“Your Refined Heavenly Home,” by Douglas L. Callister (Devotional speech at Brigham Young University, September 19, 2006)
I don’t expect to comment often on speeches, but I feel compelled to write about this one since it so eloquently addresses the culture of heaven and gives ideas for how we can bring that more into our lives, a critical topic if we are serious about becoming a Zion people. This speech was given by a leader of my church to students attending the Church-owned Brigham Young University. He introduces his topic with these words:
The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined. In this great gospel of emulation, one of the purposes of our earthly probation is to become like them in every conceivable way so that we may be comfortable in the presence of heavenly parentage and, in the language of Enos, see their faces “with pleasure.” . . .
Today I would like to peek behind the veil that temporarily separates us from our heavenly home and paint a word picture of the virtuous, lovely, and refined circumstances that exist there. I will speak of the language, literature, music, and art of heaven, as well as the immaculate appearance of heavenly beings, for I believe that in heaven we will find each of these in pure and perfected form.
He goes on to encourage the students to pursue the best literature, music, and art the world has to offer.
I’ll have to say, if I had heard this speech when I was in college, I would have received it with mixed feelings. On one hand, I had been taught a bit of art history in high school and had enjoyed looking at the slides of classic art. On the other hand, my high school art teacher liked to listen to classical violin music, which sounded like screeching to me. I took a humanities class my first semester in college and failed the opera unit. I hated the highly trained voices so much that I had trouble concentrating on the music. Instead of focusing on the melodies, I memorized the peculiarities of the voices. Imagine my dismay when the professor played instrumental versions for the test! Despite my distaste for opera at that time, I heard Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for the first time in that class and loved it, which gave me the motivation to seek out more classical music.
By the time I got to college, I had sampled some great literature and drama, but my education in that area had been pretty paltry. I did enjoy reading and watching plays written by William Shakespeare, and after reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain in seventh grade, I liked it so well that I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Prince and the Pauper on my own. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple of times while in high school, but in those days, it wasn’t considered “literature.” I spent my teenage years reading Star Trek, Star Wars, and Planet of the Apes novelizations. The women in my book group were shocked when I told them I hadn’t read such popular, yet accomplished authors such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, L.M. Montgomery, and Louisa May Alcott until I was well into my twenties and thirties.
I tell you this because I am sincere when I say that if I can develop a taste for the fine arts, anyone can. Is it easy? No. It’s just as difficult to acquire a taste for the fine arts when you’re used to reading movie novelizations and listening to disco as it is to develop a taste for healthy whole foods when you’re used to eating fast food, donuts, and chili dogs. So how does a girl who hated opera music in college grow into a woman who can listen spellbound to recordings of the Three Tenors?
For me, the key to changing my cultural tastes has always been to start with what I like. I liked Rachmaninov, so instead of listening to classical violin music and opera, I sought out other romantic piano music such as that composed by Chopin. I liked The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Hamlet because the stories intrigued me. Given the many TV and film novelizations I had read, it should be no surprise that my road into classic novels as a young mom was through the movie versions I watched on TV. I knew I liked the stories, and having a visual image in my mind of what was happening as I read the novels made them more appealing to me. Believe me, archaic language is so much less of a stumbling block when you like the story, just as healthy whole foods are so much more palatable when you wrap them in a tortilla!
One of the wonderful things about this particular time in history is that the fine arts are more accessible to the public at large than they have ever been. In his speech, Elder Callister refers to a collection of literature called the Harvard Classics, a collection I’ve heard other leaders of my church recommend. Not so many years ago, if a person wanted to own this collection, he or she had to pay quite a bit of money for it. Now all of those books are available on Gutenberg for free download to your computer or dedicated reading device. This collection of books, as good as it is, is just one of many avenues a person could take when delving into the great literature of the world.
I love this observation from Elder Callister:
My wife and I recently spent four years on Church assignment in Eastern Europe, residing in Moscow, Russia. We often traveled on the Moscow underground subway called the Metro. We noticed the bowed heads of the Russian passengers, for they were reading Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, or Pushkin—and, sometimes, Mark Twain. The people were poor, but they were not obsessed with their poverty. They possessed the rich tradition of Russian literature, art, and music.
It’s been thirty-five years since I took that humanities class in college. I’ve spent those years developing a taste for the fine arts, and I like to think my metamorphosis has enabled me to better appreciate the good in all types of art. As much as I enjoy listening to classical pianist Hélène Grimaud, there are times when only the music of classic rock pianist Billy Joel will do. When making these choices, I try to ask myself: Is the material wholesome? Will it edify or at least energize me? Do I like it? Is it suitable for the occasion? I appreciate Handel’s Messiah this time of year, but I can’t imagine listening to it in the truck as my family drives to the Christmas tree farm to cut down our tree. For that activity, we prefer the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra!
The featured image came from Pixabay.