Priesthood Blessings: Whos, Whens, Whys

February 17, 2005 | 50 comments
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I recently returned from what may turn out to have been a very important job interview. (Then again, it may not.) When my wife mentioned this interview to a friend via e-mail, the friend wrote back, asking if I’d received a priesthood blessing before I’d gone. I hadn’t.

I do not regularly, or even occasionally, seek priesthood blessings. Partly this is related, I suppose, to fundamental theological doubts and questions I have, doubts and questions which have in fact been with me for years and which I no longer really expect will go away in this lifetime (though I keep asking). These feelings are not particular to priesthood blessings alone, but rather are a piece of the larger back-and-forthness which characterizes my thinking about prayer. Two recent posts (one here at T&S, the other at Nine Moons) illustrate elements of my basic struggle in this regard: is praying with the expectation of actually being answered–not with “feelings,” but in the very specific way which the BoM, in particular, promises–dependent upon being in possession of a particular spiritual gift? That is, does God actually only answer the prayers of those He has chosen to make capable of receiving answers? Or, on the other hand, is praying without an expectation of literally being answered, with constant “Thy will be done” caveats, a sign of weak faith? Of being “chicken,” as it were?

I’m not going to try to untangle all that here. (I’ve tried before.) But regarding priesthood blessings, the problem is made more specific. Generally speaking, no one really considers a blessing to be an ordinary prayer (though it’s possible I treat baby blessings that way). Formal priesthood blessings, especially those with the oil and the joint laying on of hands, through which one seeks healing or confidence or clarity, clearly must be understood as prayers with expectations: not “just” communication, but the petitioning or accessing of real divine power. The fact that I rarely seek such blessings, even in times of serious illness or great stress, I suppose shows my true colors. But there’s more to it than that, I think.

When Melissa’s friend asked that question, and she relayed it to me, the first thing I thought was: who would I have asked? My family–my father and brothers, priesthood holders all–is far away. My home teacher? Nice guy, and a man of strong faith…yet, just not someone I feel close enough to for purposes of a blessing regarding a job search. Our bishop? Ditto. And so on down the line. (I might well have asked a close friend in the ward, a fellow teacher–but then, he lives 40 miles away, and it didn’t occur to me when I saw him at church the Sunday before.) Other factors creep in: is this man older or younger than me? What have I gone through with him? What has he said or done at church; has it impressed me or made me doubt him? In other words, I seem to have drawn, let’s say, “circles of intimacy” in my mind, and depending on the event more or fewer priesthood holders seem to me to be appropriate for such a task. When we’d lived in Jonesboro only a few weeks, and Megan had an emergency which required hospitalization, I called, at 11pm, a fellow who’d helped us move in and asked him to join me in blessing my child, and he came immediately. (He’s a parent; he knows how it is.) Yet now that I’ve known that man for nearly three years, and like him immensely, would I have sought him out for a blessing before I left for my interview? (Do I even believe that God cares that much about what kind of job I have?) I have to say, probably not. (This man has is own job worries, believe me.) But if my father, or one of my brothers, or one of my dear old friends from Washington DC or Utah–someone who knows all about my job struggles and other struggles, someone who has been part of all the ups and downs–had been around, would I have asked them? The chances are greater, anyway.

I have a friend whose wife feels unworthy to pray, and seeks blessings from her husband on her behalf weekly, perhaps even daily. I know people who turn to their bishops and home teachers for blessings regarding problems and concerns both large and small. And then there’s me: I bless my children, and my wife on occasion, and others as I am asked (which isn’t often). But for myself? Only rarely, and almost always afterwards, does it ever even occur to me that I might have or perhaps should have sought a blessing–and when it does, I also usually cannot think of a good reason for asking, and more importantly, a good person to ask.

Do you seek blessings for yourself? Often? When you do, who do you ask, and why?

50 Responses to Priesthood Blessings: Whos, Whens, Whys

  1. Millennial Star - A hometeaching suggestion on February 17, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    [...] a> 02/17/05 A hometeaching suggestion by Bryce Inouye Russell has a nice discussion on who we should ask for priesthood blessings and on what occasions over [...]

  2. Lamonte on February 17, 2005 at 8:16 am

    Russell,

    Your reluctance to ask for a blessing is not uncommon and not necessarily because of inadequate faith. I recently ask our bishop for a blessing when I found myself in a diffcult funk. I couldn’t really identify the reason for my feelings and felt I needed his help. The bishop is a good friend and he was my second counselor when I served as bishop.

    I find it a great honor to be asked to give a blessing but I am also reluctant to ask for one myself. In fact, that blessing from the bishop that I recently requested may be the first one that I’ve ever asked for and I’m 51 years old. I think the culture of our church, especially among the priesthood, contributes to our reluctance. We know of our own inadequacies as human beings and, therefore, can’t help but question the effectiveness of a blessing that we might offer. But we move forward with great hope that we can act as an intrument of God and that he will bless that individual despite our human flaws. We may be sensative to putting someone else in a similar position of questioning their own worthiness.

    Your firend’s wife who finds it difficult to pray for herself and asks her husband for regular blessings will hopefully learn to trust in her own relationship with God enough to act on her own. But in the meantime, her faith in her husband’s priesthood most likely will have a positive effect on their relationship.

    I feel like I’m rambling at this point but I just want to say that I think it is fine to be selective about the times when we ask for blessings. They should not be trivialized or taken for granted. On the other hand, whenever one feels the need for a blessing is an appropriate time to ask. I hope you will also realize that when you ask someone to exercise their faith and use their priesthood to bless you, you are doing them a service as well.

  3. Hanna on February 17, 2005 at 8:36 am

    We had a discussion very much like this in Sunday School this past week – one sister asked why men in general do not seek priesthood blessings. Some responses were that they viewed priesthood blessings as a service they rendered, not received, and one man said that he often felt blessed in the act of giving a priesthood blessing.

    Others, men and women, said that they just did not feel comfortable enough to ask for one. I go to a YSA ward, and a large majority of us are living on our own or away from our parents, and one girl said she felt uncomfortable asking for a blessing from anyone but her father.

    Personally, my father has never been a member of the church, and so I have rarely asked (read: never asked) for a blessing, besides being confirmed after baptism and sustained in callings. This past year before coming to university, my home teacher asked me if I would like a “back-to-school” blessing, and I said yes. That experience has made me appreciate the power of a priesthood blessing, but after being in the YSA ward for six months, I only found out last week who my home teachers were.

    One last point – in regards to the idea of being “comfortable” enough with someone to ask them for a blessing, my Sunday School teacher shared that often, when he was particularly worthy and gave a blessing, such as many experiences during his mission, he felt the words of the blessing come through him, rather than out of him. I think if I try to remember that a priesthood blessing is really, directly and literally a blessing from God, just as a patriarchal blessing is, then I might feel more “comfortable’” in asking for one.

  4. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2005 at 9:35 am

    “I think the culture of our church, especially among the priesthood, contributes to our reluctance. We know of our own inadequacies as human beings and, therefore, can’t help but question the effectiveness of a blessing that we might offer. But we move forward with great hope that we can act as an intrument of God and that he will bless that individual despite our human flaws. We may be sensitive to putting someone else in a similar position of questioning their own worthiness.”

