Listening to the sometimes vehement discussions of our faith tradition in the national media, I wanted to share an experience to give a feel for what it can mean to be a Mormon. I am an active reader and participant in academic and secular discourse, while I also cherish my religion and my church, whatever missteps they may have made and will yet make.
My daughter has croup (viral tracheolaryngitis), and, while her life is not threatened, she is miserable. For a reason that I cannot easily explain, I asked her last night if she would like a “blessing,” a Mormon faith-healing ritual with roots in Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the Old and New Testaments as well as Mormon temple ritual. I explained to her that with olive oil, the fruits of the earth once used by the Hebrews to crown kings, I would “anoint” her head. I told her I would then “seal” her blessing. She and her sister asked what it meant to seal, and I explained that it was a special kind of prayer, one that recognized how much like Jesus she was, how connected she was to God. She smiled to hear that Jesus had a last name (“Christ”) that meant that he was anointed, just like she would be. Her tired face beamed as she considered my proposal.
I dabbed a drop of oil on the crown of her head, just enough that she could feel its cool presence on her scalp. The strange smell of olive oil mixed with hair recalled for me many other healing encounters, siblings, parents, friends, acquaintances, even–rarely–strangers in need. For me that smell has come to represent a reverent sense of approaching God’s presence together. As I placed my hands onto her head, touching the drop of oil absently, she held out her right hand, stroking my forearm with her index finger.
I knew that she would improve, that the course of viral infections is almost always benign. But I wanted her to know that she was loved by God and by her father, and that I wanted to share my faith in God with her. I do not believe in a God who blindly obeys the whimsical commands of religious believers, but I do believe in a God who seeks to be a part of the lives of his children, and I am forever grateful to the Latter-day Saint church for providing me with a language of words, gestures, sacred oil, and the gentle touch of hands to head that allow me to be present with my child in her moment of need.
After the blessing she nestled in my armpit and wrapped an arm around my stomach, the tired embrace of a reassured child, and I thanked God for the Gospel of Mormonism.