Personal Essays | BYU Studies

Personal Essays

Thoughts on the 150th Anniversary of the Church in the British Isles

Marion D. Hanks writes: "I have had a serious and ill-disguised affection for Britain for many years. Whether that comes because my ancestors were born in Hartley Bridge, Gloucester, England, and Hills Head, Lanarkshire and Fifeshire, Scotland, or from the wonderful blessing of having lived personally in the land for a time, I cannot say. I do not know whether it is heredity or environment. My... Read more

A Declaration to the World

The opening of the British Mission a century and a half ago was a declaration to the world: it was a declaration of a great millennial vision; it was an expression of tremendous faith; it was a demonstration of personal courage; and it was a statement of everlasting truth. Gordon B. Hinckley says: "The infusion of the blood of Britain into the weakened body of the Church in 1837 and in the years... Read more

Discipleship and Scholarship

Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave this address at BYU on September 27, 1991, to a group of scholars. He encourages them to use their best scholarship while also building and protecting the kingdom of God. One of the striking dimensions of the restored gospel is the democracy of demands. Yet, it seeks to build an aristocracy of saints. Certain standards and requirements are laid upon all disciples. The... Read more

In Praise of Ourselves: Stories to Tell

William A. Wilson writes of the importance of keeping family histories as a way to include ourselves and our families in the ever-expanding canon of literature and as a means of giving direction to our lives. Wilson shares his own family stories through the lives of his grandfather, Robert Green, and his mother, Lucile Green Wilson. Both were Mormon settlers in Riddyville, Utah. He tells of their... Read more

The Dream Is Ours to Fulfill

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The Four Political Faces of the Intellectual in Soviet Russia Today: A Personal Essay

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My Belief

When I was growing up in Portland, Oregon, in the 1930s and 1940s, I always thought of myself as a believing Latter-day Saint. My parents were believers; even when they were not attending church regularly, they still believed. All of my relatives were Latter-day Saints and so far as I could tell accepted the gospel like eating and drinking, as a given of life. In Sunday School I tried to be good... Read more

The Chimerical Desert

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A Magic Summer with The Magic Flute

My granddaughter, Sadie, is nearly four. She and I drive to California in my car to spend a week in a rented house at the beach with extended family. Her parents and two brothers follow in another car. With Sadie buckled in her car seat behind me, I look for ways to entertain her as I drive. "Want to hear a story about a princess?" I ask. Of course she does. I slip my newly purchased CD of The... Read more

Voice Lessons

In this contest-winning personal essay, the author describes the challenge of undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer and coping with lasting scars, including an extra "smile" on her throat where an incision was made and a voice that functions only some of the time. She writes, "I smell the rainwater as it moves around the tires, the earthiness of smashed worms, and everything cold and soulful... Read more

A Performer's Reflections on Die Zauberflöte

Singing the heroic tenor roles in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Entführung aus dem Serail, Cosi fan Tutte, and Die Zauberflöte has been a richly rewarding and an extremely challenging experience for me. Few composers require such a masterful vocal technique, and even fewer understand the delicate marriage of vocal line to orchestral accompaniment. Using only those instruments that are absolutely... Read more

And God Said, Let There Be Lights in the Firmament of the Heaven

It is New Year's morning. The sun has not yet risen at our winter home in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The air is clear and cold, and I eagerly await the warmth of the morning sun. As I wait, I resolve to share my knowledge of the sun—that marvelous source of light and energy introduced by the simple words, "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from... Read more

Father, Forgive Us

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"Uncle Spencer": 1944–1985

By the summer of 1944, I was seventeen years old, living in Denver, owned a car, and had literally and figuratively taken over the running of my life. I was also cornering into the wrong turn at the crossroads of maturing puberty. The preceding October, Spencer W. Kimball, from Arizona, had been called as an Apostle by President Heber J. Grant. During that same summer of 1944, I visited relatives... Read more

Incommunicado

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Words Cannot Speak: "The Song of the Heart"

Clyn D. Barrus was chair of the Department of Music at Brigham Young University from 1993 until 1996, when he became director of BYU's newly organized School of Music. This article combines two talks—one to his department on November 5, 1991, and the other to the Church Music Workshop on August 2, 1994. Professor Barrus died on February 27, 1998. Several years ago, I had a lengthy discussion with... Read more

Pools of Living Water: No Longer a Thirsty Land?

St. George native Bruce Hafen tells how the settlers of this southern Utah town shaped and were shaped by the harsh terrain. His ancestors, who were among those Mormon pioneers who settled here, brought with them principles of faith, sacrifice, and hard work. It is crucial that today's people pass those principles to future generations through example and sharing family histories. Hafen compares... Read more

Spiritual "Reddyness"

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The Seduction of Our Gifts

BYU Modern Dance and Music Theatre professor Pat Debenham discusses his observation that artists can be drawn away from a gospel-oriented life by the very artistic gifts that God has endowed them with. Artists properly view their talents as gifts from God, but improperly focusing on those gifts can lead to vulnerability of one's relationship with the gospel. Artists seek for a personal, unique... Read more

On Fear, Food, and Flight

This personal essay interweaves three seemingly disparate themes—the author’s battle with Crohn’s disease, her attempts to master a certain inversion in yoga (that she refers to as flying), and her boyfriend’s depression, which causes him to break off their relationship. “When most people think about a fear of flying, they might think of planes, mechanics. My fear of flight is personal. It... Read more

