Elder Douglas L. Callister of the Seventy wrote a delightful article in this month’s Ensign, “Our Refined Heavenly Home.” I’m ashamed to admit that I might never have read it had not my dear wife told me I should. (I keep saying I’ll stick the Ensign in the bathroom where it will actually get read, but it seems weird to have all those pictures of Jesus on my toilet, Backslider or no Backslider.) The article is adapted from a BYU devotional Elder Callister gave in 2006 which is about 1800 words longer and has even more dandy quotations. (Frankly, it’s tempting to just lift all his quotations and anecdotes and place them here for discussion, but I can’t quite feel good about that.)
The article has three main thrusts, language, literature and music, with an everything-else category to finish things off.
For brevity’s sake, I will take a short excerpt from each section to comment on, but in your comments, feel free to reference any part of his talk.
LanguageIn his biography on Ralph Waldo Emerson, Van Wyck Brooks relates that Emerson was invited to speak at the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the great poet Shakespeare’s birth. After proper introduction Emerson presented himself at the pulpit and then sat down. He had forgotten his notes. He preferred to say nothing rather than words not well measured. For some, it was Emerson in one of his most eloquent hours.
Considering how frequently I speak before dozens and how poorly I prepared I generally am, I feel ashamed. I respect few writers like I respect Emerson, but if I were speaking at his 300th, I would wing it without my notes, considering myself prepared enough for having had notes until a moment ago. And then I would get a few laughs and trot out my David-O-McKay-called-him-the-wisest-American and talk about reading him in high school and sit down.
But I do agree with Emerson that it is best to be well prepared. I sculpt, for instance, my sacrament meeting talks with great care. And I spent, apparently, too long polishing my Sunstone presentation.
In 2009, where soundbite culture has trickled down even to the written word, carefully crafted sprachen is a rarity. But speaking of sacrament meeting, Mormon culture has a grand opportunity to share its preservation among all.
LiteratureI don’t know whether our heavenly home has a television set or a DVD player, but in my mind’s imagery it surely has a grand piano and a magnificent library. . . . President David O. McKay (1873–1970) was inclined to awaken daily at 4:00 a.m., skim read up to two books, and then commence his labors at 6:00 a.m. He could quote 1,000 poems from memory. He referred to the grand masters of literature as the “minor prophets.” He was a living embodiment of the scriptural admonition to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118).
I’ve abandoned the mansion metaphor for heaven, but I do like the temple metaphor for home and mine certainly has a library. I’ve taken to reading for breadth and not depth so I memorize nothing these days, but I am still active among the minor prophets. And the world is still producing them! Minor prophets I’ve read recently or am currently reading include Ian McEwan, Thomas Lynch, Edward Gorey, Francesca Lia Block, Mary Shelley and Cormac McCarthy. And we Mormons are supplying some prophets as well. I’ve been enlightened recently by Angela Hallstrom and Brad Teare and Orson Whitney.
When people ask me about being Mormon, I often speak of our openness to Truth. And nothing proves this more than our canonized love of literature.
MusicAfter the first performance of Messiah, Handel, responding to a compliment, said, “My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them—I wish to make them better.” Haydn “dressed in his best clothes to compose because he said he was going before his maker.”
I’m planning on rising early this summer and writing a book. I don’t see me wearing a tie, though. Perhaps this speaks poorly of my book?
I agree fully with Handel however: entertainment alone makes for poor art. Forgettable. Leaves you no better and thus, given the laws of entropy, leaves you worse. If I am not improving, I am sliding.
As for music, Callister seems to be placing classical above, say, rock. But if you have the same local classical radio station I have, you know that plenty classical music is just pretty notes pointlessly arranged. And a closer reading reveals that he is not explicitly calling modern music poor in comparison to the Old Masters. And it would seem that not making such distinctions has a decent history:President Young said, “There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven.” It would be punishment enough to go to hell and not hear a note of music for all eternity.
Art, Appearance, and Attitude
This is where the article starts to seem rushed, with art being smashed next to dressing neatly. And it leaves me wanting for much much more. (Also: How did you come to meet Audrey Hepburn, Elder Callister?)
David Starr Jordan, 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. . . .”
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, music, art, and order of heaven.
Vulgarity then, is falling short of our godly potential.
I like this definition very much.
Again, when speaking about my faith, the concept of being a Child of God — of progression, of potential — these are the terms I use when explaining Mormonism.
And one of the beautiful things about Art is that it pushes us forward.
At least, that art which we will find in our mansion prepared.