awestruck, marveling over what had happened. It was hard for me to grasp the idea that God not only answered my prayer but answered it in an artistic way. Not that I thought him incapable, but I found it hard to comprehend that God would take time to relate to my specific personality in such a personal way. I repeated each word to myself, thinking about God’s message to me. He really loved and cared about me. He knew all the frustrations I had experienced, and before they became too much to handle, came to my aid. I believed what he said to me; he would never forsake me. I let the wonder of this experience sink into my soul as I studied for my test.

    The following week I found myself thinking over and over what had happened. Every time I recited the poem to myself I felt renewed strength and happiness. The things I had read about God were more than just words. He really did know each individual on the earth and cared about every one of us. This experience made my scripture reading alive and meaningful. I knew it would have an effect on the church meetings I attended. It had even more of an effect, however, than I had anticipated.

    Sunday arrived, and I sat in our branch sacrament room—a theater in the Harris Fine Arts building converted into a worship area. The meeting started, and all joined in singing the opening hymn. I carefully followed the words as we sang a piece I had never heard or sung before. It was a strong and pretty melody. Finishing the second verse, the conductor cut us off and gave us the upbeat for the third verse. I started in with the rest of the congregation but suddenly stopped singing. My heart beat faster as I read the words. I looked away from the hymnbook and silently repeated the verse to myself: “Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed. …”

    Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt God speaking to me once again. Not only was his message poetic, but musical as well—a song of the spirit. I joined in with the rest, praising our Heavenly Father with this meaningful hymn. I knew I would never sing it again without being reminded of God’s concern for me.

    I have learned a great deal through this experience. God knows and cares about our individual needs and will talk to each of us in the way that best suits our personality and situation. I have learned that the arts are an important way to convey his messages, and a creative work done through inspiration is highly acceptable before the Lord. Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated at various times that singing a hymn will help rid oneself of evil thoughts and confusion. I know this is true as I have sung “How Firm a Foundation,” the hymn the Spirit taught me, many times to chase away the influence of the adversary.

    Time has passed quickly since my conversion to the Church. A few years ago I was called on a mission to Honduras, Central America. Among the people who came to wish me well before I left was a friend who brought a gift. Before she gave it to me she explained that she always made a little wooden heart for ward members going on missions. On these hearts she printed the words to the hymn “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” She said she didn’t know why but this time she felt impressed to write a different hymn. I knew before she handed me the gift what she had written. Tears streaked my cheeks as I ran my fingers over the words—words to the hymn the Lord had already written on my heart: “Fear not, I am with thee; Oh, be not dismayed. …”

    Illustrated by Allen Garns