Sunday, April 3, 2011

Conference Weekend Special: Behold the Wounds

It was springtime in Paris.  I was laboring as a missionary, experiencing all the typical disappointments, challenges and trials that missionaries in large European cities faced, trying to keep “sunshine in my soul” (as our mission president urged us), always worrying that I wasn’t working hard enough, wasn’t committed enough, wasn’t good enough. (Why weren’t we experiencing more success?)

Meanwhile, in the hidden chambers of my own soul, I was struggling (as I have written elsewhere on my blog) with re-emerging feelings of “same-sex attraction” and my own nagging questions of faith. A subject of much thought and prayer during my stay in Paris had been my relationship to Jesus Christ.  I was desperately trying to know and to relate to him on a personal level, to know him and find meaning in him as a palpable living Christ – not just as a wooden historical personage who had lived on the earth 2000 years ago. 

Then, one night in April, around Eastertime, I had the most vivid dream I have ever had.  In the dream, I was in a large room filled with people who seemed to be dressed in white.  In the front of the room was a person whose presence seemed to tower over the others.  As I made my way to the front of the room, my eyes became locked with His.  I drew in front of him and he took my hand.  I felt his hand.  As I did so, I experienced many marvelous emotions, chief of which was the realization that Jesus is a personage of tangible, touchable form.

It then seemed that the Savior and I were transported in an instant to a private place.  He sat across from me, and my gaze never left his countenance.  We discussed my life, my problems, my hopes, my dreams, my potential (and, as I have written elsewhere, my homosexuality).  In his beautiful eyes, I saw love such as I have never before felt – an intense, all-consuming almost unbearable love.  In those eyes, I saw no judgment, no guile; only perfect, total understanding. 

That night in the suburbs of Paris, I gained my own witness of the reality of Christ and of His love for and acceptance of me – just as I was.  It was and is the most sublime spiritual experience of my life.

Fast forward 20+ years, to October 2010.  Boyd K. Packer’s talk at conference set off a chain reaction in me that led to me coming out after striving my entire adult life to live as a straight man.  One of the reasons I knew Packer was wrong in what he said was my own witness, gained in the dream I have just described, of divine acceptance of my homosexuality.

A few months later, on a Sunday morning as I was driving to meet a friend for church, a song came on the radio.  A choral number performed by the BYU Singers.  I had never heard this piece before, and became immediately entranced by it. Before long, I pulled over to the side of the street so that I could listen to the rest of the song without being distracted.  It was one of the most beautiful pieces of contemporary choral music I had ever heard.  It was John V. Pearson and David R. Naylor’s Behold the Wounds in Jesus’ Hands.

I had met David Naylor, pictured here, a week or so before at a small gathering (described here) where his song, “The View from Here” was performed. I subsequently met him again at another function.  So when I decided to feature “Behold the Wounds” as part of my series on Lenten music, I asked Dave if he wouldn’t mind providing a brief account of how the piece came to be and his thoughts and feelings concerning it.  He graciously agreed to do so, and the following is what he wrote to me:

I'm not sure I have much to say that's very inspirational. The words were written by a friend, John Pearson, from the Tabernacle Choir who asked me to put them to music. He was a gifted lyricist who left us far too early. He died last winter after an unusually courageous fight with cancer.

“He was fiercely protective of these lyrics, something I have since come to appreciate. A couple of times, during the composing of the hymn, I attempted to change a word here and there for the sake of singability, but he would not allow it. Every word was as it should be. I didn't understand that then, but I do now.

“Because he was so uncompromising with his vision of the hymn, it was not a pleasant experience for me! Nothing I wrote seemed to please him in the least. John was so exasperating! In fact, when it was finished, I tossed it aside, never intending to visit it again.

“Without knowing it, however, John gave a copy of the hymn arrangement to David Warner at BYU, who included it in a choral concert of "Sacred Music through the Ages." I was invited to the concert and reluctantly showed up. I sat in a dark corner and perused the program. I saw "Behold the Wounds..." second to the last on the program sandwiched between Brahms and Vaughn-Williams and just about ran out of the hall in embarrassment. How could my music stand up to that company?

“But something made me stay and I'm so glad I did. The concert was exceptional. Every piece was moving beyond words. When the moment finally arrived for them to sing my hymn, I slid down in my seat and prepared myself for the worst. I had been so well fed musically, I was afraid my work would seem trivial by comparison. To my surprise, the hymn held its own. Half-way through the first verse, I started choking up a little, and by the 3rd verse I was in full-blown sobbing mode. I looked around and I wasn't the only one with tears in his eyes.

“My life changed in that moment. I'll never forget it. It's the night I became a composer--not just some guy who writes music.”

This piece of music spoke powerfully to me as well, that Sunday morning in Salt Lake.  I, too, became emotional as I listened to the recording, the memory of my experience in Paris brought forcefully to my mind and heart.

Here, then, is David’s composition, performed by the BYU Singers, with the lyrics which John Pearson so zealously guarded set out below the video.

Behold the wounds in Jesus' hands,
The marks upon His side.
Then ponder who He meant to save
When on the cross He died.

We cannot see the love of God
Which saves us from the fall,
Yet know that Christ from wood and nails
Built mansions for us all.

Behold the outstretched hands of Christ,
Our God, who came to save,
Whose love and grace redeems our souls
And lifts us from the grave.

Though bruised and battered as we stray
His loving hands caress,
He washes and anoints with oil
Then in His arms we rest.

Behold the wounds in Jesus' hands,
Look to your Lord and live
He yearns to bless you with His love
And all your sins forgive.

Oh empty is the heart of man
When it is filled with sin.
Come open wide your broken heart
And let your Savior in!

Behold His wounded hands and feet!
Come touch and see and feel
The wounds and marks that you may know
His love for you is real.

Then as you fall to worship Him
And wash His feet in tears,
Your Savior takes you in His arms
And quiets all your fears.

Your Savior takes you in His arms
And quiets all your fears.


  1. This brings tears to my eyes as well. Thank you for sharing. Is it possible to get the music for ward choirs? Has it been published?

  2. I would imagine that it is available, but I'm not sure. Perhaps David will chime in later and will know.

  3. Thanks for the post! I appreciate your kind words.
    "Behold the Wounds" is published through Jackman Music Corp. and can be ordered through them by phone (1-800-950-1900) or online ( If you're in the mountain west, it's also available at just about any music store.

  4. I've met David too, he is as wonderful as his music.

  5. As I was listening to this song, I realized, hey, we sang this in our ward choir about 6 months ago. Beautiful song, David. Nice job. Everyone loved it; especially those singing it.