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: