Healing the sick

In his address at the Priesthood session of General Conference, Elder Oaks delivered the type of sermon that historians will read one hundred years from now. His sermon, actually a liturgical treatise, frames Mormon ritual healing in some perhaps surprising ways. It is my intent to situate his discourse in the historical context of the development of Mormon ritual healing, albeit on the fly. [1]

Section I – Faith and Works

Latter-day Saints believe in applying the best available scientific knowledge and techniques. We use nutrition, exercise, and other practices to preserve health and we enlist the help of healing practitioners, such as physicians and surgeons, to restore health.

Early Mormons, like other evangelical populists during the Second Great Awakening, rejected standards heroic allopathic medicine and instead focused on botanic cures (pejoratively called “sectarian medicine”) popularized as Thomsonianism. A number of early Church leaders were botanic physicians and it is consequently no surprise that Brigham Young railed against traditional physicians. He once compared the remedies of the Thomsonians to the Restored Gospel and the remedies of traditional physicians to apostate Christianity (note that their therapy of choice was mercury(I) chloride). It is therefore not difficult to find statements from Young decrying the use of physicians. Yet as Oaks focuses in his sermons, Young also made the point of saying that the Saints should do all they could (i.e., employ botanic cures) as well as seek miraculous healings.

While many other nineteenth-century religious groups that rejected allopathic medicine retained their antipathies, Mormons leaders embraced modern medicine as it became clinically viable. Young famously sent men and women to eastern medical schools to thwart the inroads of gentile doctors. So while Young’s comments do apply to the “alternative therapies” of his time they are consistently construed by Oaks as applying to modern clinical medicine in the Mormonism of today.

Section II – Power by Faith
The standard Christianity of Joseph Smith’s day was cessationist. Cessationism is the view that the miracles of the bible were necessary for the confirmation of the Gospel, but that God no longer did such things. To this (and many other things) Joseph Smith was an iconoclast. As if the Book of Mormon itself were not enough, as Oaks shows, its text repeatedly states that if miracles and healing cease it is because faith has ceased.

All early church members were authorized to heal and experience the gifts of the spirit. Priesthood was a type of authorization. When Smith amplified the narrative of Enoch he described how all high priests could have power “by faith” to work many great miracles. For the early saints there was not priesthood power, but the power in the priesthood by faith. Perhaps an illustrative analogy is strength and muscles. The existence of a muscle does not necessarily mean that there is strength. One can easily have muscles and yet be weak. Moreover, Joseph Smith taught that the priesthood and then all the Saints needed to be “endowed with power,” including the power to heal. More recently, even Elder McConkie confessed that despite common usage, there really isn’t “priesthood power” only power by faith in the priesthood.

At the time of Joseph Smith and early-Utah period, Latter-day Saints were the only religious group besides the “Dunkers” that practiced divine healing. And the Saints viewed it is a sign of the Restoration. Protestant Divine Healing started up in the 1870s and grew until the popular healing movements of the Pentacostals at the turn of the Twentieth century. Latter-day Saints struggled with how to understand non-Mormon healing and it was the cause of some very significant liturgical shifts. [2] As did a number of church leaders during that time, Oaks recognizes non-Mormon divine healing as the fruits of belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

Section III – Priesthood Power and Authority
Here Oaks encourages the use of “priesthood power.” However, after testifying to the reality miraculous healings in the church, Oaks frames it in terms of authority:

There are five parts to the use of priesthood authority to bless the sick: (1) the anointing, (2) the sealing of the anointing, (3) faith, (4) the words of the blessing, and (5) the will of the Lord.

Oaks points to the examples of anointing the sick in the New Testament and the anointing of Kings and Priests in the Jewish Bible. He does not say it, but the anointing ritual for healing now used by the Church is and adaption of the Kirtland Temple anointing (where else do we seal anything?). He does however highlight the theological antecedents of empowerment and sanctification.

