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The first-time famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma ever performed as a young boy, he played a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. In the 60 years since then, he has performed works by scores of other composers, but he finds himself constantly returning to Bach. When asked why that is, Yo-Yo Ma explained: “At each stage of your life, you go back and discover new things. The way I understand Bach now is with the analogy of a river. It’s like you’re touching a living stream of water that keeps flowing, and by touching it or listening to it or playing it, you are in touch with something much bigger than yourself. It changes from day to day, from season to season and from year to year.”
It takes only a glance at the news to know about disasters and tragedies all around the world. And it takes only a glance into our own lives to know that they happen close to home as well. Everyone’s difficulties are unique, but everyone has some. And perhaps that’s the first step toward coping and hoping: to realize that we’re not alone as we experience life’s hardships. We are all, to one degree or another, going through it together. While we might prefer to turn away from others and struggle privately, hearts heal best when they’re open. That’s when love can enter, when the bonds of friendship can bind up a broken heart. Writer James Thurber once shared this definition of love he heard from a friend: “Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.”
In 1846, thousands of people in the midwestern United States were persecuted for their beliefs and forced from their homes in the dead of winter. They didn’t consider themselves pioneers, but suddenly they were—walking across the western wilderness in search of refuge, a place where they could worship their God and practice their faith. Some traveled by wagon, others by handcart, but they all had to walk and walk and walk many hundreds of miles. There were no roads or restaurants, no inns or waystations to enter and rest along the way. But the fire of their faith kept them warm, and their convictions kept them moving.
When The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square first began singing, not long after the wagon wheels came to a stop in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847, there was more sagebrush than people in the listening audience. Now, that same choir produces the world’s longest-running continuous network broadcast—carried on more than 2,000 media stations and heard by millions of people each week.
We opened today’s broadcast the same way we opened The Tabernacle Choir’s first-ever broadcast 90 years ago: with a stirring hymn titled “The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee.” It was composed by George Careless, former conductor of the Choir, and looking back, it was the perfect way to begin the weekly tradition of Music and the Spoken Word—with a song about “the dawning of a brighter day” majestically rising “on the world.” Mornings, after all, bring hope. The dawn is a signal of promise and possibility and encouragement. And this is what Music and the Spoken Word has brought to the world for nine decades now. No one knew it at the time, but July 15, 1929, marked the dawning of the longest continuously broadcast network program in history.
On the 10th day of May 1869, at a remote promontory north of the Great Salt Lake, Central Pacific Railroad official Leland Stanford struck a golden spike into a railroad tie. It marked the connecting point between the Central Pacific and Union Pacific rail lines, a railroad that now spanned the breadth of the United States. Bill Smoot, a local 15-year-old, had signed on to help with the work as it passed through Utah Territory. He later recalled, “I caught the railroad fever, even though I had never even seen a picture of a railroad or a train of cars.”
Nathan Hale was a schoolteacher, fresh out of college, teaching in a one-room school in New London, Connecticut, when the American Colonies went to war against the British in 1775. Inspired by the cause of independence, he joined the fight and quickly rose to the rank of captain. But the colonists faced a series of defeats in the early months of the revolution, and victory did not seem likely. It was in these circumstances that General George Washington asked for volunteers to spy on the British forces. It was a dangerous mission, and being captured would mean certain death. At first no one volunteered. Then 21-year-old Nathan Hale—alone—stepped forward.
Good fathers make a big difference in the lives of their children—bigger, in fact, than they might realize. Fathers often try to share with their children some of their hard-won wisdom—lessons about work, integrity, and perseverance. But most children will tell you they remember less of what their fathers say and more of what they do—who they are. How blessed are the many sons and daughters who can say, “I want to be just like my dad,” or “Whenever I’m not sure what to do, I think about my dad and try to follow his example.”
Life is often compared to a pathway. And, as most of us know by experience, that pathway is rarely smooth and straight. Rather, it takes us on a journey of peaks and valleys, twists and turns. Some of these are expected: Childhood passes into youth. Youthful life evolves into adulthood and, eventually, into life’s twilight. We know these changes are coming, and we can prepare ourselves to transition from one stage to another.
Not long ago, a man ran into an old high school friend, one he had not seen for many decades. He remembered his classmate as a reckless teenager, but he was now well into his 60's, and he was noticeably different: certainly more responsible and mature, but also kinder and more caring. What a pleasure it was to get reacquainted with this new version of his long-lost friend. He couldn’t help but ponder what experiences must have influenced him over those many years. What heartache and happiness, what successes and sorrows had shaped him and made him into the person he had become?
To be human is to love. We become our best and truest selves only when we stop focusing on ourselves and start loving others. Love gives richness and beauty to life. People who love are able to keep going forward during difficulties and experience authentic joy.
