Skips to main content

Clay Christiansen

Divine Blessings

How inspiring and beautiful was that musical number? What a great testament to the power of beautiful music. I’ve taken the words from a hymn that inspires me to guide me in my remarks to you today, and the words—actually there are two sets of words to this hymn, sung to the same melody. Hymn tunes are given names, too, that you would never know—you would recognize the melody, but you would never know that its name was “Hyfrydol.” It’s a Welsh tune, and I think that must be a Welsh word.  And we sing the great sacrament hymn by Mabel Jones Gabbott, “In Humility, Our Savior” (Hymns, no.172), to this tune. And then the Christian world at large sings, and so does the Tabernacle Choir, another set of wonderful words from 1747 to this tune by the great hymn writer Charles Wesley , and it’s titled, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” And I want to use the words of this hymn by these two great poets to guide our thoughts today.

In humility, our Savior,

Grant thy Spirit here, we pray,

As we bless the bread and water

In thy name this holy day.

      (“In Humility, Our Savior,” Hymns, no. 172)

Fix in us thy humble dwelling;

All thy faithful mercies crown!

. . . Visit us with thy salvation;

Enter every trembling heart.

            (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 384)

We’ve already had much focus this morning on the Savior and upon the Atonement, and the importance of that in our life. What a blessing we have every Sunday, don’t we, to renew our covenants with the Savior and to remember the great atoning sacrifice and blessing that He is in our life. And that helps us to have His Spirit be with us. That’s one of the promises, isn’t it? That if we partake of the sacrament worthily, that we’ll always have His Spirit to be with us. (See D&C 20:75, 79.)

You know, also, this line “enter every trembling heart”—I had a trembling heart when I was called as a Tabernacle organist. That was a few years ago; it was in 1982. I was teaching organ lessons in the organ loft at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the oldest non-Mormon church in continuous use in this state, which is over on 1st South at 231 East—a little building over there. If you haven’t ever stepped in it and you get a chance, do so. It has four very beautiful Tiffany windows, and it has a beautiful organ in the back, although that’s a recent instrument. It also had a very beautiful organ when I was organist there, and I supported my growing family largely off of teaching private organ and piano lessons.

Anyway, it was one morning when I was teaching an organ lesson in that loft, Robert Cundick, who was the senior Tabernacle organist at the time, climbed up the loft and appeared and asked if I could come with him for a minute. So I excused myself from the student, we walked outside onto the sidewalk, and he said, “We’ve received permission to appoint another Tabernacle organist, and we’d like to have you. How do you feel about that?”

When I picked myself up off the pavement, why, I told him that yes, I’d be willing. I can assure you it was with a trembling heart and a prayer, and the Lord has not let me down since that time. And you know, every broadcast it is with humility that we approach our preparation, with a prayer in our heart.

Every time we play the broadcast,  Music and the Spoken Word, the world’s longest continuous broadcast—you’ve been there, all of you perhaps, for at least one of those on Sunday mornings at 9:30 over in the Tabernacle. Right at 9:15—you can come earlier, if you want to witness the preparation. But I and my colleagues never fail to have an earnest prayer in our heart. We try to do our best to prepare for these broadcasts for the music that we have to play, whether it’s just with the choir or whether it’s with the choir and orchestra, or whether it’s alone, as we usually have an organ solo. If we broadcast, we play the “organ pad” as it’s come to be called—the little organ bridge that we often play. Usually it leads from the number that is right before the Spoken Word, into the Spoken Word. We never know exactly how many seconds that is supposed to be, until we get right onto it. The closest clue is at the “fax run” as we call it, when the broadcast is run through a dry run, so to speak, every Sunday morning, usually from about 8:30 to 9:00. And we find out exactly how long the broadcast is going to take, give or take several seconds, and how long that organ pad is supposed to be. It’s been estimated before. Sometimes it’s nothing, but usually it’s from 15 seconds to a minute and 15 seconds—and it has to be improvised of course. We adjust the length to the time. But we never know until, really, until the broadcast itself. We have a little stopwatch on the organ console that will say how many seconds behind or ahead of the projected time the broadcast is. And if we’re behind we cut that organ pad several seconds shorter than we had expected, or if it says that we’re ahead, then we may extend it somewhat.

One thing I’ve found is that if we do our part, the Lord does indeed make up the difference. And I testify to you that you can count on this in your lives.

Let me not forget, O Savior,

Thou didst bleed and die for me

When thy heart was stilled and broken

On the cross at Calvary.

      (“In Humility, Our Savior”)

Come, Almighty to deliver,

Let us all thy life receive.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

We earnestly trust in our Father in Heaven. We can cast our burdens upon Him, can’t we, and He promises that He will make our burdens light. He will deliver us. When I think of delivery, and the Lord delivering, it comes to mind an example of when our son John was born. Now, my wife Diane had had five pregnancies before that, and the fifth pregnancy was twins, and they had to be delivered C-section. And we wanted to have more children, and she wanted to have regular deliveries, and so our next child, a son, which was her sixth pregnancy, was born naturally. All went well.