In describing the sealing of the anointing, Oaks quotes Brigham Young again relating to the ability of the Priesthood to channel the power of God to heal. The complete excerpt from Young’s sermon is intriguing:

When we are prepared, when we are holy vessels before the Lord, a stream of power from the Almighty can pass through the tabernacle of the administrator to the system of the patient, and the sick are made whole; the headache, fever or other disease has to give way. My brethren and sisters, there is virtue in us if we will do right…[3]

In addressing the need for faith, Oaks takes a decidedly modern liturgical view. In the 1920s, the Grant administration evaluated all the Church liturgy and specifically the healing liturgy, reforming it. Activities which seemed increasingly magical in light of modern science like repeat anointing, drinking consecrated oil or applying it to the area of affliction became outmoded. Healers were removed from the temple, baptism for health was ended, and eventually church members were counseled against seeking out blessings from Patriarchs. Quoting President Kimball, Elder Oaks describes how only one anointing is necessary and how after that anointing, healing is a function of the recipients faith.

Now it is true that Joseph Smith frequently taught that failed healing could be caused by the lack of faith of the recipient, he also taught that they could fail do to the lack of power of the administrant (or due to the will of God). However, the modern tendency has been to explain failed blessings in terms of the lack of faith of the recipient and the will of God alone. [4] Oaks addresses the latter cause at the end of his discourse.

In discussing the content of blessings, Oaks takes the position that beyond the anointing and sealing, additional words are not necessary. He clearly values these blessings and indicates that they can be inspired prophecies, he also recognizes that not all ritual administrants are accurate in their pronouncements. He confesses his own struggles at times to access divine inspiration in the ritual moment. This conflict has been the source of great reflection among Latter-day Saints since the beginning and Oaks again takes a decidedly modern approach. Oaks quotes an excerpt of another one of Brigham Young’s sermons and relates it to priesthood administration. The complete paragraph is extraordinary:

And so you may follow on through every quorum there is in the Church, not only Seventies, High Priests, Elders and Bishops, but also the Priests, Teachers and Deacons, who administer to the people in going from house to house. It is their duty to live so that they know and understand the mind and will of the Lord concerning the people to whom they administer, as much as it is mine to know the mind and will of the Lord concerning the entire people. And it is the duty of every father and mother to live so that they may have the mind and will of the Lord concerning their duties to their families. If they are not called to exercise the priesthood which they hold, more than to administer to their children, it is their duty to live so as to know how to teach, lead and advise their children; and if they are disposed they may have the privilege, for it is God’s mind and will that they should know just what to do fur them when they are sick. Instead of calling for a doctor you should administer to them by the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, and give them mild food, and herbs, and medicines that you understand; and if you want the mind and will of God at such a time, get it, it is just as much your privilege as of any other member of the Church and kingdom of God. It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you. I say it is your duty to live so as to know and understand all these things. Suppose I were to teach you a false doctrine, how are you to know it if you do not possess the Spirit of God? As it is written, “The things of God knoweth no man but by the Spirit of God.” [5]

This excerpt has a lot more going on in it than smaller portions used in Oaks’ talk, though his usage is entirely consistent with the larger quotation. A Young sermon of which this reminds me is addressed to women:

Learn to take proper care of your children. If any of them are sick the cry now, instead of “Go and fetch the Elders to lay hands on my child!” is, “Run for a doctor.” Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease? It is your privilege to do so without sending for the Elders. You should go to work to study and see what you can do for the recovery of your children. If a child is taken sick with fever give it something to stay that fever or relieve the stomach and bowels, so that, mortification may not set in. Treat the child with prudence and care, with faith and patience, and be careful in not overcharging it with medicine. If you take too much medicine into the system, it is worse than too much food. But you will always find that an ounce of preventive is worth a pound of cure. Study and learn something for yourselves. It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders to have the benefit of their faith. [6]

In both of these excerpts we see Young’s disdain for gentile medicine and his desire to have the Saints be filled with the power of God by faith. As discussed above, gentile medicine has grown to be efficacious and has been promoted by the Church for 140 years or so. The aspiration for faith sufficient for miracles is still present. As Oaks outlines, however, priesthood authority is the necessary key, not charismata: “The words spoken in a healing blessing can edify and energize the faith of those who hear them, but the effect of the blessing is dependent upon faith and the Lord’s will, not upon the words spoken by the elder who officiated.”