    An excellent and interesting point, Lamonte. It makes me think about the issue of stewardships. I know my failings as a father and husband, but then, I also know the promises God has made to fathers and husbands, and so I fulfill my role to my wife and children cognizant of where God will take up the slack. But in more fraternal relationships–between the men in a ward, for example–while there are still obviously stewardships (bishops, home teachers, etc.), perhaps they don’t “impress” us, in the sense of marking us in regards to particular roles, etc., in the same way they do in the family. My child is my child; there are duties and covenants and so forth present when she needs a blessing. But going to Brother Smith for a blessing…well, that’s just Bill, and I don’t want to put him on the spot.

    On the one hand, I think it’s good when wards don’t take their internal priesthood structures too seriously, and a kind of egalitarianism reigns. On the other hand, maybe the presence of such is what prevents some of us men from seeing our brothers in the church as the “instruments” they are, as we are as well. Thoughtful stuff, Lamonte. Thanks for sharing it, and for adding your perspective; I appreciate it.

  5. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2005 at 9:46 am

    Hanna, many thanks for adding your thoughts. On reading your comments, I realize that my post, while I didn’t consciously intend this, is primarily asking questions to priesthood holders in the church like myself. We’re taught to give blessings, and we do when asked; how do we internalize, apply, and distribute that teaching and power amongst ourselves? Lamonte suggests that I’m not alone in being reluctant to see myself as a recipient of blessings, and exerciser of faith, as opposed to a dispenser and instrument of such.

    But of course, the questions I end with are equally applicable to women in the church. Most of us home teachers are terrible at our jobs; do you ring us up out of blue, then, when a blessing is needed or desired? Sometimes you do; I (and every priesthood holder reading this too, I warrant) have received more than a couple of those embarassing calls over the years. But more often you probably don’t. Then what? Family? The bishop? A friends’ husband? I can’t put myself in your shoes, obviously, but just writing this hopefully gives me a sense of the frustration which must sometimes boil up among many sisters–to belong to a community which proclaims the availability of priesthood power, but not to be able to access any comforting or reliable receptacle of it.

  6. Jordan Fowles on February 17, 2005 at 10:07 am

    I always ask my hometeachers for a blessing whenever I have a huge, worrisome event coming up. I don’t think it helps me get the job, per se, or pass the big test, but I do know that it comforts my fears. Sometimes I have hometeachers in such situations who haven’t ever come to see me. When that happens, I call the Elder’s Quorum President and ask who my hometeachers are. Then I call them, even if they are total strangers. If they don’t feel comfortable (this has hardly ever happened) then I call a friend in the ward.

    For example, I am really really looking forward to this Sunday, because my new hometeachers are coming for the first time. I intend to get a blessing from them to help calm my very troubled heart regarding the upcoming Texas Bar Exam (which I will be in the midst of taking one week from today). I have sufered so much anxiety because of this upcoming exam that my soul can hardly wait to be touched by heaven.

    I think what I am trying to say, Russell, is that there should be no shame or embarrassment in asking nicely for hometeachers, even awkward ones, to perform the duty they were called to do. I don’t seek blessings “often”, but as often as my spirit feels troubled and my psyche anxious over some big upcoming event, I ask for a blessing. They always bring peace to my troubled soul.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on February 17, 2005 at 10:41 am

    Russell, what an excellent post, doing just exactly what you do best. I’ve been interested in Mormon masculinity for a long time (much more interested than lots of men, it seems!), and I think the questions you raise so well here fit squarely into that category.

    Could it be that relationship between the recipient and the giver of priesthood blessings and ordinances sets up a (benign and edifying) power relationship–the physical posture itself illustrating the humility of the supplicant and the authority of the giver–that is unfamiliar for men in their church experience? Of course, men receive formal priesthood ordinances just as women do–more, in fact, because of priesthood ordinations–but these occasions are highly mediated and ritualized, and don’t require a voluntary act of humility (and asking somebody for something is always humiliating). It was my observation that in college lots of single women would request priesthood blessings from their home teachers, etc., and it was my suspicion that this happened because the power relationship that was set up in those situations was vaguely eroticized: romantic relationships are often exciting precisely when there’s a disparity in power. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything erotic going on when men receive blessings, of course! Just that it sets up a dynamic that’s uncomfortable because unfamiliar for men.

  8. Justin on February 17, 2005 at 10:45 am

    I don’t know that I’ve ever asked for a blessing, and I think that it has more to do with an overweening desire to be self-reliant than anything else.

    Like Jordan, I have a big exam coming up (PhD comprehensives) that has been wearing me down with anxiety. I mentioned this to a close friend (who also, incidentally, recently became my home teacher) and he offered to give me a blessing. I hadn’t even considered asking for one–it had never even crossed my mind that I should. But the offer was very moving to me (I love Jordan’s turn of phrase about looking forward to being touched by heaven), and I’m going to take him up on it.

    I’m not sure I have the faith that it will help me with the material I need to know (or that it should), but I definitely believe that it will help to calm my fears so that I can function at my best.

    PS–Thanks, Russell, for this post–very timely (for me), in addition to being very well written.

  9. A. Greenwood on February 17, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Maybe it’s a law student thing. Like Jordan Fowles, the LDS law students at Notre Dame usually got blessings at the beginning of each semester and so on. I still ask for them from time to time in connection with work and other things.

    The hardest part about asking for a priesthood blessing is that you really have to expose yourself. You have to dredge up all your inadequacies and failings that are the reason you feel you need a blessing in the first place. And you have to admit how important the object of your seeking a blessing is.

    That’s been my biggest obstacle, but I’m getting over it. I need the help too bad.

  10. Andrea Wright on February 17, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Very interesting post. In my family we have several people who are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Several of my male family memebers seek blessings frequently while others feel more like you do — my husband being one of the latter. We had an experience recently that brought us some clarity.

    I have had the same questions regarding faith and prayer, and wondering if I was copping out in a sense by saying “I’d really like this, but thy will be done” During a particularly trying time recently we did finally seek a blessing for my husband by my Dad who then taught us that the blessing gave us several promises so we now knew at least a portion of the Lord’s will regarding our struggle. We could now go to Him in prayer with full faith and confidence that we knew what the Lord’s will was.

    It’s probably obvious to most people, but it helped me so much in my approach to prayer. I now try to seek out the Lord’s will through promises and then pray with all my faith. It seems to me that a priesthood blessing is at least one of the very best and most direct way to obtain that information.

    I also found it interesting that a relationship is so important to you in order to ask someone for a blessing. Obviously it’s much more comfortable to ask of someone who you trust and love; however, it seems that in some ways that can take away from some of the clarity since we know they know so much about what we’re experiencing and we wonder how much was them and how much was from the Lord. When someone unaware of your situation administers to you and gives you very specific very pertinent blessings and counsel, it is very easy to recognize it as a direct blessing from the Lord.