Then John was our seventh, so this was her seventh pregnancy, and she had been in labor for some time. And finally they decided that they couldn’t let this labor go on any longer. Of course, they were especially hesitant to have too long of protracted labor because she was a previous C-section. And so finally, they decided it was going to be a C-section, and they gave her a shot of Demerol, I think it was, to lead to her being put out for the C-section. And she and I—I knew how badly she wanted to not have a C-section and have to recover after that, and so I remember retiring to a little restroom that was there in the hospital room that Diane was in. And on my hands and knees pleading with Heavenly Father to deliver, literally, deliver her and somehow deliver our young one so she wouldn’t have to have this C-section, even though they determined it was going to happen and they were getting her ready for it.

Well, as it turns out, at that point, when they came back in to check her, she was bearing down and in the last stages of delivery. So they quickly got the doctor, wheeled her into the delivery room, and after pushing and working like I’ve never seen before, why, we had delivered our broad-shouldered son John, even though she had been drugged up in preparation for a C-section. So I attribute that directly—I know it was a miracle of the Lord and answering our earnest prayers, as He will every time.

He’ll answer your prayers, whatever they may be. I know most of you, many of you are returned missionaries, and so you are looking for your eternal companion, no doubt. I remember when I was looking for mine—it was a few years ago—but I was a freshman at BYU and I had decided to—I remember praying to the Lord and saying, “Well, Heavenly Father, I will trust you to show me when the time is right who my eternal companion is to be, and to be at peace until then.” This was very important to me. Well, He kept causing me to run into this young lady who, actually clear back in the tenth grade we had shared a German class together at West High School, just up the street from your school.

I didn’t date then, but when for 11th and 12th grade I went to a different school. We moved away, and I went to Morgan High School. As a senior at Morgan High, we came one  Saturday down to the Capitol Theater, which was still a movie theater in those days. And they had a showing of the movie of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. And I guess there were senior English classes from around the state attending that, and who should I run into in the lobby of Capitol Theater but this attractive young lady. She was there with her sister. I stopped and we chatted for a while, and I went back in and sat down and watched the movie and thought to myself, “Gosh, it would be nice to date her. I wish I had the gumption.” I was a scaredy and was not very forward.

Well, then, forward through then to BYU. In the middle of my freshman year, I went with a friend over Christmas holiday to Temple Square. And in those years, they used to have an annual production of “Amal and the Night Visitors,” the musical opera, in the Tabernacle, and we (a friend and I with his family) came to see that. And at the conclusion we went to the North Visitors’ Center, and I was standing in the lobby there, and here was this young lady standing again. And we visited, talked, and I thought, “Oh, I’m going to do something about it this time. So when I went home I happened to have a little West High directory, and I found it and opened it up and matched pictures and found out her phone number and address and her name—Diane Francom. So in those days, you know, we didn’t carry cell phones around and it was a long-distance call from Morgan to Salt Lake City. So New Years’ Day, when we came down to Salt Lake for a New Year’s dinner at my aunt’s, I decided I would give her a call. And so I did, and we talked on the phone for two or three hours. And I knew that something had happened and I had found a soul mate. And then I guess you could say, as they say, the rest is history.

Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving;

Teach us tolerance and love.

Let our prayers find access to thee

In thy holy courts above.

      (“In Humility, Our Savior”)

Jesus thou art all compassion,

Pure, unbounded love thou art.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

When I think of compassion and love for fellow men, I am reminded of another day a few days after Bob Cundick appeared in the organ loft to make that announcement. He appeared there again, and he said, “Clay,” he says, “finish this lesson. I’ve called your wife and told her to have your suit ready. I’ll run up and grab your suit”—we just lived up on the Avenues—“and you change into your suit. You have an interview with President Hinckley in half an hour.” He was a counselor in the First Presidency then, as he was for many years, and a long-time advisor of the Tabernacle Choir.

So I finished the lesson. Bob brought my suit. I quickly changed into it. I didn’t go to work in a suit back in those days. I got in the car and whizzed over, and miraculously there was a parking spot in front of the Administration Building. On the way over, Bob—I didn’t call him Bob then; it was Brother Cundick. But I came to call him Bob in the years that we were colleagues together that followed. But at any rate, he said, “I have one word of advice.” He said, “When President Hinckley speaks to you, look him straight in the eyes to give him your answers.”

So I did. And one of the things he said to me was, “You know Bishop Charles (Otis Charles, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah).” He said, “He’s a friend of mine. If we hire you as a Tabernacle organist, what are they going to do for an organist over at St. Marks?”

I thought how telling and impressive that was, that he would be concerned about them and thinking about them.

Love divine, all loves excelling,

Joy of heaven, to earth come down.

. . . Suddenly return and never,

Nevermore thy temples leave.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

Aren’t we blessed to have temples? That’s where you will be united with your eternal companion, and the greatest blessings in life will come through him or her. It was the temple that sustained us following the death of our four and a half month old twin, Merrilee. We attended the temple weekly, and what a blessing and what a strength that was. You have the temple right here in . . . your school, essentially is in the shadow of the temple, isn’t it? I hope that you attend regularly.