______________________

  1. This is been a focus of research for a number of years now and Kris Wright and I have published a number of studies on the topic. In approaching this discourse with this perspective, no one should read this as a depreciation of Elder Oaks. The section titles are of my own creation. Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright, “The Forms and the Power: The Development of Mormon Ritual Healing to 1847,” Journal of Mormon History 35 (Summer 2009): 42-87; Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright, “‘They Shall Be Made Whole': A History of Baptism for Health,” Journal of Mormon History 34 (Fall 2008): 69-112.
  2. See Jonathan Stapley and Kris Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History, forthcoming (Winter, 2011).
  3. Brigham Young, sermon, July 10, 1870, JD, 14:72.
  4. For a detailed study of this interaction see Jonathan Stapley, “Mormonism’s Last Rites,” forthcoming.
  5. Brigham Young, Sermon, August 31, 1871, JD, 18:71-2.
  6. Brigham Young, Sermon, November 14, 1869, JD, 38:155.

Comments

  1. Aaron R. says:

    Because of my previous post on this topic I have really benefitted from your work in this area. I have a couple of comments/questions.

    First, I thought it was positive that a non-Mormon account of healing was used to illustrate that Faith in Christ is located solely within the Church.

    Second, I appreciated E. Oaks’ willingness to express his own struggle with anxiety and lack of inspiration in the moment.

    My real questions are these: is this move toward focus upon the ordinance as the source of healing a step away from having female healers in the Church. It seems that focussing upon the ordinance which is now clearly located within the P. structure is a slightly different move than the emphasis upon the ordinance that might have been prevalent in JS’s time.

    In addition, I suspect that an unintended consequence of this talk might be a move away from worthiness as a source of P. power. It seems that worthiness is now located in the ability to correctly access the will of God in the blessing part of the ordinance.

    I found that there was little scope in E. Oaks’ model for persuading God to heal in a genuine dialogue, rather it was the will of God that is done if we faith to access those blessings.

    Lastly, though I think this talk will free many P. holders from the anxieties associated with healing he did not deal with situations where the person receiving is not accountable.

    I very much appreciated your comments here.

  2. Thanks for the post, J. I thought of you during Elder Oaks’ talk.

  3. Aaron,
    Stapley can certainly speak for himself, and I welcome his corrections, but I think that Elder Oaks’ talk was clearly focused on the ordinance/priesthood aspect of blessings, but that it also (importantly) didn’t slam any doors or nail any coffins shut re charismatic healings (and consequently, female ritual healings). That may be an overly optimistic view, but it is my view anyway.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    One thing that surprised me during his sermon was when he said that we shouldn’t request frequent blessings, since that shows a lack of faith in the ordinance. It surprised me because when President Lee was ill and nearing the end of his life, he said that he liked to get blessings all the time.

  5. Antonio Parr says:

    1. What a treat to hear the absolutely brilliant Elder Oaks present such a systematic treatise on healing. His is no ordinary mind.

    2. What a treat to have such a thorough and thoughtful analysis of Elder Oaks’ talk, published barely 48 hours after its presentation.

    I am doubly impressed!

  6. I knew you would be interested in this address. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  7. re: #3 – I agree. The fact that he started with an account of a healing that occurred outside the scope of Priesthood blessings was importnat, imo. I also appreciated what I took to be a nod to the hundreds of blessings I have performed where I wasn’t sure in the end if anything divine had been said – and the fact that they are more than worth it for me, since they led to the handful of blessings where I knew (and know) without any doubt that God spoke through me that day.

    If I had to wade through thousands more uncertain blessings to experience one more like the divine blessings for which I’ve been voice, I would do it in a heartbeat.