  11. Lamonte on February 17, 2005 at 11:56 am

    Rosalynde – I’m interested in your comment because I’ve never felt in a position of power when offering someone a blessing. It is a humbling experience for both the receiver and the giver when one realizes that it has nothing to do with one’s own powers. Perhaps the standard logistics of giving blessings comes from the notion that the one giving the blessing is representing God in this action. That sounds like an egotistical image but it is, in fact, the most humbling of thoughts – that we could actually represent God in any way. And yet He is the one that has set the standard.

    Possibly the most humble blessing I ever witnessed was when a college institute instructor asked me to go with him to his house to give a sick child a blessing. The child was sick with a flu like symptom and cold not sit up and so as the child lay on the sofa the father knelt down next to him and gave the blessing. Perhaps that’s a nice image to follow.

    I agree that many Mormon men have not given much thought to masculinity, they just blindly follow the examples of the world and that’s usually what gets them in trouble. But ironically, the paradox between following the world’s lead on what it means to be a man and the example given by the Savior is what actually leads men to be reluctant about asking for or offering priesthood blessings. Once we realize that we have been ignoring the Savior’s example of humility and love in favor machismo and contempt we feel inadequate to then represent the Lord even when we are asked to do so.

  12. danithew on February 17, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    My wife recently had many residency interviews to go to. Inevitably she’ll only match with one school but before each trip she’d ask me for a priesthood blessing. She has a lot of faith in blessings and has taken comfort and confidence from the blessings she has received.

    One factor that is also interesting is that sometimes friends of other faiths or belief systems will ask for LDS priesthood blessings. I recently participated in a priesthood blessing being given to a woman who was going in for a health exam. She is not LDS but has LDS family members. It was at her request (without any prior suggestion) that the blessing was given.

  13. Jim Richins on February 17, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Rosalynde’s comment is particularly interesting to me, although I might have settled on the word “intimate” rather than risk the connotations that “erotic” carries. I have never asked for a blessing, despite a few times in my life when I felt I needed one. Searching through my own heart, I’m quite sure it has something to do intimacy.

    If I ask for help, I don’t think the humiliating aspect of that bothers me – heck, I humilate myself often enough here in the Bloggernacle alone that I should be immune to the feeling. But, along with the administration of a blessing comes the attendant questions of “why do you need a blessing?”, “what are you concerned about?”, “what would you like the blessing to be for?”. I am a very private and emotionally constipated male, and so going through the bother of providing answers to these questions, explaining why I can’t solve problem X on my own, etc. is a little intimidating.

    In other words, I think I just don’t want to become as “intimate” with a hometeacher or a friend outside of a family as seeking a blessing may require. I don’t think eroticism has anything to do with it (I don’t know… it might… there was that dream I had a few nights ago in which… oh, never mind).

    The only people with whom I am sufficiently “intimate” that I would feel comfortable seeking a blessing from are my wife and the Lord. This doesn’t help me much as far as a blessing goes. I suppose if my wife could bless me (not to bring back THAT debacle), it would be OK, but even then, I talk with the Lord about my concerns and struggles much more often than with my wife. I seek His help at least twice a day, but I ask for different things when I pray with my wife as opposed to alone.

    Maybe I don’t receive all of the answers to prayer that I expect because of that old principle about the Lord not sending an angel when a hometeacher would suffice. Maybe, in some cases, I’m asking the Lord for a blessing, and He withholds it because He wants me to ask someone who is more convienently situated to me.

    I suppose the lesson for me and all the other men in the Church who are similarly emotionally shackled by their self-imposed expectations of masculinity, is I need to form closer relationships with other Priesthood holders. I need to develop greater trust, and move past the fear of judgment if I bare a personal struggle or weakness. Surely, developing a closer relationship would also help encourage an exchange of service, which would benefit all parties. I don’t feel uncomfortable asking for help laying sod because that doesn’t require that I share any of my *feelings*.

    I think this is something for me to work on…

  14. Jim Richins on February 17, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    I just realized that while I was writing my post, Adam posted something very similar, except that he was able to capture the essence of my feelings using less than half the number of paragraphs.

  15. MDS on February 17, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    One other potential candidate to give the blessing would be one of the full-time missionaries. From my mission experience, it was much more likely that the members in need of blessings (usually women) would call us rather than their home teachers. We were less schedule-constrained than the members, and were therefore more likely to be able to come at the drop of a hat.

    And I’ll have to agree with Rosalynde on the weird power schematic involved in college wards. It is a very awkward thing, knowing that the women of the church are looking for “worthy priesthood holders” to marry, to essentially announce “I have no problem acting as the voice of God. I’m a worthy priesthood holder” Maybe this is why I made a policy of never dating my hometeachees. It seems there needs to be an appropriate distance between the home teacher and the hometeachee, and blessings can come close to violating that distance.

    This reminds me of another mission anecdote. A young man who had recently converted, and had not been a virgin prior to baptism, was now dating a wonderful young woman a neighboring ward. She had ended their date by asking him to pray with her. Apparently, it was quite the prayer, as he told me later, “Elder, it was better than sex!” So maybe Rosalynde is on to something with her eroticism comment.

  16. danithew on February 17, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    In one of the singles wards I attended years ago, some kind of caution or advisory was given to the ward about dating couples praying together alone. I can’t remember what exactly was said, but there was immediately a sense that a couple praying alone and late at night somewhere could give rise to temptation.

  17. Laura on February 17, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    This has been a good topic to think about – thanks Russell. It seems like it may be relatively easy for women to ask their husbands for priesthood blessings – their husbands are physically in the home with them and are very much attuned to their needs as wives (and mothers, as the case may be). It also sounds like some priesthood-bearing men are less reluctant to ask fathers/brothers/other family members for blessings, but not, for instance, home teachers or random ward members or leaders.

    For those of you priesthood-bearing husbands who have been reluctant to ask non-family members for blessings, if your wife had been able to give you a blessing, would you have asked her to do that for you? I really don’t want to turn this into a women giving blessings threadjack, but if you knew you could ask your wife – your most intimate companion – for a blessing any time you wanted one, do you think you’d make more requests?

  18. Kelly Knight on February 17, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    I realize this has probably been said in far more eloquent terms, but here’s my take.

    I remember asking my wife one year what she wanted for Christmas. As many mothers do, she wanted only for her children to have nice gifts, she would be perfectly satisfied to see their smiles, and that would be sufficient.

    Not unlike this thinking, as a priesthood holder, I have often been asked to give blessings, yet rarely have I ever asked for a blessing. Why? Blessings are given for a variety of reasons, comfort, healing, guidance. When I give a blessing, I am blessed, and therefore see no real need to obtain a blessing.

    Sure, we men get sick, but perhaps it might be a sign of weakness and narcicism to ask for a blessing when there are so many others who are more likely in greater need than we. So, we suffer through, and smile widely when offered the opportunity to bless others, and consider it all the blessing we need.

  19. Mark Martin on February 17, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    My experience has taught me that it is wise to go ahead and ask for a priesthood blessing from one’s home teacher. Or, if a family member is nearby, the family member may be asked. I’ve seen the miracle of God working and speaking through some of His inexperienced and sometimes very uneducated sons, and that strengthens my faith in His power and sacred trust.

    There is no need to evaluate which men in our ward are the most spiritual, or the most understanding of our specific situation, as nice as those seem to us in our human relationships.

