Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Much Are We Missing?

Seven years ago on a cold January day in Washington, D.C., a man set his open violin case on the floor near the entrance of a subway station and began playing. Over 2,000 people passed by while he played and almost nobody stopped to listen. After 3 minutes one man paused for a few seconds, then went on his way. It was 4 minutes before the first cash was tossed in the case - a $1 bill. The women who tossed it in didn't stop to listen. At 10 minutes a 3-year-old boy wanted to stop and enjoy the music, but was dragged away by a mom in a hurry. The same happened with several other children. Without exception, their parents forced them to move away quickly. After one hour, he had received a total of $32.

The brutally ignored musician was actually of the greatest musicians in the world, playing one of the most beautiful and difficult pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. This was the famous Joshua Bell. Two days earlier, this man performed in a sold-out a theatre in Boston where the crowd paid on average about $100 each to hear the same music he had been playing for free.

When I saw this story, as told by Suni Bali, I wondered if it could really be true. Sounds like one of those Internet rumors, eh? But Snopes confirmed that it was true and led me to the original source, a remarkable story at the Washington Post, "Pearls Before Breakfast" by Gene Weingarten, April 8, 2007. It comes complete with a video of the performance, a discussion of the planning and purpose of the experiment, and feedback from the passers-by who passed by an opportunity to experience remarkable beauty. Fascinating stuff. And a very kind offering from a remarkable musician.

So how much that is majestic and beautiful are we missing in our daily walk?

In Doctrine and Covenants 59, the Lord describes some of the good things that he has given us to bring us joy and gladness. There is a list of the many things we can eat, and the "good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards" (v. 17). There are many things "for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart...to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul" (v. 18-19). We need to respond with gratitude, seeing the hand of the Lord in these these and many other things (v. 21). But gratitude takes time. It requires that pause from the mad rush in the profane world and contemplate higher things that we might see the hand of the Lord or perhaps hear His music.

The list of wonders and delights the Lord has given us could be greatly expanded. We are so fortunate in this era to be able to contemplate and enjoy so much more than our ancestors. We can swell our souls with the majesties of space, revealed through that cosmic Urim and Thummim known as the Hubble telescope, and with the help of science can ponder the marvels of stars, so delicately balanced on the razor edge between explosion from the vast hydrogen bombs detonating every instant within, perfectly countering the claws of gravity that would pull its mass upon itself to collapse and perish into blackness.

Today our eyes can be given assistance to scan not only horizons and sunsets, but pierce once invisible boundaries to stare into the wonders of cells, genes, proteins, chlorophyll, and even atoms themselves, where we can gasp in see at the intricate majesty of carbon and look back to its mother stars, so perfectly tuned to give birth to the stuff of life. What we can behold in this era is majestic beyond comprehension. But do we gaze? Do we stop and marvel? Do we let the miracles of the Lord's Creation please the eye, to gladden the heart, and to enliven the soul?

If we don't take time to contemplate grand music when freely given from one of the greatest musicians of the planet, if we don't marvel at the wonders of life and matter itself, then I suspect we are also likely to overlook the intricate beauty and blessings the Lord has given us in the scriptures. Just as new tools from science and scholarship today give us more profound ways to see the hand of the Lord in the Creation, they also give us new ways to appreciate and understand the scriptures. This is especially the case with the Book of Mormon, where we have so many new and rich opportunities to find hidden treasures. For me, some examples of these recent hidden treasures being brought to light in our day with new tools might include:
  • The rich discoveries in the Arabian Peninsula offering layer upon layer of new insight and bold new evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. 
  • The numerous correspondences between ancient civilizations on the American continent in Mesoamerica with the civilizations and peoples described in the Book of Mormon, exemplified by the extensive scholarship of John Sorenson in Mormon's Codex
  • The work of non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker, exemplified by her groundbreaking work, Temple Mysticism, which I am currently reading. Barker's discoveries regarding early Jewish religion fits well with the world of Lehi and Nephi, with surprising and fascinating parallels. There is so much for us to learn by understanding the ancient temple-centric prophetic traditions that have been lost to the world (and fortunately, restored). 
  • Numerous discoveries about the Book of Mormon text and the Hebraic elements in its language, even after translation, including far more than chiasmus and other poetical forms, but also including things such as the ancient covenant formulary with 6 elements identified by scholars in the 1930s and present in King Benjamin's speech (and the LDS temple concept). 
  • Detailed historical analysis of the lives of the many witnesses to the Book of Mormon from Richard L. Anderson and others which add to the power and unity of these diverse individuals and their diverse experiences and responses, all leading to the reality of what they experienced and never denied. 
  • Ongoing finds about topics such as ancient writing on metal plates and other aspects of the Book of Mormon that once were viewed as ludicrous, but now have become more plausible. 
  • Careful textual scholarship from Royal Skousen and others helping us to better understand the text, resolve some puzzles and appreciate the gritty details of producing the Book of Mormon. 
It's such a great time to be a fan of the Book of Mormon. It's filled with treasures and miracles that can enrich our understanding, gladden our hears, and enliven the soul--if only we'll take the time to stop, study, listen, learn, and rejoice. It's a modern miracle.