  8. #3, and #7

    I clearly felt that E Oaks opened the door for non PH blessings prayers etc healing the sick. This may shock some readers that have known me around the ‘naccle but my family growing up still had not abandoned the idea of female laying on of hands during blessings. I think the background is that when my parents were growing up in small town corridor areas that this practice had not been abandoned and my parents considered it part of the LDS healing rituals.

    I have a really good ER MD friend and he has told me repeatedly that he has witnessed multiple miracles involving non LDS prayers

  9. I thought this was a great talk, and I appreciate your analysis, J. My sense was that in emphasizing faith and the will of the Lord, and the example of faith healing outside the church, Elder Oaks actually left the door open for charismatic healings, and that while the PH ordinance is valuable, it was secondary to faith and the Lord’s will.

    As my wife has frequently asked, “Why is a PH blessing of more significance than a mother’s prayer of faith?” She is not an advocate of ritual female healing, and very much appreciates the PH blessings she has received, but her sense is that the PH blessing is an additional element, not necessarily a required one.

  10. Thank you for all your very thoughtful comments. Aaron, I think your perception is accurate that the modern emphasis is on priesthood authority and not charisma, but that the door is not shut against it. Oaks spent a great deal of time discussing miraculous interactions with the spirit, but h appears to pragmatically conclude with the authorized ritual forms. As a side note, President Hinckley also spoke about the “prayer of faith.”

  11. She is not an advocate of ritual female healing

    kevinf, if it’s not too threadjacky, I’d be interesting in hearing what you mean by “She is not an advocate” of this; I guess I don’t really see it as being something that is to be opposed–as a matter of history, it just “is”.
    (and now, sadly, “isn’t”)

  12. I am very interested in this post, and healings and blessings are subjects which are close to my heart, since I have had some powerful experiences with them. I am also highly intrigued by the idea of a female blessing her child.

    I am married to a non-member and don’t have the priesthood in my home. Once, my son was very sick. We were living in another country with no one from the church nearby, my husband was out of the country at a conference, and I felt moved to give my son a blessing. I also felt trepidation, but I asked HF to use my own body as a vessel to conduct His own priesthood power through me temporarily. I had no false presumptions that I could give a priesthood blessing. I prayed with my hands on my son’s head and prayed fervently. I think my son felt the spirit strongly too, because he asked for “one of those prayers with your hands on my head,” for days afterwards. I felt that I sort of had “permission” to do this that one time, but I am not advocating for women to go around laying on hands or anything like that.

    So, the question is similar to what kevinf is saying: was it my mother’s prayer that brought the spirit; was it necessary to place my hands on his head; was I out of line to do this? This is not something I usually talk about, well, okay, I never talk about this, because it feels really weird, but I am SO curious to know if this sort of thing was common or practiced in previous times. It would make me feel a little less heretical about the whole thing.

  13. Nicely done and I agree that this talk was one for the ages. One nit to pick, however. The term allopathic is considered pejorative and was coined by Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. I would suggest using a more fact-based term such as science-based medicine.

  14. Beans, I meant it as a description of regular physicians before they were science-based.

    Meems, I have a hard time imagining any church leader telling someone to not follow the Spirit. Female ritual healing was common in the church, but the rule now is to seek ritual healing from Melchizadek Priesthood holders.

  15. I was thinking about Aaron’s post and the great thread that followed all through Elder Oak’s talk. It really brought the talk home for me and I really appreciated that it was something we had discussed so recently. Thank you Aaron for that.

    Thank you J. for this post and putting it into historical perspective. I really enjoyed it.

  16. I was so impressed by E. Oaks talk, and thank you J the additional work that you have added is inspirational to me.

    I loved the last quote on women preparing to administer to there children through medicines and home remedies,

    I think the power of E. Oaks message is to give greater confidence to those conducting the blessing and those receiving the blessing, it seems painstaking avoidance of inhibiting this was made, e.g importance of worthiness. The mention of repeat blessings was interesting however again it emphasis’s focus upon faith.

    IMO this talk was groundbreaking and will have lasting effects in the homes of many families.