  20. Ana on February 17, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    I’m now curious as to whether any other women here were specifically advised to ask prospective husbands for a priesthood blessing. I wish I could remember who passed me that piece of advice. My then-fiance gave me a blessing after we were engaged and before I left to go back to BYU while he stayed in Alaska for another semester. I thought it was good to learn about the way he listens and speaks when trying to speak for the Lord. I loved the feeling of his hands on my head in a way that was intimate–but not particularly erotic. It seemed to me that I could feel the power of the priesthood resting on me at that time, maybe in an echo of the way the Savior felt power leave him when the woman with the issue of blood touched his hem. It was instructive, and it brought us closer together. Maybe, as others have said, that’s a closeness that men hesitate to seek with other men.

  21. Mark Martin on February 17, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    Danithew (#15),
    I believe the caution against dating couples praying together alone (other than meal prayers, for instance) is wise, and it goes further than the possible temptation of being alone late. I’ve heard one bishop explain that when a dating couple develops habits of doing things that married couples do (such as prayer together), there can be a greater tendency toward physical intimacies that are appropriate only in marriage.

  22. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    Excellent comments, all.

    Rosalynde, Jim, MDS, Laura–putting my thoughts into the context of masculinity is a very thought-provoking and insightful thing to do; thank you. Yes, I do think that if my wife could give priesthood blessings, I would turn to her for such at least as often as she does me. Ditto with my mother, or my sisters. Surely, something about “intimacy” is at the root of this. Maybe “power” is too crude an analytical tool, but when one blesses another, the humility which attends the event is real, but also not equal: both are humbling themselves to God’s will (or, more provocatively, putting themselves in God’s way, making demands of Him), but only one is actually in the position (often literally) of supplication. The other is in a position of a conduit; yes, God looks within those of us who give blessings, but we who give them also get to look inside the person who is receiving them. And that’s a level of intimacy which I share with few people–my wife, my father and mother, close friends, get to look inside me, but few others. Is that a “male” issue? Very possibly.

    Mark–you’re right that there should be no need for such “evaluation” of the relationships we have with others when asking for a blessing. As I wrote above, we all have our roles, and we as men ought to be able to respect them apart from our (hopefully faith-inducing?) rationalizations. A friend of mine just wrote me, asking if there isn’t a kind of Donatism implied by my post: a belief that only blessings given by “worthy” priesthood holders (and we all know how dubious that judgment may be, especially between friends) are real blessings. I don’t think I believe that, but if what I wrote in some sense endorses that belief, then I have some serious re-evaluating to do.

    Daniel–the single most memorable priesthood blessing I’ve ever been party to, besides one involving my wife or children, took place my freshman year at BYU, when a non-member who lived in the dorm next door (none other than occasional T&S commenter, Aldo Edwards) asked for a blessing to overcome a bad cough that was keeping him awake the night before an exam. We gave him the blessing, and I saw him next as he was getting into the elevator the following morning. He flipped me a thumbs-up sign and said, “Worked like a charm, rabbi!” (The called me Rabbi Fox my freshman year. Long story.) He didn’t radiate humility or some post-conversion afterglow (though he did join the church a couple of years later); on the contrary, he was healthy, grateful, confident and moving on. Maybe if I thought less about the who and the why of blessings, I wouldn’t be so uptight about them.

  23. Mark Martin on February 17, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    I used to be very hesitant about seeking a priesthood blessing, trying to “tough out” the situation until I was at the end of my rope. That changed after I heard Elder Oaks in the April 4, 1987 General Conference:

    “Brethren, young and old, do not be hesitant to ask for a priesthood blessing when you are in need of spiritual power.” (Dallin H. Oaks)

    #1 is similar: “whenever one feels the need for a blessing is an appropriate time to ask.” (Lamonte)

    I was an elder and in college at the time, so I always shared that quote in my first home teaching visit when receiving a new assignment. Strangely enough, I didn’t realize until I looked up the quote just now, that it was spoken to the *men* in a priesthood broadcast. That seems to cast further light that we should *ask* for priesthood blessings, and not merely be the ones to “dispense” them.

    Being a multidisciplinary type of thinker, I tend to think across threads in this blog. Perhaps a wonderful exercise that we men can try is to immediately ask for a priesthood blessing the next time we feel a need for spiritual, emotional, or physical strength, or even guidance in an important temporal matter. We may better understand the women’s experiences with the priesthood when we also go to another person to seek a blessing. (I’m thinking of the thread regarding men and women in a church run by men.)

    Finally, regarding the reluctance of men (described by Jim and others) to discuss their feelings and weaknesses with other men, I think it is healthy to develop a greater trust among the brethren (small-case “b”) around us. It seems to come more easily among some of us men who have been single longer than we ever expected, since we share our dating troubles. I think I can see why men who have been married for quite some time would be more reluctant to share life’s challenges with other men.

  24. Matt Jacobsen on February 17, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Great post, Russell.

    I fall into the camp of rarely asking for priesthood blessings, and the responses here have made me think more about why that is. It doesn’t really have to do with whom to ask. I would be perfectly comfortable asking just about anyone in my ward for a blessing. Even if I didn’t know them well enough to gauge ‘worthiness’, the fact that they would be willing to give the blessing would be good enough for me.

    One reason I don’t ask for blessings is because my life has been pretty good. My stresses are minor, my illnesses are not serious, no major injuries or surgeries. This isn’t to say that blessings should only be given for major events, but I simply haven’t felt the need for extra blessings beyond what I’ve been given. When I go to the Lord in prayer I almost always come away with a peace that things will work out, He’s with me, and there’s nothing to fear. What more do I need? Some might say this shows a lack of faith in priesthood blessings because I don’t ask for them, but I don’t feel that as a reason in my heart.

    The last time I asked for a blessing was 10 years ago before I got married. I asked my father, mostly out of a sign of respect and consideration for him, partly because I’d been taught that big occassions require priesthood blessings. But inside I felt the blessing was much more ritual than anything else. There’s definitely something to be said for ritual. I like the fact that priesthood blessings bring people together in a form of worship that is at once reverent, intimate, and charitable.

  25. Steve on February 17, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    This is a very interesting discussion.

    I have a son who is a RM and inactive at this point in his life. A little over two years ago, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was non-malignant and seemed to be under control (after 4 surgeries and radiation treatments). Recently, however, the tumor has become very agressive and is now inoperable.

    At the point he was diagnosed, I was 1400 miles away from him and was unable to give him a blessing, but my wife’s brother did.

    Now that this is growing again, my wife asked about the “gift of healing” I was promised in my patriarchal blessing. I have given a number of blessings in my life, mostly while as a missionary (far too long ago for my comfort).

    In this case, I have followed his care, see him whenever I get the opportunity, keep his name on our Temple prayer roll, encourage all my friends to include him in their prayers, but I am reluctant to give him a blessing that he will be healed.

    Is this a sign of lack of faith? I don’t think so. I am a realist, and have studied his condition and the current medication he is on. I dearly wish there was a good outcome for him, but the type tumor he has will likely take his life in the next few years.

