As with companions so with books. We may choose those which will make us better, more intelligent, more appreciative of the good and the beautiful in the world, or we may choose the trashy, the vulgar, the obscene, which will make us feel as though we’ve been “wallowing in the mire.”8
If we know the books located at the bedside, we know much about the man.
A good book, such as the scriptures, becomes a lifelong companion. A thoughtful man wrote at various times:
An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only.9
I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.10
Clearly one must read every good book at least once every ten years.11
The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers “I’ve read it already” to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. . . . Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.12
Of all the works worthy of repetitive reading, the scriptures stand paramount, for they are not founded in the opinions of men. Over the years I have oft remembered the counsel of the late Hugh Nibley: “If you pray for an angel to visit you, you know what he’ll do if he comes. He’ll just quote the scriptures to you—so you’re wasting your time waiting for what we already have.”13
MUSIC OF SURPASSING BEAUTY
Many years ago, while living in another part of the country, I became acquainted with a fine Latter-day Saint young man. He was a superior athlete, but he had never attended a cultural event. Living in the same community was a lovely young LDS sister. She spoke French as well as English. She played the violin. She presented herself as a refined daughter of God. One day the American Ballet Theatre came to our town. A group of us decided to attend, including this young man and young woman.
Now and then I glanced at the young man during the ballet. His eyes were riveted on the stage. Windows of new appreciation were opened. After the performance he approached me privately and said, in reference to the refined young sister, “Where have I been all of my life? This is what I want in my home. This is what I want as the mother of my children. Until now I thought only physical appearance mattered.” I gently reminded him that she would likely be drawn to one of refined nature, like herself, and it was time for him to look within.
If we could peek behind the heavenly veil we would likely be inspired by the music of heaven, perhaps more glorious than any music we have heard on this earth.
When some music has passed the tests of time and been cherished by the noble and refined, our failure to appreciate it is not an indictment of grand music. The omission is within. If a young person grows up on a steady diet of hamburgers and french fries, he is not likely to become a gourmet. But the fault is not with fine food. He just grew up on something less. Some have grown up on a steady diet of musical french fries.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
We . . . live in a world that is too prone to the tasteless, and we need to provide an opportunity to cultivate a taste for the finest music. And, likewise, we’re in a world that’s so attuned to the now that we need to permit people to be more attuned to the best music of all the ages.14
A few years ago I made my way to the bedroom of one of my sons to say good night. He was a junior in high school. As I approached his room, I heard the strains of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony. I was surprised. I knew the boy loved sports, but I didn’t know he loved Tchaikovsky. Months later, as my wife and I were listening to a videotape of three tenors singing, our son came in and sat down. He listened and saw, and a new appreciation developed. He said, “You never told me about opera.” He took the videotape to his room, and I never saw it again. Appreciation of the finest in music does not depend upon your age.
President J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency, one of our greatest Christ scholars, would listen to inspirational music in the evening before writing his insights concerning the life of the Savior. The music opened his spiritual pores, as it does for all of us.
Recognizing the penetrating influence of great music, Oscar Wilde had one of his characters say: “After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own.”15 After the first performance of Messiah, Handel said: “My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wish to make them better.”16 Haydn “dressed in his best clothes to compose because he said he was going before his maker.”17
There are events of life so sublime that they cannot be imagined without the companionship of beautiful music. We could not have a Christmas without carols or general conference without sacred anthems. And there could not be a heaven without music of surpassing beauty. Brigham Young said: “There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven.”18 It would be punishment enough to go to hell and not hear a note of music for all eternity.
This would be a good time to sift through your music library and choose primarily that which uplifts and inspires. It is part of the maturing process of your eternal journey. This would also be a fine time to learn a musical instrument or improve musical skills now partially possessed.
On the eve of his release, one of my fine missionaries during my tenure as a mission president spoke of a girl at home with whom he intended to renew association.
He inquired, “How will I know if she is the right one?”
I suggested, among other things, that he invite her to a cultural event. If she responded that this would be of no interest to her, then maybe he should pursue other alternatives. But if she had compelling spiritual qualities and could be enthralled by culture on Friday and love the athletic contest on Saturday, she might be the type of young lady he could choose as the mother for his children. It might be balanced and rewarding to be paired with her for eternity.
APPEARANCE AND ORDER
That which has been said about bringing great language, music, and literature into the home may be said with equal truth of great art—perhaps tastefully displayed in our heavenly home. It may also be said of our physical appearance and manners, as well as the order of the place in which we live, the way we offer our prayers, and the way we read God’s word.
I once had opportunity to visit briefly with Audrey Hepburn, the great actress of days gone by. At the time she was making the movie My Fair Lady. She spoke of the opening scene in the movie in which she depicted a modest, unpolished flower girl. Her face had been besmirched with charcoal to make her seem part of her surroundings. “But,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “I was wearing my Chanel perfume. Inside I still knew I was a lady.” It doesn’t take expensive perfume to make a lady, but it does require cleanliness, modesty, self-respect, and pride in one’s appearance.
Many years ago an associate of mine decided he would please his wife by sharing with her a very specific compliment each night as he arrived home. One night he praised her cooking. A second night he thanked her for excellence in housekeeping. A third night he acknowledged her fine influence on the children. The fourth night, before he could speak, she said, “I know what you are doing. I thank you for it. But don’t say any of those things. Just tell me you think I am beautiful.”
