Dustin Walker grew up in Denver, Colorado and currently serves as an early-morning Seminary instructor in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. He served as a full-time missionary in Chile and attended Brigham Young University to study Molecular Biology and Genetics. He has worked as a microbiologist, business development manager, and sales marketing training manager in the biotech, food manufacturing, and healthcare industries. He spends his spare time seeking out adventures with his wife and four children, playing the guitar, collaborating with other creative people, and blogging.

Enter Dustin…

When you first wake up in the morning your body is at complete rest. Everything has slowed down significantly during the night and all of your biological processes are at their most “baseline”. This is a great time to record what is called your resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is a fantastic way to gauge general cardiovascular health. For most healthy adults, a normal resting heart rate can be anywhere from about 55-70 heartbeats per minute.

The heart is a very interesting organ. It is one of only 5 organs that medical professionals consider “vital”; the others being the brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs. Every second our heart pumps blood throughout our entire body, supplying the other vital organs with life giving oxygen and nutrients while at the same time drawing toxins and carbon dioxide out. In medical lists of the most important life saving skills everyone should know, the first one is always CPR. This is because when blood flow is stopped, every other organ immediately suffers.

Matters of the Heart

President Russell M. Nelson is famously known for being a former heart surgeon. He loves sharing analogies about the heart and body. During a conference he shared elaborate details about the mitral valve located inside of the heart and the impact it would have on our lives if that valve were ruptured. He then explained,

“[some of] you may wonder why I use such teaching models…The Lord said that ‘all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal’ (Doctrine & Covenants 29:34). He is our Creator. Thus, temporal or physical laws that relate to our divine creation often have a spiritual application.”

President Nelson loves giving examples of the heart because he can see the power of spiritual laws manifesting themselves through very real physical and scientific observations.

Pacing With Music

We established resting heart rate. Our heart rate also goes up when we exert ourselves, usually through movement or exercise. It can also go up when we experience stress, anxiety, or excitement. The reasons are simple. When we’re moving, stressed, or excited, our bodies and organs require more oxygen and nutrients and begin to release more carbon dioxide. Our heart pumps faster to meet those demands. Yet, there is another curious example of when our heart rate changes, almost to meet an exact number.

As an experienced performance musician, DJ, and scientist, I know there is an interesting thing that happens when music is played. Our heart rates try to match the tempo (or beats per minute) of the music.

Even if somebody is simply sitting their heart rate will start to increase or decrease to try and match the pace of the music. This is why most popular songs are written at 120 beats per minute; because it is exactly double our average resting heart rate. Dance music usually follows a beat called four on the floor because it is literally your heart beat at a faster rate. (Bum bum bum bum) When I’m working as a DJ, I know that if I need a quick way to fire up a crowd, I find a song right at that sweet spot of 120 bpm and we’re off. Most songs that are used for cardio workout playlists will be around that range for the same reasons.

Songs of The Heart

I observe this real physical reaction and, as President Nelson explained, I think it has a very real spiritual application.

When Emma Smith began compiling the first hymn book, the Lord told her,

“…my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.” Doctrine & Covenants 25:12

I love that phrase, “the song of the heart”. Literally, we are physically tied to music. It has the power to affect our thoughts and feelings for good. It has the power to bring back memories, inspire us to change, pump us up before a big game, or calm us down before going to bed. But the simple fact that our heart rate (an involuntary biological function) works to pace itself faster or slower with music, is a testimony to me that music is eternal.

Profound Awe

For the last several months I’ve been “wrestling with the Lord” with my concept of the word “worship”. Worship, to me, seems like a very active word and different than merely sitting and receiving instruction. The dictionary even defines worship as a verb: to show great or extravagant respect, honor, and devotion to a divine being. As I reflected on my spiritual growth over the last year I was frustrated as I thought about how often I found myself just quietly sitting during a worship service. Head down. Tired.

A non-member cousin of mine who attended a service of ours felt that our worship looked sad and somber as we hyper-focused on our idea of reverence. He noted, “You sing lines that say; ‘We’ll sing and we’ll shout’ but I honestly don’t think you will.”

Have we connected worshipful praise with a cultural concept of reverence? Yet remember that even the children’s song reminds us that “reverence is more than just quietly sitting”. True reverence means we are literally struck with profound awe. I thought back to some of the most powerful spiritual moments I’ve had where I truly felt worshipful and real awe in my life:

  • The times when the entire MTC would stand and sing “Called To Serve” in everyone’s mission language
  • When every single one of my children were born
  • Standing to honor Handel’s “Messiah” as it is performed literally anywhere
  • Clapping my hands and singing along with fellow brothers and sisters in a local Baptist church
  • The entire month of last December when our bishop, conductor, and amazing organists and musical performances led us through a month of weekly Christmas themed services
  • Seeing our youth sing in choirs, direct the hymns, come to Seminary, and lead discussions in their classes
  • Caroling with my wife and kids to friends and neighbors
  • Gazing at the stars with my wife as we contemplate eternity together.