    While serving as a HP Group Leader in a Ward, the Bishop and I went to give a blessing to a member of our group who was in a local Hospital for heart surgery. The Bishop pronounced the blessing and said he would recover from the surgery and live in comfort. He died during the operation.

    Does this mean the blessing was not proper?? How do we deal with experiences like this?

    I know I’ve been blessed with inspiration in giving blessings, but I have also given blessings when I have not felt inspired.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Now that

  26. jed on February 17, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    “Do you seek blessings for yourself? Often? When you do, who do you ask, and why?”

    Interesting questions. Masculinity is one of the issues on the table. Let me put another on the table: science.

    When I am sick, I usually think of modern medicine first, priesthood second. Priesthood is the last safety net, not the first. For many of my Mormon colleagues it is the same. How did we come to order the world in this way? In studying the Mormon past I realized my view is not a timeless Mormon view. It began taking shape around 1900. Before that time, especially before the advent of germ theory, medicine was often unreliable and doctors could do more harm than good. Joseph Smith’s own brother, Alvin, died at the hands of a quack doctor, and such situations were not uncommon. Quite naturally, Mormons thought priesthood first, modern medicine second–or last. The breakthough in 1900 was a First Presidency statement recommending vaccination against small pox. (The statement likely came at the behest of the powerful 1Presy member George Q. Cannon, who had long been a fan of scientific medicine.) There was great debate among Mormons at the time over the efficacy of bovine serum, with some prominent Mormons taking the view that vaccination was not only unhealthy, but taking it lacked faith in priesthood as well. Some traditionalists, such as apostle Abraham O. Woodruff, succumbed to the disease rather than accept vaccination. But high Mormon leadership rather quickly saw that those who took the serum lived, and this fact created more faith in modern medicine than ever. The authorities showed their new faith by building a hospital within a decade of the small pox statement. And we all know that science took on much greater power and authority over the first half of the twentieth century. The medicine first, priesthood second, idea was here to stay.

    I do not say that order took hold for all. My wife, who I believe has much more faith than do I, does not think modern medicine first, and neither does her family. They are much more likely to turn to prayer, blessings, and natural medicinals like clean water to restore health. They speak more cautiously of the power of modern medicine. All of this leads to me to think that there are views about priesthood power that run along family and cultural lines. Many of us speak as North Americans who are embued with a faith in science without even realizing it. Our faith in modern medicine brushes up against our expectations of and for priesthood blessings in ways people without our many options do not imagine.

  27. Jim Richins on February 17, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    When we administer to the sick, we should bless the person to be healed, in virtually all circumstances. It is not for us to decide when or how a person will be healed, or if at all. His/her life is in the Lord’s hands. However, as representatives of the Lord, we should do as He would do if He were here personally, and He would heal them.

    I can not imagine the Lord laying His hands on someone who, like many times in the Gospels, was blind, or crippled, or convulsive, or even recently passed away, and doing anything besides blessing them to be completely healed. In my case, since I am not the Lord, the one thing I would add would be to qualify my promises with “according to the will of the Lord”.

    Naturally, no guideline should be followed to the exclusion of the guidance of the Spirit. But, in the absence of a positive, clear impression to the contrary, a Priesthood holder should bless a person to be completely healed.

  28. jed on February 17, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    I would like to add that the early Mormon interest (JS, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, and others) in Thomsonian medicine can be seen as a reaction to quackery–natural methods as opposed to alchemy.

  29. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    “In my case, since I am not the Lord, the one thing I would add would be to qualify my promises with ‘according to the will of the Lord’.”

    I don’t disagree Jim; I think that one of our primary roles as conduits for the faith of those being blessed is to help them picture, or in other words embody for the recipient, the wholeness/confidence/answers they seek. But that leaves unresolved the issue which I mentioned in my second paragraph, and which Don discussed in the Nine Moons post I linked to: is offering a blessing “according to the will of the Lord” a sign of weakness? If we approach the Lord in confidence, shouldn’t we always be able to speak authoritatively as the power He’ll make manifest in the recipient’s life? And if we can’t do that, do we have any business speaking for the Lord at all?

    I don’t think things are as absolute as the above suggests; I believe that the problem Steve refers to–unfulfilled blessings, the mystery of God’s purposes–is an intractable problem, and probably central to our existence here on earth. (Or maybe that’s, again, just chickening out from the whole Grant Von Harrison-”drawing on the powers of heaven” model.) In any case, I do think we are called to always “act our part,” as David O. McKay used to say. My concern isn’t primarily about theologically resolving that part; it’s about figuring out how to internalize it to my everyday life, when in actual practice I must confess that it’s a part I rarely choose to take up.

  30. Rosalynde Welch on February 17, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    Another comment, in response to Lamonte’s #10, indicating that he doesn’t feel “powerful” when administering the priesthood, but rather feels humbled to be the conduit of the Lord’s power: my experience suggests that many men feel this way when giving blessings–uncertain, unsure, unworthy, humble. I think this points to the value and importance of men and women looking at things from the other’s perspective, and realizing that perspective can make all the difference: just because a man doesn’t feel that he is exercising power when giving a blessing, he shouldn’t conclude that a woman asking for the blessing doesn’t feel subordinate; similarly, just because a woman might feel subordinate in asking for priesthood ministration, she shouldn’t conclude that the man exercising the priesthood feels powerful. This probably has occurred to everyone already, but I’m a little slow–an dI think keeping this in mind can help me view things with an eye of charity.

    Still, though, I think that “power” is the right way for thinking about the dynamic between giver and receiver of blessing–a micro-physics of power, yes, and a benign and edifying flow of power, to be sure, but still an assymetrical power relationship.

  31. Shawn Bailey on February 17, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    This has been very thought-provoking for me: it had never occurred to me before that I have only asked for a few blessings in my life–and only from particular people in particular situations.

    I did not ask for a single blessing on my mission, in law school, during a job search characterized by a steady stream of rejections (some firms even sent multiple rejection letters—I call the first a “no”; the second from the same source is a “hell no”), in these first six years (almost) of marriage, in these first two years (almost) of parenthood, or even when our small family moved across the country to take the job I ultimately landed. Because all of these have been extremely challenging emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise, I can’t easily explain not asking for a blessing. It seems that I simply haven’t thought of blessings as part of my coping arsenal that does include personal prayer, endless internal dialogues, referring to my patriarchal blessing and the scriptures, talking with my wife, and various forms of escapism.

    I suspect my own version of Russell’s concerns about prayer and how prayers go unanswered has been a factor.

    As far as the masculinity point is concerned, I do recall asking for blessings when I was younger and living in my parents’ home. Perhaps I stopped asking for blessings when I adopted (unwittingly? by default?) certain ideas about masculinity. However, the thought has never occurred to me that it was manly to administer but unmanly to be ministered to (even sitting in a chair while men literally and figuratively stand above me with their hands on my head). Still, for me there may be something to the masculinity point in a more subtle way: the general unwillingness to ask for help from or admit weakness to people who are not close to me personally that has been touched on above. It occurred to me that I would be more willing to tell my home teacher about a physical weakness (I have the flu, can you give me a blessing of healing?) than emotional or spiritual weakness (I am trying to overcome “x” temptation OR I am feeling overwhelmed by “x” responsibility, could you give me a blessing of comfort?)

