Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
“How Long Wilt Thou Sleep, O Sluggard?”
[p.1]I always thought this passage from Proverbs would make a tolerable hymn title and first line, maybe sung to the tune of “For the Strength of tile Hills.” Try it. See what I mean? You could really belt it out at 5:30 a.m. to wake up your seminary-age teens. I think you could even market an alarm clock featuring the Mo-Tab singing this song (all six verses), the volume continually increasing till the end, and factory pre-set so you can’t turn it off.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that sleep generally gets a bad rap in Mormonism. For instance, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a framed, hand-stitched quote from D&C 88:124—“Cease to sleep longer than is needful”—nailed above my [p.2]bed by my wife some evening. “Honey, we made these in home-making.” If it ever happens, I’m enlisting my elder’s quorum to make plaques with wood-burning kits sporting a quote from Ecclesiastes 5:12—“The sleep of a laboring man is sweet”—but someone will probably tell me it wasn’t translated correctly.
I used to think that “There Is an Hour of Peace and Rest” was false doctrine, even though it could easily apply to the nodding heads during my gospel doctrine class. In fact, one class member recently told me he enjoyed my lessons a lot, and for me not to pay attention to him if he dozes off. “I work late a lot on Saturdays,” he said. I wish I had a scheduled weekly nap, too.
This reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the New Testament found in Acts 20, about Paul preaching in Troas late into the evening. While there is no indication that Paul was boring, there’s more than a subtle hint he was too long-winded: “And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third 1oft, and was taken up dead” (v. 9, emphasis mine). Paul rushed to Eutychus and either raised him from the dead or at least managed to wake him up (the LDS Bible Dictionary and chapter heading claim the former). In any event, I’m sure Paul was relieved. This [p.3]incident is the likely reason we don’t have functional windows in our chapels, and why Jehovah’s Witnesses have a publication entitled Awake!
But even without windows, falling asleep in church can be perilous, and, perhaps, should be considered for prohibition by the Word of Wisdom (I recall a Dead Sea Scroll required excommunication for sleeping in a meeting). A friend of my youth—let’s call him “David” since, well, that was his name—fell asleep during a priesthood broadcast in the days when they were transmitted over radio to local chapels. He nodded off with his head in full backwards tilt, and was snoring away until another friend walloped his belly to wake him up. Then David planted his elbows firmly on his knees, his chin in his hands, and fell asleep again, until an elbow slipped off a knee and his forehead crashed into the pew in front of him, causing everyone, even the stake president, to wince in vicarious pain. David mumbled something, laid his arms on the injured pew, and fell asleep again. I guess it could have been worse. J. Golden Kimball once reportedly fell asleep during a two-hour talk given by Elder Francis Lyman, and then fell out of his chair flat onto the floor of the platform. Maybe that’s why modern podium chairs have armrests.
Of course there is apostolic precedent for dozing off at inappropriate times, since “the spirit indeed is will-[p.4]ing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Brother Bill Barron, my old scout master, used to argue that his spirit was still awake and soaked up sermons even when he slumbered. I’ve searched the Journal of Discourses, but can find no authority for this teaching. But here’s some evidence of its truthfulness to consider. Once the bishop announced that Brother Barron, sleeping in his pew, was to give the closing prayer. We all got a little nervous during the last verse of the closing hymn since he was still asleep, but as soon as the chorister sat down, Brother Bill’s eyes slowly opened, he stood, walked to the stand, and said a short benediction with much thanksgiving.