How Country Music Can Improve Your Marriage

This light-hearted personal essay describes one man's "quest to become the Perfect Husband, the Ultimate Man, the Guy My Wife Dreams Of." Greg Hansen, a professional musician, has discovered one secret weapon: country music. "Before becoming the Highly Improved Guy I am today, I would come home after a long day in the recording studio, ready to de-stress and download, my full ration of words... Read more

Brother Wiseman

He appeared in our midst suddenly one Sunday morning. Hopped off a double decker bus across the road from Waynes Bakery just as they were pulling the first buns, five cents apiece, from the oven. Although, hopped is not exactly the word. More like he shuffled his little black body across the street and up the seven stairs outside the Mowbray Chapel, corner of Grove and Main, Cape Town, South... Read more

Science and Theology: A Search for the Uncommon Denominator

Scholars have found it difficult to add science and theology because they lack a common denominator. The scientists' theories of evolution and the theologians' revelations of man's creation could not be integrated harmoniously into a single, acceptable narrative because of the absence of a unifying concept. This essay relates my prolonged search for such a common denominator, a search that had... Read more

The Hoarse Whisperer

In this personal essay, David Milo Kirkham recounts his interactions with the animal kingdom. From his early banter with his neighbor's sheep and his trapping and killing of nuisance skunks in his rural community to his later encounter in the Bavarian Alps with a beautiful red fox, Kirkham both entertains and provokes serious thought about our relationship with God's other creatures. "Who are the... Read more

Final Address to the British Council

Poet, author, and academic Arthur Henry King's poetic essay discussing testimony, world affairs and self-knowledge. Originally published in Home and Abroad, periodical of the British Council, June/July 1971. Read more

Wandering On to Glory

In this essay, the author contrasts a journey with a commute. A journey involves none of the sameness or boredom of a commute. It is movement from point A to point B, pressing forward toward a goal or final destination in mind. It is Huckleberry Finn on the river, Frodo Baggins carrying the ring to Mordor, the Joads struggling toward an elusive California promised land. A commute, by contrast, is... Read more

Life Revised

The author of this personal essay describes how, at age nineteen, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Four years later, the unthinkable happened. After losing her ability to walk, she was informed by her doctor that she was one of only 350 out of 110,000 people currently taking Tysabri worldwide who had developed a condition called Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), a brain... Read more

Magnitude

In this personal essay, Elizabeth Knight explores the meaning of magnitude, beginning with an explanation of the famous Richter Scale and illustrating its logarithmic measurement through three successive earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, the last of which she experienced firsthand. She then examines a different scale, one designed to measure the difficulty of whitewater rapids and how... Read more

Thirty Years after the "Long-Promised Day": Reflections and Expectations

The announcement of the revelation of 1978, which extended the priesthood to all worthy Latter-day Saint men regardless of race, was celebrated as the arrival of a "long-promised day" (Official Declaration 2). Reflecting on the thirtieth anniversary of that revelation, I feel deep gratitude to the Lord for sending me to earth in an age in which I would be allowed to hold the priesthood and work... Read more

Mathematical Parables

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Take, Eat

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Luis Silva

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On Music Angels: God Only Knows

The trek from my office at the Air Force Academy history department to the faculty parking lot was long enough—about a ten-minute walk—sufficient time for some substantive thinking. One winter evening in about 1992, as I made the walk, my Comparative Revolutions course weighed on my mind. As I pondered how I might introduce the next day's discussion on causes of revolutions, I climbed into my... Read more

Mossy Pools, Unkempt Paths, and Living Memory

A man visits the house in which he grew up and finds weedy lawns and a mossy swimming pool. He remembers the pleasant childhood he spent there and laments the decay. Pondering on the role of such memories, he considers his past, present, and future. Did Adam ever look back on Eden, letting his thoughts run to the joy of innocence and a life free of care? Nostalgic memories can help us recognize... Read more

The Great Wall

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Be It unto Me

A woman shares her thoughts about having a child despite health challenges and comes to accept whatever happens as a blessing. She considers how Mary, the mother of Jesus, asks the angel one question about the mechanics of it all, and then responds without any evidence of hesitation, "Be it unto me, according to thy word." Read more

Saying Goodbye

This personal essay describes the discovery that the author's mother has early-onset Alzheimer's. The particulars of how this dread disease unfolds and how it steals a relative away from loved ones while the body is still alive is poignantly detailed. Alzheimer's sufferers do sometimes have moments of lucidity. The ultimate lesson is that we need to use those opportunities to tell stricken family... Read more

The Color of Love

I'm sitting on an antique chair in my bathroom giving my four-year-old's daughter one of her usual marathon baths, several of her McDonald's figurines lined up like miniature divers along the tub's faux marble edge and Suave's Go-go Grape bubbles piled high, when she cries, "Look, Mommy!" Glee lighting her face, she holds up both hands, palms out, so that I can see their pale, puckered skin. "I'm... Read more

O Lord, My God

Joseph Smith's dying words have always intrigued me. I like them, in part, for what they don't say. The expression lacks a verb and thus neither asks nor confesses nor praises nor questions. It is not a plea for extended life or safety. It is not the dying command of a captain to attack or take cover. We find no last instructions to the Saints or final declaration of love and loyalty. But rather... Read more

Of Tethering and Flight

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