    Joseph Smith’s statement regarding the importance of friendship in the restored gospel came to mind as I reflected on this. Perhaps my reluctance could be overcome if I formed more meaningful friendships with the priesthood holders around me. Not that only a blessing from a friend would be effective or acceptable. But I would be more likely to overcome the inner natural man who might say something like “you are already hurting, now is not the time to go embarrassing yourself to those guys who don’t even care enough to visit semi-annually” when I need a blessing. Anyway, setting gender aside, better friendships may help all of us without easy access to close friends or family who are priesthood holders.

  32. Jack on February 17, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Good comment Ros.

    I like to think that both women AND men must subject themselves to the priesthood. There really is no difference in long run whether you’re a man or a woman when it comes to laying claim on the blessings of thereof, if for no other reason than the man (as well as the women) must receive those blessings from the hand of another.

  33. Heather P. on February 17, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    My thoughts are along similar lines as Shawn’s (#30). I have asked for very few blessings in my life (and when I have, it has generally been at the urging of my mom). I did ask a blessing before I left home for college, before I left for a study abroad in Europe, and before my mission. I don’t remember ever asking for blessings of healing (although I’m sure I had them as a child). I did not ask for a blessing at any point during my mission (even when it was hard), when I was applying for grad schools, when I was looking for a job, or even when I had surgery (and it’s only just now that I’m realizing it). (And I’m not a man, so my masculinity isn’t at stake ;) ).
    I was raised by a single mother. I remember some of the home teachers we had who were great. They’d have us over to their homes occasionally and I’m sure my mom felt she could call on them when necessary. But I don’t think that was very often. (I could be wrong.)
    I am single. I don’t have a husband to ask for blessings. Currently, I happen to live in the same town as both sets of grandparents, and both grandfathers are priesthood holders, but I’m having a hard time thinking of something that would cause me to ask either of them for a priesthood blessing. Interesting.
    The times I have asked home teachers for blessings, they have been more than just the make-an-appointment-on-the-last-Sunday-of-the-month kind of guys. They’ve been friends to me (or to the whole family when I still lived at home) and I’ve felt comfortable sharing my needs/desires with them and having them pronounce a blessing on me.
    Of course there are times in life when a priesthood blessing is given by a person who hardly knows you. I’m thinking of two powerful experiences in my life: receiving my patriarchal blessing (the only time I ever met the stake patriarch) and being set apart as a missionary (by the stake president in my family’s stake, where I had never previously been a member). But I still think I need to feel trust towards a home teacher (or anyone) before I’d ask for a blessing. And maybe I need a little more humility.

  34. Jim Richins on February 17, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    I don’t think that qualifying a pronouncement with “according to the will of the Lord” is always the same as “chickening out”. Insofar as “chickening out” implies a failure of faith, then it would be necessary for some act of doubting to prompt the words “according to the will of the Lord”. I don’t think the words themselves signify faithlessness.

    Not every blessing that I give is accompanied by clear impressions of the Spirit as to what I should say – this is rarely the case, in fact. Thus, pronouncing a blessing of complete recovery seems like an ultimate act of hope, and then qualifying the blessing by adding “according to the will of the Lord” seems like extending the seed of hope into the realm of faith.

    On the other hand, say I was blessing someone who had been bedridden and unable to care for him/herself for months, and I had the impression to command them to “take up their bed and walk”, but I distrusted my own impression and doubtingly said “according to the will of the Lord”, then that would surely be “chickening out”.

    I’ve never felt inspired by the Grant Von Harrison model. To me, in my incomplete understanding of faith as a principle of power, “drawing on the powers of heaven” has often seemed like an expression of hubris, not faith.

  35. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    “I’ve never felt inspired by the Grant Von Harrison model. To me, in my incomplete understanding of faith as a principle of power, ‘drawing on the powers of heaven’ has often seemed like an expression of hubris, not faith.”

    I completely agree. I just throw that alternative out for the sake of comparison.

    Again, thanks for you thoughts.

  36. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 17, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    I believe the caution against dating couples praying together alone (other than meal prayers, for instance) is wise, and it goes further than the possible temptation of being alone late. I’ve heard one bishop explain that when a dating couple develops habits of doing things that married couples do (such as prayer together), there can be a greater tendency toward physical intimacies that are appropriate only in marriage.

    Not my experience at all. I used to finish dates with reading the Book of Mormon and prayer (only did that with one woman, btw, but we met in October and married in January, twenty years ago).

    Back to blessings, I’ve always seen them as revelatory, at least when I had spiritual strength. I can assure you that I was not always happy with what I learned, and with Courtney could not bring myself to participate, I could feel it every time I attempted to approach the Spirit. There she was, awake and happy, with what seemed a touch of the flu and I could feel the immediate future. She died within twenty-four hours from aggressive medical malpractice (among other things. She had just become a diabetic, blood sugar was under 200 and they ruptured her brainstem treating her).

    Though I do know people who bless as an expression of hope. I need to spend more time in study and prayer. As I recover from Robin’s death (that third death really took a lot out of me, while with Courtney it was terrible, but I’d been warned before she was conceived that she was an optional child and that choosing to have her would be at a great cost. I surely did not anticipate just how great a cost, but I’m glad of the decision we made), I’m able to pray for longer periods of time and with greater meaning, which means more strength in blessings and a return to closeness with the Spirit. For an expression of hope I don’t need a ritual that binds reality together.

    But blessings span a great divide, from vocal wishful thinking to revelation. It is the later that causes me to not seek blessings as I often fail to have faith in the spiritual strength of others, while not doubting their good will or hope. I want to trust and feel that the person can speak for God and channel the power of God.

    Hope that makes sense.

  37. Katie on February 17, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    ——”Not every blessing that I give is accompanied by clear impressions of the Spirit as to what I should say – this is rarely the case, in fact. Thus, pronouncing a blessing of complete recovery seems like an ultimate act of hope, and then qualifying the blessing by adding “according to the will of the Lord” seems like extending the seed of hope into the realm of faith.” ———

    This quote from Jim made me wonder. I had always approached blessings with the sense that the wording was divinely inspired. I have often thought over the wording later, thinking of the words as specific promises and blessings, and that I should watch for their fulfillment.

    When my sister was in a coma for two weeks she received a blessing that she would wake up and be restored to health and strength. It was my only solace and hope during that time; I felt that if the Lord had said it, it could not be denied. It came to pass as promised. If mine had turned into the kind of case which Steve outlined however I think I would have been severely crushed.

    On the intimacy issue….I have always favored having blessings by those who know me least. That way, as another poster mentioned above I would feel like the blessing was less muddied by the subconscious leanings of a close friend. For instance, I had a friend who’s boyfriend left on a mission. She asked his father to give her a blessing while he was away. The blessing told her she was going to marry the said missionary. When the missionary returned, they dated, yet she did not feel like he was the one anymore. She agonized because the blessing said that he would be it. In the end she broke it off with him, and rationalized that the blessing had been unfairly biased because it was given by the man’s father.