Don't miss the Book of Mormon. But also don't miss Joshua Bell. Here he is performing at a Nobel Prize event:


9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Numerous discoveries about the Book of Mormon text and the Hebraic elements in its language"

Does the study of language include God's unusual use of Jacobean English in a modern D&C?

Nookleerman said...

Instead of asking how much beauty are we missing, maybe we should be asking how much credit are we giving to things that may not be worthy of it. How much praise is heaped upon the latest artist who tossed a paint can at a canvas and then sells the resultant "art" for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

This might be a perfect example of taking a supposedly beautiful thing out of it's normal group of fawning admirers, most of whom are only there because they were told it was the place to be, and seeing if the beauty of the thing stands on it's own merits. It apparently did not.

Another tact might be that there requires a certain type of person to appreciate this sort of thing, and that type of person does not frequent the subway in DC.

Mark Butler said...

I suspect that a better explanation for people's ignoring the extraordinary beauty of Joshua Bell's playing is that they were just in too big a hurry to stop and listen. They "had" to get to work. And since, for most people, music is something that comes engineered, mixed, recorded and packaged in neat little three-minute packets, they have no idea what talent and effort are required to produce something as beautiful as what Joshua Bell was producing that morning.

It's ironic, though, that Nookleerman misuses "tact"--he meant to use "tack" if only he'd known the origin of that figure of speech--in his utterly tactless slur on people who use public transportation in Washington.



Mark said...

"brutally ignored"? A little over the top, maybe?

I get the idea, but I think it's an odd comparison--when I'm walking on the street, I'm on my way somewhere, usually on a schedule. When I have leisure time I don't spend it in the squalor of a big city.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yeah, "brutally" is over the top, but not from Bell's perspective. He knew most people would walk by -- but to get almost no recognition or appreciation at all was pretty painful. Maybe I'll edit that word out. Thanks!

Bookslinger said...

I agree with the observation that people entering/leaving a subway station are on a schedule, and that it's not a time/place to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

$32/hour for busking is actually pretty good, isn't it?

If he would have done the experiment where he could have encountered people during their leisure time, like at a park, or a farmers market, or some outdoor fair, I think it would have been different. Even a shopping mall or a restaurant district would have had more people with a few more moments to kill.

But I do like your analogy, Jeff. And to extend it a bit, think of how many people drive past LDS chapels and temples and don't realize the cosmic and eternal importance of lessons taught inside.

Think of how many people drive or walk past Mormon missionaries, thinking they are just goofy kids trying to look all grown-up in their white shirts and ties, not realizing they are God's -official messengers of salvation.-

In some future day, on the other side of the veil perhaps, most of those people who drove past LDS chapels and missionaries, who then come to realize the true gospel are going to ask, or demand, "Why didn't anyone TELL me?!?"

Mark Butler said...

Just past the slur pointed at people who ride the Washington Metro--who surely cannot be the "right" kind of people, since the "right" kind apparently drive cars, just as God intended, we find another slur at the "squalor of a big city."

I suppose I should be glad that people who feel that way won't be coming to my neighborhood any time soon. It is unfortunate that such ignorance exists. It's a short step from alleging that big cities are places of squalor to concluding that the people who live in them are somehow not as good as people who live out in the suburbs.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks, Mark. Of course, by Chinese standards, I am not sure America has any big cities. Maybe those concerned should bemoan the squalor of America's mid-sized towns and larger villages.

Jeff Lindsay said...

And I am quite happy to not own a car and to use the subway daily.