What Paradise Sounds Like


Dear Will:

I believe that when called upon to sing in a large group of people most of us pretty much just mumble through so as not to draw attention to ourselves. Listen the next time a bunch of co-workers crowd into a conference room to sing “Happy Birthday,” for example. Without fail the version that warbles forth will be horrible, and that partly comes from the fact that most of us can’t sing a lick.

At least at church you’ve got the organ there to drown most of us out. But even so, generally speaking you can hardly hear the person singing next to you (we’re shy that way). As a consequence, I can blurt out my version of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” along with the rest of the troops and nary a footman will notice my contribution—nor I theirs. At least, that seems to be the plan.

Several weeks back, however, I was droning my way through the designated hymn when something stopped me short. From behind me I heard a truly beautiful sound, a woman whose angelic voice was so transcendent that I just had to stop to listen. She wasn’t being showy—she simply had been trained as most of us have not, and it was glorious. Suddenly, the rote incantation of Hymn No. Whatever was transformed into a moment of richness and worship, the Spirit speaking clearly to me through her.

That memory came back to me recently during my morning commute as I was listening to The Writer’s Almanac, a daily podcast hosted by Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame. Keillor shared a poem that captures what I felt that day in church; it expresses what I never could about the power and truth conveyed by beautiful, sacred music performed with love and faith:

By Anne Porter
from Living Things. © Zoland Books, 2006.

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

I can’t read that thoughtful poem without also recalling a familiar scripture, which summarizes how He feels about worshipful music: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me” (D&C 25:12).

To which I say: Amen.


2 thoughts on “What Paradise Sounds Like

  1. Charlotte Hinckley

    Thanks for this lovely poem and your musings. I received the link to your blog this morning and learned of the loss of your beautiful mother. The last time I saw her she told me of her great eagerness to experience the other side. I was fascinated. The first time I met her she told me something I have remembered over and over: “you’re only on the rung of the ladder you are on.” Thanks.

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