    I’d like to hear from the men what priesthood blessings usually feel like for them. Specific words inspired by the Spirit? More general things? In thinking over my own reluctance in requesting blessings, I see that it comes from my fear of putting men on the spot, linked to my faith in specific wording. I think I have always thought that if I were a male, then being called upon to summon the powers of Heaven and be a conduit and say the things the Lord would have me say, would make me terribly nervous. So I think my hesitation stems from putting that kind of pressure on a guy. Or maybe the fear that I would ask, and they would have to tell me they were not worthy.

  38. Derek on February 17, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    Russell and all,
    Thanks for the fine posts. They have been very thought provoking (which is why I often come to read at T&S, although I rarely have anything worthwhile to add myself). I agree that there is a powerful sense of intimacy in giving and receiving priesthood blessings. And this leads me into a question-

    Is there some formal Church policy/teaching that blessings should be give by at least two priesthood holders?

    I believe, as a general rule, it is good to have at least two priesthood holders administer to those in need of a blessing (James 5:14 “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders [plural] of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord). But perhaps due to the intimacy of the sacred that has been discussed, I have always preferred to give blessings to my own wife and children alone. I think the reason for this is threefold: first, sometimes blessings to my family involve personal struggles that I prefer to keep personal. Second, I feel that somehow another priesthood holder, regardless of how well know by the family, somehow intrudes on the intimacy and closeness that a priesthood blessing engenders among my wife and children. Third, I sometimes feel bad hauling someone out of bed to administer to a sick child when I can just as easily take care of it myself.

    I have a good friend who calls me over to assist in all blessings he gives his family—blessings for the sick, for comfort, and for school. I am honored to assist him in such blessings, and so I always wonder if I am doing something wrong by not having another priesthood holder assisting me with my family. Do I need to change my private ways?

  39. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    Katie and Derek, thanks for participating; your comments are much appreciated (as have been everyone’s).

    “I?d like to hear from the men what priesthood blessings usually feel like for them. Specific words inspired by the Spirit? More general things?”

    I’m afraid that, in my case at least, I cannot think of a single blessing I have given–to someone I home taught, to my wife or children, to anyone–when I can genuinely say that words were put into my mouth. I guess that doesn’t preclude “inspiration,” but I don’t care to be fuzzy about the issue (I think there is far too much of that in our talk about revelation already), so just to be clear: while my thoughts as I prepared for the blessing and as I reflected during the blessing may have been guided in some way or another, I have to say that I do not think any concept or phrase has ever “come to me” from outside myself.

    That doesn’t mean I think my blessings were meaningless–on the contrary, I know for a fact they’ve often been appreciated. For one thing, as several commenters have observed, there is an important ritual or performative aspect to the blessing, to saying the words and acting out the part that we believe the Savior would, even if we aren’t actually being guided by Him to do such. Second, who is to say God won’t bless the recipient anyway? There’s no guarantee that the person who gives the blessing is going to be “let in on” what God has in mind. But still, I do kind of wish I could say that I’ve had one of those “the words came unbidden to my mind” kind of experiences, for I know they happen. Just not (yet) to me, as far as I know.

    “Is there some formal Church policy/teaching that blessings should be give by at least two priesthood holders?”

    Good question. There probably is a formal (though maybe “unwritten”) policy in place, but that doesn’t mean it is either taught or well understood, or is even particularly important for that matter. I kind of wing it. Like you, Derek, I always give “father’s blessing”-type blessings alone, and almost always bring out the oil and give blessings of healing within my family alone also. However, if we are talking about something that I judge to be really serious–like when my daughter was hospitalized, or when my wife went into a deep depression following a couple of miscarriages–I generally seek out others to aid me in the blessings. And when I’m dealing with other people in the ward, especially new or inactive members, I always give blessings with someone else, never alone.

  40. A Edwards on February 18, 2005 at 2:55 am

    Russell #21

    My First Priesthood Blessing… Ah, yes! I remember it well… To an agnostic college freshman, the idea that God actually existed was a novel oddity. But to think that He actually participated in the lives of mere mortals, now THAT was mindblowing! From my persective, the priesthood blessing Russell administered was a seed that eventually grew into a strong testimony of the Gospel.

    No, Russell #39, I don’t remember the words you spoke during your blessing. What I do remember is the tangible feeling of what I now recognize to be the Spirit coursing from you to me, and of course the consequent cessation of my medical problem. The point of the blessing was for the power of the Lord to manifest itself through the proper priesthood channels, which in this case turned out to be through you. The words were really irrelevant. No offense, but you as an individual were pretty much irrelevant.

    I take that last bit back. I’m glad it was you, Russ, that gave me that blessing. I’m glad it was you that helped me take my first baby-steps into a testimony of the Gospel. Looking back, I find it pleasantly ironic that Russell Arben Fox, one of the most rational and intellectually-rigorous residents of the bloggernacle, brought at least five souls to the gospel (the formerly agnostic me and my four offspring) not by the strength of his reason, but rather by his willingness to serve as a conduit for the Lord. Russell, buddy, underneath all that intellectual veneer, you’re a faith healer!

  41. Russell Arben Fox on February 18, 2005 at 7:10 am

    You’re very kind Aldo; what a wonderful thing for a person to read first thing in the morning! Don’t forget that it wasn’t just me; your roomate (Dan?) was there for the blessing also. And your faith genealogy includes many contributions from the rest of the gang as well: Matt F., Norbert, Glen, Clay. You were our Deseret Towers 4th Floor group effort, my friend.

  42. Jim Richins on February 18, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Cool!! Thanks for sharing Aldo and Russell.

    Please forgive me for pulling out the CHI again, but the only written policy I am aware of says:

    “Only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick. Two or more of them normally perform this ordinance. However, a Melchizedek Priesthood holder may perform it himself. If he does not have any consecrated oil, he may give a blessing by the authority of the Priesthood.

    A father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood should administer to sick members of his family. He may ask another Melchizedek Priesthood bearer to assist him.”

    These instructions are reprinted all over the place, including the missionary “white bible”.

    Usually, specific words or instructions only come to me when I’ve had a significant amount of time to prepare for a blessing. If I have not had time to meditate alone, I’m pretty much just repeating that same old standard lines. When I do act as voice in any ordinance, I do try very hard – to search with my mind and heart – for guidance. Frequently, this results in my words coming out convoluted and halting. Like Russell said, this does not imply any less inspiration or validity. But, there have been other times that I have received a “precognizant understanding” of Lord’s will, and I performed the ordinance with completely calm and with full confidence.

  43. Mark Martin on February 18, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    “Specific words inspired by the Spirit?” Sometimes yes, yet many times it is more general for me. In a few cases, a specific thought or phrase has come to my mind, and I feel prompted to say it even if I initially doubt the likelihood of it. That often leads to subsequent personal prayers asking for fulfillment of the promised blessing, since I had been inspired to say it, despite my wavering faith. I am often relieved that the recipient’s own faith is stronger than mine. (Then there are times when, perhaps because I was less in tune, or perhaps the specific words were not as important, that the words I spoke were much more generic.)