The flag of the United States has flown on the earth and the moon, on the home front and the battlefront, in conflict and in peace. Something stirs within us when we see this red, white, and blue “emblem of the land [we] love, the home of the free and the brave.” 1
Life is full of important things to do. But if we let those to-do’s fill up our lives, we may be missing something essential about what it means to be human. After all, as it is often said, we are human beings, not human doings. In other words, life is more about who we are becoming through our experiences—not just what we’re doing with our time. So while it’s helpful to plan what we are going to do each day, we might also consider what we are going to become each day. How might the person we are at the end of the day be a little different from the person we were at the beginning?
Much of the world’s most important work is done by people who don’t get much recognition. Teachers, farmers, laborers, military personnel, emergency responders, and so many others all play such vital roles in our society, and yet they often do it quietly, without the appreciation they deserve. And for no one is that more true than for mothers.
We all know the law of the harvest: the fact that we tend to reap what we sow. And yet even when we sow carefully, we don’t always reap what we expected to.
A drop of water may seem rather ordinary and unimpressive. And yet when very small amounts of water are dropped steadily, over extended periods of time, the results can be quite spectacular. Think, for example, of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, or the Reed Flute Cave in China, to name only a few. It’s amazing how often water does its remarkable work one drop at a time—giving life to a plant, turning a field green, invigorating parched soil, filling a river or lake, and yes, carving into solid rock. Over time, small drops of water can make a big difference.
It seems pretty much impossible to go through life without ever being insulted, mistreated, disrespected, or snubbed. We are surrounded by imperfect people who do imperfect things—people who are sometimes unkind, occasionally bad-mannered, and frequently rude. So what can we do about it?
One spring, a robin built her nest in a wreath that hung on a family’s front door. The mother bird flew to and from her nest many times a day. But one time, the bird came in for a landing just as the front door opened. Instead of finding her nest, she flew right into the house!
The world thrives on light. Just about every living thing seems to do a little better when the sun is shining. The natural world comes alive at dawn, as the light of a new day chases away darkness, and earth awakens with hope. And when spring brings longer stretches of light, it seems as if all of creation, surging with new life, rejoices in the victory over winter’s darkness.
We all have our share of difficulty and tragedy in life. Some of us, in fact, seem to have more than our share. And then there are people who somehow, against all odds, survive multiple seemingly impossible situations.
You don’t have to be a sailor or even a swimmer to know what it feels like to be thrown overboard into a stormy sea and struggle to keep your head above water. Life can feel that way sometimes. Fear and uncertainty crash and swirl all around us, and we feel that all we can do is hold on for dear life—if we could only find something to hold onto. To make matters worse, sometimes people and organizations we once trusted let us down. And so we wonder, where can we turn for peace? Where can we find safety and solace to our souls? Whom can we really trust?
As we get older, we tend to look at ourselves, others, and the world around us quite differently than when we were younger. Hopefully, we’ve learned a few things, gained wisdom and friendships along the way, and done our part to contribute to the world. Sometimes we become more interested in things that before didn’t capture our attention.
In what is perhaps the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre in Paris, France, there stands an 18-foot-tall statue estimated to be over 2,000 years old. It was discovered by an amateur archeologist in 1863, lying in pieces in the sand on the Greek island of Samothrace. Now it stands, steadfast and strong, among the Louvre’s most celebrated works of art and quite possibly one of the world’s most recognizable sculptures.
Here in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic in the heart of Europe, beautiful and historic sites are at nearly every turn. The German writer Goethe once called this city “the most precious stone in the … crown of the world.”
Some time ago, Clarence Thomas, an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court, dedicated a new chapel on a college campus in Michigan. In his dedicatory address, he quoted the architect of the chapel: “When you enter a church, it is as if you are entering through a gateway from the profane toward the sacred.” Justice Thomas’s plea was that the chapel be more than just an impressive building. “Let it be a place,” he said, “where people enter the presence of a majestic God. Let it be a house of worship, of prayer, of meditation, and of celebration before God. Let it be a haven of rest for the weary, a place of healing for the wounded, a place of comfort for the grieving, and a source of hope for the despairing and forgotten.”
Most of us know what it’s like to be interviewed for a job, hoping our answers to questions impress a potential employer. Some of us have even been on the other side of the desk—asking the questions, trying to identify the right person to hire.
So many fictional love stories follow a familiar pattern—and yet we never get tired of hearing it. Boy meets girl. Friendship blossoms into romance. Adversity is overcome, and the couple marries.
Most of the time, life is pretty wonderful. The world around us is filled with beauty. We are surrounded by people who care about us. And we wonder how life could be any better.
What does it mean to have a genuine friend? We may have many acquaintances, and we can be friendly to all of them, but true friendship is more than that. It requires more from us, and it gives us more in return.
How does a group of individuals, all with different backgrounds and different perspectives on life, become a united community? Well-known author and newspaper columnist David Brooks believes that the answer lies in how we see each other. “That’s what a community is,” he says, “a bunch of people looking after each other. A bunch of people seeing each other, and seeing each other deeply. Taking the time to really enter into relationships with each other and to depend upon one another. … That’s the glue that’s holding us together.”1