Gloria, in excelsis Deo

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Every Sunday at 9:30 a small group of SVU students gather in front of Main Hall to close the Sabbath day by singing hymns. We aptly call this Hymns on a Hill. Without fail, Hymns on a Hill is one of the highlights of my week. I love the warm comradery and Spirit you feel while singing together. We sing a wide array of hymns, some are old favorites, some new hymns have quickly become favorites, and some just make us smile. It’s a lovely feeling.

There are some that are just amazing. The spirit blossoms as voices rise into the night sky, swelling and growing sweeter until it nearly bursts.  I am often reminded of the words of a Sister who was in my ward back home: there are times when the voices are few, but the spirit causes them to sound as though angels sing with them in harmony. It is never true than on the cold nights where voice soar into the sky. It’s hard to explain the feeling there in the evenings, listening and singing along.

Music has always been a big part of my personal faith – the words so perfectly set to music. Simple at times, but so eloquent in extending the meaning. At Hymns on a Hill we have no instruments, just a small pitch pipe and our own voices. It is part of the beauty – pure vocal praise and joy. I love it so! These evenings are often the times when I find the meanings of these hymns – not the meaning of the word necessarily, but the emotion and spirit that drove the composers to put their pen to paper and write something that would be sung for years in praise. I think of all those who sing the hymns now, who once sang them, and of my own children and the children of my friends that will sing them.

I also love the tradition itself, and I’d love to someday institute it into my own family. Setting apart just a half an hour to singing hymns on Sunday nights. For me, it draws close the Sabbath in such a wonderfully sweet way, allowing my mind a few minutes rest, setting me at ease and preparing me for the coming week. I’ve always felt that we don’t sing enough hymns in Sacrament meeting, so this is my consolation – a more than fit one, at that.

A really unique aspect of Hymns on a Hill is the fact that many of the return missionaries, or simply those who are blessed to speak multiple languages, sing in the language of their mission. The majority sing in English, but we have several who sing in Russian, many who sing in Spanish, even those who sing in French and Chinese. It is such a unique experience – one you do not find regularly in a Sacrament meeting setting. Not all hymns are translated, but the few that are that they sing are so very beautiful. It reminds me of our brethren (and sisters!) all over the world who sing with us in unison.

I guess the point of me writing this tonight is that we did something a little different than normal this evening. Last weekend and tonight we went caroling, which really made me joyous. Seeing all of us bundled up, chatting gaily as we made our way to different homes of professors, the senior missionary couples, a few families that live on campus, as well as President Smith’s home. I think my fundamental love of caroling comes from the fact that we can do something so simple as sing a Christmas hymn at someone’s doorstep to help invite the Christmas spirit and express our own joy to them. You can see it in the faces of other carolers as well, the unbridled joy on their faces as they hold a hymnal in gloved hands. They don’t really need it – you can tell by their smiles – but they share it, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, bundled up with long woolen coats, scarves and hats. Many are still in their Sunday clothes – young women shivering in skirts, wearing boots in a vain attempt to keep warm. We stand closer together, grinning as we step nearer to one another.

This evening we first stopped at a Professor’s house, Dr. Carter, a music professor. She welcomed us gladly. The second house we stopped at was a family with two young children. Their son pressed his face against the pane of glass in their door, blue eyes wide in awe. His father smiled, wishing us a Merry Christmas, holding their daughter. It was portrait-perfect, seeing the two little ones smiling gleefully at this unexpected surprise, faces lit by the glow of their Christmas tree.

I have to say, I love Christmas hymns, probably more than what’s healthy. I love the joy that they have, the memories that they hold. They make me so happy. They are so beautiful, in every way. The words, the music, the tone… it all gives me such joy. I don’t know that there is one that I do not love, but my favorites are definitely Angels We Have Heard on High, O Come All Ye Faithful, What Child is This?, O Holy Night, Silent Night and The First Noël (which also happens to be my dad’s favorite). And of course, the family favorite that no one else seems to sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem. But I did request it in Institute a few weeks ago! Christmas hymns just make me so joyous! I feel like glowing when I sing them.

Our final stop of the evening was President Smith’s home. We had stopped by the week before and sang to his wife and daughter, Georgi, but he had been away on  business. We were happy to find him at home this evening, and cheerily crowded into his foyer after Sister Smith invited us in. There were many of us – he was quick to say he’d never seen so many before – all happy to not only be in a warm home, but to express our appreciation for him. In the light, I’m sure we looked like quite the motley crew, but I think we smiled wide enough that no one would have noticed.  

At ten o’clock, as usual, we had ward prayer. This happens every night, but it was extremely special as President Smith offered the prayer for us this evening. It was a beautifully humble, simple prayer that was especially touching. I felt very blessed to be in attendence this evening, crowded into the front room of his home as the President of the university prayed for his students. His smile was so wide, and countenance so bright. I cannot help but know that I am in the right place, even though this is the point where we are all ancy to head home for the holidays.

I am ready to head home for a few weeks, but will dearly miss the quiet Sabbath evenings with my peers, standing atop the hill overlooking Buena Vista, singing in sweet harmony.

But the song that resounds in my mind right now isn’t a hymn at all:

I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love

Even more than I usually do

And although I know it’s a long back

I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas

You can count on me

Please have snow and mistletoe

And presents under the tree

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light beams

I’ll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams.

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light beams

I’ll be home for Christmas…

And looking at the forecast, hopefully it will be a white Christmas! Until later,

Much love and seasons joys,

Meghan

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