Health: Physical and Spiritual Elements

As a Mormon, I have a health code to follow, known as “The Word of Wisdom.” It basically stipulates no consumption of tobacco, coffee, tea, and alcohol while encouraging one to be sparing in eating meat and not eating fruits out of season. While there are discussions in our community about whether or not anything should be added to the list, like caffeinated drinks or chocolate, the only official additions have been in regards to drug abuse, both illegal drugs as well as prescription medications. Still, Mormons will go on about the physical benefit of not ingesting one or more of the substances which we are told not to ingest. But what if the uniting characteristics of these forbidden substances is not their physical health implications, but their spiritual health effects?

At the time, tobacco, coffee, and tea were products of slave or forced labor. Being commanded to not partake of them may have been God’s way of initiating a “fair trade” boycott of those products. I know there’s nothing written to that effect, and I would never put this forward as official doctrine, but it’s a thought I had as I toured an exhibit on slavery in the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. While, to me, the physical health benefits of not ingesting tobacco are readily apparent, those of coffee and tea seem to be a bit of a reach for me. But refusing to eat of the products of slave labor? That unites them all. It unites them, and causes me to think about what I’m eating.

While I will continue to observe The Word of Wisdom regardless of a rationalization justifying it – it is a commandment from God to my faith, and that is enough for me to observe it – it makes me ponder what things do I eat that involve the exploitation of my fellow man. The list, sadly, is long and torturous. It weighs on my soul that chocolate is frequently the product of the exploited. Cashew nuts and other luxuries tend to be provided via slavish conditions. Shrimp platters come to us from enslaved families in Thailand. The list marches on and is more a comment on modern capitalism driving the cost of inputs as close to zero as possible than it is a commentary on the health benefits of the foods described.

But, spiritually speaking, I don’t want to eat the things that have been made by slaves because of the evil that went into their manufacture. I know that I can’t avoid it entirely, but I don’t like it when it happens. And although I’ll never lecture someone else on how God would ban something that He hasn’t banned – if it needs banning, He will do it when the time is right for us – I will think about what I eat and drink and what the spiritual effects on me attendant with that consumption.

To me, The Word of Wisdom is still the same proscription against certain things and encouragement towards others. But now that I’ve considered a different way of interpreting it as a means of maintaining spiritual health, I have to ask what else is in my spiritual diet that needs addressing? What do I have not enough of? What do I have too much of? What do I need to do to increase my spiritual health? Answering these questions involves a journey, and if I wish to have the following benefits…


Doctrine and Covenants, 89:18-20 (Section titled “The Word of Wisdom”)

18 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;

19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

… then I must start with keeping The Word of Wisdom. For, truly, as I walk on my spiritual journey, I do not want to faint, lest I be denied finding wisdom and knowledge. Spiritual health is every bit as important as is physical health.

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