Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 172: Chopin and the Word of Wisdom

One of the many benefits of living in a college town with a strong emphasis on liberal arts and easy connection to an international airport are the outstanding performances by world-famous artists offered on a regular basis. Yesterday evening's performance of Chopin Ballades, Mazurkas, the 10th Etude and the beautifully mournful Sonata in B flat minor at the Hollywell Music Room by Jack Gibbons was no exception.

Before the concert, my dear friend and I met up for dinner. She reminded me of a conversation we had had at an earlier date about my Church's health code, or Word of Wisdom.

The Word of Wisdom was revealed to Joseph Smith in 1833 after his wife complained of having to clean up alcohol containers and tobacco spittle (gross) after priesthood meetings. Its opening verses indicate that the revelation is for “the weakest of all saints” and goes on to encourage healthy habits such as eating grains, fruits and vegetables “in the season thereof” and discouraging the use of “wine or strong drinks,” “hot drinks,” and “tobacco.” This revelation has been canonized in Doctrine and Covenants 89, available at

Since it was revealed almost 200 years ago, it has been interpreted in various ways over time. Saints (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons) complained during the Church's early days in Nauvoo of members, even the prophet Joseph and high church officials, of getting drunk. Sometime (I don't know when – anyone know?), the revelation became not just a good recommendation for good health, but strictly enforced upon faithful members via temple recommend (the signed card that indicates my worthiness to enter LDS temples) interviews. I was asked in my last temple recommend interview whether I kept the Word of Wisdom. To me, I understood this question (as almost all members do) to be asking whether I partake (at all) of alcohol, tobacco, illegal or addictive drugs (where legal), coffee, or white, green, or black tea. Because I have not, at least intentionally (just the other day I mistook a green tea for an herbal tea -oops!), ever drunk any alcohol, coffee, the teas described, or taken drugs, I answered “no.”

In our conversation a couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend read Doctrine & Covenants 89. She had apparently been thinking about it, because she brought it up again last night. She wondered whether the revelation were given because some people are prone to addictions, and the items listed at the time were known to be addictive. Thus the revelation's preface indicates it is for the “weakest of Saints.” This seemed reasonable to her, as well as its eventual standardization in order to better govern general membership. However, she said that if she were to live it, she would feel comfortable interpreting the scripture at face value, know that she was not weak and prone to addiction nor drank irresponsibly, therefore not weak, and therefore not within the intended population which should avoid the discouraged substances. If asked the same question as I, she said, without changing her lifestyle, she would be able to answer similarly to myself.

Brilliant and well-reasoned (she is a gifted attorney). Never seriously being tempted to partake, I have never seriously analyzed the why of the commandment as she had. She gave me an interpretation of the revelation I had never before considered, and I followed and agreed with her up until her personal application. Although she is probably technically right (and many early Saints I'm sure followed her same reasoning), it doesn't account for continuing revelation and priesthood authority, another tenant of my faith, which then standardized the official interpretation.

This discussion constituted a thoughtful prelude (pun intended) to the concert, where I sat mesmerized by the slightly imperfect fluidity of passion that poured from the artist's fingers into the keys, a fitting celebration of the composer's 200th birthday.

1 comment:

  1. I think the most interesting aspect for me is the fact there there is an implicit acceptance of the authority of others to interpret and determine the rules for you. So you must therefore adhere to the rules as interpreted by those persons. (This seems to me to be the main difference between having faith and being a member of a religious organisation).

    I find it very difficult to reconcile the following two important aspects of your faith - (1) a belief that you have a direct relationship with God, including revelations from God directly to you in answer to your Prayers; and (2) a belief that certain people have the authority to interpret the word of God and tell you how to understand his revelations etc. I find the lack of autonomy in interpreting the word of God troublesome, especially if He speaks directly to you, because surely what matters most is that you are following his *true* word; to follow a false interpretation of his word must be wrong. I can understand the benefit of having experts to consult to help you to understand God's word, but can it be true that He means to direct everyone in exactly the same way?

    This is something I still find extremely difficult to reconcile. It's a very interesting topic though. :-)