(I was assigned as the youth speaker this week, and asked to speak on the Word of Wisdom. I thought it was kind of relevant to this blog.)
June 26, 2009
I recently spent a foreign exchange year in Germany, where it is legal to drink alcohol at 16 and where beer is always present at social gatherings. Many times I would have to explain that alcohol is verboten in my religion, and often it also became clear that I don’t smoke, do drugs, drink coffee, and so forth. After all of this, I was often asked, “Well, what do you do then?” I usually answered with an attempt to be funny in German (with is a far more fearsome endeavor than one might expect) and say something along the lines of “Oh, we do have fun… twice a year, on Christmas and our Birthdays!”
But jokes aside, that is a very valid question—it always seemed to me that there are a lot of “don’t”s and “shouldn’t”s in the Word of Wisdom, but upon closer inspection I noticed many more “do”s and “should”s.
Although it is easy to remember not to drink coffee or smoke cigarettes, certain words and passages can be harder to interpret —for instance, what does it mean to use resources with “prudence”? It seems that many of our problems come from a lack of prudence when it comes to food—eating without thinking, without pausing and savoring has clearly led many people into health problems, and unsustainable farming practices have contributed to great environmental disasters.
It is certainly plausible that our Heavenly Father would want to protect the Earth as well as our bodies with the Word of Wisdom—they are both His holy temples, both beautiful and precious gifts from the Lord, and our lives depend on the health of both of these things. Also, many of the suggestions in section 89 are vital to the preservation of our Earth and our bodies—it mentions eating “every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof”, which was perhaps a strange idea at the time, because there weren’t many other options, but now seems very relevant, because everything that makes it possible to eat, for instance, a strawberry in December has proven to be quite harmful to the environment. In Germany, there is a very delicious variety of white Asparagus called “Spargel” that is very valued but is only in season for a few weeks of the year. Spargel season is greatly anticipated, especially in my rural community, and as soon as it ripens special meals are prepared in its celebration. Once, I was riding home in the bus one day through the farmland. Our bus driver pulled the bus over in the middle of nowhere, and got out, for he had seen a spargel stand by a farm and wanted to get the first of the season. I loved that, instead of eating it year round and taking it for granted, we waited excitedly for this special food and ate it gratefully when the time came.
It also says there that we must eat meat sparingly, and only in “times of winter or famine”. As a vegetarian, this section resonates with me in particular. It is not healthy for anyone—for our Earth, for us or for the animals—to eat it in great amounts. I know it’s not my place to preach a completely meat-free diet from the pulpit, but I will urge you all to look at these verses, twelve and thirteen, more closely.
Another word that is often overlooked in this section is “thanksgiving”. Out of habit, I always think of the holiday when I see this. I used to dismiss this instinct because it seemed a little silly, but recently I’ve started to consider that this might be intentional—perhaps every meal should be more like Thanksgiving… which isn’t to say that we should have enormous feasts every night, for that would certainly not be prudent. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had more frequent meals that were colorful, heartfelt, and festive, as well as a family gathering during which we can all learn about and build family traditions, and (perhaps most importantly) be grateful for the abundance of food that we can have, and the wonderful flow of the seasons.
Which brings me to the passage to which I was actually assigned, verses eighteen through twenty-one: “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel, and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.”
In this passage, I believe that there are things promised that the Lord will give us, but also many things that we must create ourselves, or that will come as a natural course of our actions—of course we’ll receive “health in our navel and marrow to our bones” if we follow the very health-conscious advice found in the Word of Wisdom, but what does the mention of “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” mean? I believe this is referring to many things, but among them might be the clear head and uncompromised judgment of sobriety and companionship of the spirit, the anticipation for seasonal favorites, the joys of planting a garden, as President Kimball so often advised us to do, or the excitement of searching a farmer’s market for, as verse sixteen puts it “the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground”. I also feel that I have gained many “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” through wholesome food and drink. This is true of both preparing and partaking. Once, a friend and I participated in a school cooking competition. We were assigned to prepare something involving spinach, and hoping to do something creative we turned to a cookbook called “the Greens Book”. On the last page, there was a recipe for “Spinach Layer Cake”. We decided that it sounded disgusting but that there certainly wouldn’t be any other dessert entries, and went for it. In the end, it tasted surprisingly delicious, was a beautiful color, and won the golden spoon. This experience was a delightful opportunity to stretch our minds and taste buds and try something new.
But one of the greatest treasures I have gained from Word of Wisdom-conscious eating and drinking is time around the family dinner table. At mealtimes, I learn a great deal about politics, religion, literature, geography, music, and many other magical things that could certainly be termed “great treasures of knowledge”. For instance, in my family somebody is chosen every evening to give a prayer, and that person gets the special privilege of choosing the dinner music. It is very interesting and fun to hear the music that is chosen from the different members of my family, and my musical taste has become much more diverse because of it. Perhaps most important is an opportunity to take a moment out of our noisy and hectic schedules to talk and learn about one another. If we manage to pry the iPhones out of our hands and the earbuds out of our ears and talk with our families and friends around a beautiful meal, we will gain close friendships and deep family ties that have truly become “hidden treasures”. I testify that the Word of Wisdom is a beautiful and truthful scripture that our Heavenly Father gave us because he loves us, and that he will keep his promises if we keep ours.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ,
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