    I have heard Elder Featherstone give counsel to regional priesthood leaders that we should be bold in pronouncing priesthood blessings, rather than sound like we are offering a prayer. Basically he counseled us not to be timid, and that unless the Spirit restrained us, we should generally pronounce a healing blessing. That counsel has impacted me, for the better, I think.

    In a small group setting, a stake patriarch explained to some adults what it is like for him to give patriarchal blessings. For him, the revealed ideas would flow freely, but then he had to work to put those into words. In fact, after his wife would transcribe the recordings, he would check to ensure that the words matched the thoughts that had clearly come to him. In some cases, he would speak a phrase or two in his native Dutch language and then translate that portion to English during the transcription process.

    From Elder Oaks, April 4, 1987 Priesthood Session:
    “If a servant of the Lord speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost, his words are ‘the will of the Lord, … the mind of the Lord, … the word of the Lord, … [and] the voice of the Lord’ (D&C 68:4). But if the words of a blessing only represent the priesthood holder’s own desires and opinions, uninspired by the Holy Ghost, then the blessing is conditioned on whether it represents the will of the Lord.”

  44. Mark Martin on February 18, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    Stephen (#36),
    Thanks for your instructive experiences, as trying as they have been. I’d like to assure the women (and men) that often priesthood blessings are revelatory, and it can be particularly trying when inspiration will not grant the words that we would wish to say. Yet, the power and blessing of being revealed even the sometimes “unwelcome” news is very real and can be comforting in some ways.

    Stephen, I’m also glad to hear of your positive experiences with prayer and scripture study during your courtship. I’ll grant that it has its place in a developing relationship that has explored many dimensions. In casual dating, or before getting to know a person well, however, I think it inappropriate. Would you and others agree? (I’d rather see a girl demonstrate her spirituality by her demeanor and interactions on the first few dates, rather than by how she prays in front of me.)

  45. Arturo Toscanini on February 19, 2005 at 12:07 am

    For me priesthood blessings have always been like the cheating I did in college. I was happily did quite a lot of work for others, but I would never, under any circumstances hand in somebody elses work for my own. Likewise with blessings, I’m happy to provide them to others. But I’m reluctant (perhaps too proud?) to ask for blessings from others.

  46. Arturo Toscanini on February 19, 2005 at 11:13 pm

    A priesthood blessing story, from the one time in my life that I asked for a priesthood blessing.

    I’ve been personally engaged in a long, drawn out, very expensive, and messy law suit for the past several years. At one point, it was my turn to be deposed, which means sitting in a room all day with your lawyer, your opponents’ lawyers, and a court recorder answering questions under oath. We have a pretty solid case, and the primary objective of my opponents was going to be to trip me up somewhere. In addition to the other steps that I took to prepare for this oral examination, my wife encouraged me to get a blessing from the Elder’s quorum president. He also happens to be our home teacher and one of our best friends.

    At any rate, I stopped by his house Tuesday night after MIA. His wife was still at the church with her child at her young women’s presidency meeting. We talked for a while to begin with, and then he proceeded to give me a blessing. During the blessing, his wife arrived home. We heard her enter, and the guy paused briefly and abruptly finished the blessing. I got up, shook his hand, thanked him, and left, passing his wife on the way out.

    This struck me as pretty odd and the time, and more so now. I suppose we would have found it awkward for her to discover us in the process of giving and receiving a blessing, but I’m not sure.

  47. Stephen M (ethesis) on February 19, 2005 at 11:33 pm

    In casual dating, or before getting to know a person well, however, I think it inappropriate.

    All I can say is that I never did it with anyone else as a part of dating…

    Even when I’ve had the strength, giving blessings can be terribly draining.

    Anyway, this has been an interesting discussion.

  48. Sheri Lynn on February 20, 2005 at 12:17 am

    I might have joined the Church many years before I did if the missionaries who gave me a blessing when I was ill had explained what they were doing and what I might feel while they were doing it. I knew them fairly well, but was living alone at the time–my husband was on a remote tour. They brought a strange older man to my home along with them, and didn’t properly introduce him. So I was very uncomfortable with that. I was ill and wanted them to leave. They proposed giving me a blessing instead. I went along with it. They annointed and blessed me and I very strongly felt the Spirit, but it frightened me. I was an atheist who really didn’t believe in much of anything. This was more than I could handle without some preparation. I mentally asked the feeling to leave (funny how clearly I remember that–I perceived it as an intelligence separate from myself) and it did. Then I asked the missionaries to leave, and not come back. It was many years before I investigated again and came to understand what they were doing and why…why they brought a third person along (to a young female living alone!) and what they were doing when they gave me a blessing.

    I seek blessings several times a year. I had the remarkable experience once of holding a very ill infant daughter in my arms while she received a blessing. I felt the fever lifted up out of her into the hands of the elders blessing her. Their hands got very hot and reddened. Thermodynamically, what we experienced makes no sense whatsoever. But my child was healed, and it was immediate. Most blessings of course are not instantaneous, nor all clearly completed.

  49. Shawn Bailey on February 20, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    Some comments here raise interesting questions about how non-believers (or people unfamiliar with the church generally) perceive Priesthood blessings and the healilng power—and how these things should be introduced or portrayed to such people.

    A conversation I had with an acquaintance when God’s Army was showing in theatres comes to mind. The acquaintance insisted that the movie’s portrayal of a Priesthood blessing was deeply offensive, even somehow blasphemous. I was (and still remain) unconvinced. (Incidentally, the director shot the scene in several cuts, so there was no blessing actually given. Interesting, but beside the point of portrayal.) My view: there are countervailing interests at play: on one side, we should be respectful and reverent; on the other side, we must never be ashamed. If Priesthood power and gifts of the spirit are signs that follow the righteous, we should not hide under a bushel basket our belief in them. Thus, thoughful and respectful discussion–or even portrayal in film or other media–may not only be permitted, but required.

    I also think of the rule or guideline that Priesthood holders give blessings when asked, but do not go around offering them. When I have encountered people who were ill, seeking help, but did not know that they could ask for a blessing, I have explained Priesthood blessings. My thought was that to have a meaningful opportunity to ask, some basic information is needed. Did I violate the rule/guideline? Would I have improperly withheld my ability to serve by taking any other course?

  50. Andrew Hall on February 22, 2005 at 7:11 pm

    Dear Russ and Aldo,

    I have enjoyed my occasional visits to T&S, especially reading Russ’s comments and remembering that great V-Hall 4th floor. Now I see that Aldo is here too, so I am finally making a comment. I was Matt’s roommate the first Fall semester, then I left for my mission to Japan Kobe after Christmas, and only heard about Aldo’s conversion from letters from Matt and Clay. I am glad to hear that you two are still kicking. I transfered from BYU a year after my mission, but I know I talked to you at least once in the Maeser building soon after you got back from Korea, Russ, you seemed a bit shell-shocked at the time. I received my PhD in Japanese History at the University of Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, and Clay and his family were in my ward, he was (still is, I think) an art professor at Carneige Mellon. Laura Stewart (I forget her maiden name–a small platinum blonde girl with a punk streak at the time) from our DT ward was also in Pittsburgh with us, and has remained a good friend. I am currently teaching at the University of North Texas. Do you know where Matt is these days?