Enveloped By Music

I’m not surprised to find that music has been present in several of these memories. Music allows us to be very active participants in the moment. We hear it, feel it in our bones, sing along with it, tap our toes, read and memorize the lyrics, stand up to it, clap our hands with it, dance to it, breath to it, cry with it, view the album art, and allow sounds to wash over and completely envelope us.

I truly believe that the reason why Handel’s “Messiah” resonates with so many of us is we were ALL there singing it at Christ’s birth when Luke recorded:

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-15, emphasis added)

An Equation of the Heart

Every hymn in our hymnbook shows the beats per minute recommended for that particular song. It also shows the suggested attitude that we can bring to our presentation of that hymn. Some are meant to be more internally focused and pensive while others are meant to be more of an outward display of rejoicing.

Well, my son Dasch and I went page by page through the hymnbook to crunch the numbers. Yes, there is a spreadsheet now.

Hymns intended to prepare us for the sacrament slow down our heart rates and are more internally focused and pensive. Think things like the slowest hymn; Sweet Hour of Prayer at 42 bpm with the instructions “peacefully”. Hymns meant to be outward expressions of praise, think like the fastest hymns which are a five-way tie at 126 bpm. The Day Dawn is Breaking is one of them with the instructions to sing ‘joyfully’. Average bpm of the entire hymnbook? 92—with the Easter section averaging the fastest songs at 98.

Top three instructions shown to sing each hymn:

  1. Joyfully
  2. Fervently
  3. Reverently

Let that sink in for just a second. How often do you find yourself singing a hymn full of joy or fervor (which is just another word for excitement or passion)? 132 hymns have more of an inward-focusing instruction and 199 have a more outward expression.

I don’t want you to think that I’m saying that only fast, upbeat, or louder songs are the answer here. What I am saying is that it is 100% about allowing our hearts into the equation.

Our hearts are linked to not only music, but they are also a symbol for our desires and passions. Music is one of the most powerful forms of worship.

If you can’t sing, hum.

If you don’t want to hum, attentively read the lyrics.

If you don’t want to read the lyrics, open your heart to the Spirit and focus on the sound.

Immediately after that scripture verse about “the song of the heart”, the Lord told Emma,

“Wherefore lift up thy heart and rejoice and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.” (Doctrine & Covenants 25:13)

The Expanding Hymnbook

Participating musically helps us put down distractions, lift up our heads, and engage with the Spirit that is present because of the testimonies that are shared and the covenants we make during our sacrament meetings.

I remember the multiple times during my mission in Chile when I was asked by recently-baptized members, “Where are the Latino composers?” or “Why aren’t there any songs that we sang with my previous congregation?”

My heart literally leaps for joy when I think that shortly we will be blessed with a new collection of hymns that were sparked into action by our inspired prophet.

The Church’s website states these will be

“songs that make children feel they belong in our meetings, music borrowed from other faiths, songs that are more globally relevant, songs that have been updated to clarify doctrine, replace outdated language, and ensure lyrics and styles are more universally inclusive.”

Music Demonstrates Faith

Whether it is Bach’s organ masterpieces, the absolute rock and roll that Mozart put together, African tribal drums, Indian Hindustani, Japanese kagura, or the blues played on a dusty guitar in Chicago, so much music has been created and played with intentions to demonstrate faith, uncertainty, love, and unity in something divine.

Christ and His apostles sang a hymn after he performed the sacrament for them. It wouldn’t have been one of the hymns in our book. It would have been some much older Hebrew song and one day we will be able to even hear that again and sing it together.

Elder Renlund said that the new hymnbook will

“help deepen [our] conversion to the Lord and His work.”

Music Creates a Worshipful Environment

I’m grateful that we have leaders, conductors, and organists that put their hearts into providing a worshipful environment. There is a great effort to make music a part of our services and I pray that we can be more joyful and heartfelt in the ways we approach our worship.

I know for me personally, I don’t want my worship to be a somber or sad display of me looking down, because that’s not how I feel inside when I think about Christ and His Atonement. Rather, I aspire to praise like the Psalmist described:

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp… With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar, let the floods clap their hands, let the hills be joyful together.” (Psalms 98:4–9)

How do we help leaders

Pin It on Pinterest