Thee we would be always blessing,

Serve thee as thy hosts above,

Pray and praise thee without ceasing,

Glory in thy perfect love.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

The heavenly hosts serve our Heavenly Father, don’t they? And they pray and they praise Him, and music is one of these ways that they praise Him. You know, we sometimes have been quite certain that heavenly hosts have joined the Tabernacle Choir as we are singing. One example that I can think of was not when they were performing, but when we were singing in the Kirtland Temple. It was during the choir tour of the summer of 1992, and we had stopped for several hours at the Kirtland Temple. We had a meeting at the Kirtland Temple in the assembly room. It was full of the choir and our entourage, and there were a couple of LDS speakers and a speaker from the RLDS Church. Then we sang “The Spirit of God” (Hymns, no.2), which, you may know, was written for and first sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. I was sitting next to my sweetheart, Diane, and she was sitting next the wife of the conductor—Jerold Ottley’s famous and wonderful soprano soloist wife, JoAnn Ottley. And as we progressed in that song, you know, the Spirit was so strong that their voices broke and we couldn’t sing.

We looked over and tears were streaming down everybody’s faces. And the sound was glorious, and we thought, well, who is singing? Because we are so emotionally overcome that most of us cannot sing. And we are certain that we were joined by the heavenly hosts on that occasion.

Finish, then, thy new creation;

Pure and spotless let us be.

Let us see thy great salvation

Perfectly restored in thee.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

We have this great restored gospel, don’t we, that is such a blessing to us. And we know that it has to be preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before the end (see Revelation 14:6; 2 Nephi 26:13; Mosiah 3:13, 20; D&C 88:103; 112:1) and it’s been entrusted to you mostly—the burden and the opportunity of that carrying of the gospel—mostly to you, the younger generation, hasn’t it? Many of you have returned from your missions—I understand something like 80% of the brethren—and have had that marvelous experience. And what a miraculous thing. You know, could any other church call 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds out to carry the gospel and be the vanguard and have success? No, I don’t think so. I know they couldn’t; they wouldn’t think of doing such an insane thing. But because of the Spirit of the Lord and His blessing and the dedication of you wonderful rising generation, why, the gospel goes forth in all its majesty and power.

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in heaven we take our place.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

Music brings the tones of heaven to earth, I think, quicker than most anything. I believe that the harmonies of music mirror the harmony and the unity that is in heaven, and I think it is justly called “the divine art.” We heard an example of that unity in that wonderful solo today. So when we are tempted, we are instructed—rightly so—to sing a favorite hymn and the Spirit will come back to us (see “Hum Your Favorite Hymn,” Children’s Songbook, 152).

Then, when we have proven worthy

Of thy sacrifice divine,

Lord, let us regain thy presence;

Let thy glory round us shine.

      (“In Humility, Our Savior”)

Till we cast our crowns before thee,

Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

      (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”)

That word crowns reminds me of Proverbs 17:6, where it says “Children’s children are the crown of old men.” Now, I don’t like to think of myself as an old man; I got started having children pretty early. But those children’s children—the grandchildren—boy, I feel like they are the crown on my head, and I know that they and their posterity will be also in the worlds to come. We know that if we are faithful, we will literally be crowned, as it says in the 75th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, “with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life” (verse 5). Everything our Father has, He will give to us (see D&C 84:38).

How blessed we are! How blessed you are to be at this wonderful school—the crème de la crème, I would say, of the Church. Where else can you go and have this spiritual environment and have so much personal attention, you know, in a small, intimate environment, if you will. I first came to love LDS Business College over 25 years ago when our oldest son attended college for a year before his mission. I called him last night to tell him I was speaking here and just ask—I wanted to know if my recollection was correct and it was a marvelous experience. I said, “Did you enjoy yourself there?”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I loved that experience.” So I know that you are blessed and that you appreciate this great blessing you have.

Well, finally, I want to end by playing an organ setting of this great hymn that I have recited to you in the course of this sermon. In humility and love divine, and in music, I’ve tried to express the words of these two great hymns.

I bear my testimony to you that I know that these things are true, and I pray the Lord’s choicest blessings to be with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Introduction: President J. Lawrence Richards

Let me introduce to you Brother Christiansen. He was appointed the Temple Square organist in 1982. He previously served as the organist and chorus master at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Salt Lake City, and for five years the organist for the Congregation Kol Ami.  He shares responsibility for the console of the 11,623 pipes that are in the Tabernacle pipe organ, as well as the monumental organ in the Conference Center. He performs daily organ recitals, and he is organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word.

Dr. Christiansen’s solo performances have taken him across the United States, Canada, and England. He has performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Europe and Israel, and he has been a featured artist for a variety of musical and organ groups. Dr. Christiansen completed a doctorate in composition and holds a master of music degree from the University of Utah and a bachelor of music from Brigham Young University. He has also studied with the former Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner.

Among Dr. Christiansen’s other works are a solo organ CD album and numerous solo performances with other performance groups. His organ and vocal compositions are published by numerous entities and are recognized worldwide. Dr. Christiansen and his wife, Diane, are the parents of 13 children and have 53 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild.  Brothers and sisters, it is a special treat for us to listen to a man and his spirit and his talent today.


Close Modal