She expressed an important need that she had. Women ought to be praised for all the gifts they possess that so unselfishly add to the richness of our lives, including their attentiveness to their personal appearance. We must not “let ourselves go” and become so casual—even sloppy—in our appearance that we distance ourselves from the beauty heaven has given us. Every man has the right to be married to a woman who makes herself as beautiful as she can be. Every woman has the right to be married to a man who keeps himself clean, physically as well as morally, and takes pride in his appearance.
Occasionally a young man comes home from his mission and hastens to distance himself in appearance from everything associated with missionary service. He becomes slovenly. Heaven blushes. The young man who wants an exemplary spouse needs to look in the mirror and ask why she would want him. Then he should shave and press his clothes.
Years ago I attended a stake conference in California at which the wife of the stake president shared this story: She had been born considerably after the other children in the family, and her father was unusually protective of her. When a suitor would stop by to pick her up for a date, the father would look him over very carefully and then say, “Do you want to date my princess? Go home and wash your car and shine your shoes. Then I will give my permission.” I sometimes wonder if our Heavenly Father whispers the same when we date His precious daughters. The Book of Mormon speaks of a people who “did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely” (Alma 1:27).
There are those who flippantly say, “How I look has nothing to do with how God feels about me.” But it is possible for both earthly and heavenly parents to have unspoken disappointment in their offspring without diminished love. I say it again: Sometimes heaven blushes but loves on.
President Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church, owned few things, but he took care of them. He was fastidious in his appearance. He pressed his dollar bills to remove the wrinkles. He allowed none but himself to pack his overnight bag. He knew where every article, nut, and bolt of the household was, and each had its place.
Would this be true of the environment in which you live? Is it a house of order? Need you dust, clean, and rearrange before you invite the Spirit of the Lord into your apartment? President Lorenzo Snow said: “The Lord does not intend that the Saints shall live always in dens and caves of the earth, but that they shall build fine houses. When the Lord comes he will not expect to meet a dirty people, but a people of refinement.”19
David Starr Jordan, a former president of Stanford University, wrote:
To be vulgar is to do that which is not the best of its kind. It is to do poor things in poor ways, and to be satisfied with that. . . . It is vulgar to wear dirty linen when one is not engaged in dirty work. It is vulgar to like poor music, to read weak books, to feed on sensational newspapers, . . . to find amusement in trashy novels, to enjoy vulgar theatres, to find pleasure in cheap jokes.20
A ROYAL VISION
I once heard a story about an imaginary king whose wife gave birth to a baby boy. The parents knew that the lad would someday inherit the kingdom. Desiring that their son be a wise king, fully familiar with the needs of the people over whom he would reign, the king and queen took the infant into the country to be raised as part of a peasant family. He was to be told nothing of his secret destiny until he became a man.
At the appropriate time the king and queen returned to the country to confer on their son the kingdom. They were greatly disappointed. Having been told nothing of his appointed destiny, he was exactly that which life had prepared him to be. He understood the proper care of animals and the gathering of crops, but he knew nothing of armies and palaces and courtyards and presiding. He had lost his vision.
It should not be difficult for you to glean the truth in this story. Another King, your Father in Heaven, has sent you away from His presence to have experiences you would not have had in your heavenly home—all in preparation for the conferral of a kingdom. He doesn’t want you to lose your vision. You are children of an exalted being. You are foreordained to preside as kings and queens. You will live in a home and environment of infinite refinement and beauty, as reflected in the language, literature, art, music, and order of heaven.
I close with the words of President Brigham Young: “Let us . . . show to the world that we have talent and taste, and prove to the heavens that our minds are set on beauty and true excellence, so that we can become worthy to enjoy the society of angels.”21 Even more, that we may enjoy the refined society of heavenly parentage, for we are of the race of the gods, being children of the Most High.
This devotional is available in various formats at speeches.byu.edu.
1. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–86), vol. 9, p. 170.
2. Ben Jonson, Timber; or, Discoveries Made upon Men and Matter (1640).
3. C. S. Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (New York: Collier Books, 1986), p. 96.
4. Storm Jameson, Parthian Words (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), p. 123.
5. George Macaulay Trevelyan, English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries, Chaucer to Queen Victoria (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1942), p. 582.
6. See James E. Talmage, “The Parable of the Photographic Plate: An Episode in Field Work,” Improvement Era, April 1914, pp. 503–5.
7. For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001), p. 17.
8. David O. McKay, Pathways to Happiness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957), p. 15.
9. C. S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), p. 16.
10. Lewis, Letters to Greeves, p. 439.
11. Ibid., p. 458.
12. C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), p. 2.
13. Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, vol. 9 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co. and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989), p. 87.
14. Neal A. Maxwell, remarks at the inauguration of KRIC-FM, Ricks College, May 1984.
15. In Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist,” part 1 (1891).
16. In George Hogarth, Musical History, Biography, and Criticism (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1848), p. 67.
17.Reid Nibley, in Hal Williams, “Dr. Reid Nibley on Acquiring a Taste for Classical Music,” BYU Today, April 1980, p. 14.
18. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 244.
19. Lorenzo Snow, in Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: History of His Life and Labors as Recorded in His Daily Journals, prep. Matthias F. Cowley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), p. 468.
20. David Starr Jordan, The Strength of Being Clean: A Study of the Quest for Unearned Happiness (New York: H. M. Caldwell Co., 1900), p. 25.
21. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 305.