  17. Scott B, regarding my wife not being an advocate of female ritual healing. What I understand her to mean is that she would not under normal circumstances do what meems did, or even participate with me if I were laying hands on one of our children to pronounce a priesthood blessing (if another MP holder was not available), but she does not view a PH blessing as something of greater efficacy than her fervent and sincere prayer. In her view, as she has explained it to me, they are two different manifestations of faith, and the PH is not necessarily a trump card. I think she would be fine with what meems describes in # 12, it is just not what she would do herself.

  18. Nicely done, J. Reading accounts of healings in the 19th century and freedom exercised even by MP holders in what they pronounced upon people has made me wonder if we live up to what is available in the present handbook based practice.

    On repeated blessings, I have to say that while many repeat anointings are now discouraged, my own experience suggests that repeated blessings sometimes seem to finally open a door to truly remarkable experiences.

  19. Thanks, kevinf–that clarifies it.

  20. What I truly don’t get, regarding priesthood blessings, is why women are [more or less - more more than less] prohibited from giving blessings. It is well known that women in the early LDS church did give blessings, frequently – they took the gift for granted (see Tullidge’s Women of Mormondom). Also, 1 Corinthians 12 clearly lists healing as a gift of the spirit, and makes no gender differentiation. I myself have blessed a child (or called on the Spirit to bless the child) that was desperately ill by laying my hands on the child, with immediate and miraculous results.

    So why, in the present day, are women denied the benefit of developing the gift of healing? This is such a senseless waste of spiritual development of divinely given gifts, IMO. I truly don’t get it.

  21. Name withheld says:

    On #4: Did he discourage frequent blessings or repeated blessings for the same problem? I had understood the latter, although I’ve certainly seen people who were just plain asking too much even if it wasn’t about the same thing–the person I’m thinking of is obviously mentally ill.

    On #1: “he did not deal with situations where the person receiving is not accountable.” This is the most important issue for me I think. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone gets their silly colds healed when crippled children aren’t.

  22. Ahh, that’s good stuff, J. Thanks.

  23. Scott T. says:

    As an emergency department physician, it’s my opinion, experience, and judgment that prayers and blessings only help the sick in psychological ways.

    Prayers, blessings, hope, faith, and love can all calm mental distress/anxiety. If someone is over-stressed from pain or sickness or from the fear of the unknown it can cause the nervous system to be hyperactive, which affects systems and organs throughout the body. [It's shown that Anxiety and Depression disorders do affect physical health].

    When a patient receives wanted blessings or prayers they receive psychological comfort. This comfort in the mind translates to calming of the body, which helps facilitate healing.

    I have seen Buddhists give chants and burn incense to patients which undeniably “appears” to heal their sick. I have seen Muslims cite verses from the Koran who then see their sick family members recover unexpectedly. I’ve seen Catholic fathers give blessings to patients who in turn recover. I have also seen LDS PH blessings help “heal” the recipient of the blessing.

    The commonality between all patients is they received some form of comfort from their culture. Since all were eventually healed, each group attributed the healing to their own version of belief.

    Modern medicine is not an exact science. Often we must use common sense to apply imperfect knowledge to a unique individual. This means that two patients may have the same ailment, receive the same treatment, but have two different outcomes. For those who are on the verge of death, we often cannot predict who will make it and who won’t. When the odds are low and a “miracle” does happen, and it can’t be understood or explained, it’s easy for our minds to assume the supernatural. I’m not a fan of attributing unknown explanations to supernatural events. (“God of the gaps” if you will). I believe our bodies, our illnesses, and everything physical is bound to the laws of nature and the universe and has a logical reason for happening. Sometimes the circumstance presents no opportunity to prove or explain the event. Our minds can play tricks on ourselves all the time, even with non-supernatural things: (someone may have a Viral illness, and demand useless antibiotics from their doctor…they may get the antibiotics, take them, and then get better 4 days later. The person, in THEIR minds, will have “proof” that the antibiotic worked b/c they got better – when in reality they would have gotten better anyway. This happens a lot in medicine). It’s just as common for people to get better and attribute it to the supernatural (I’ve had patients say they got sick b/c they crossed paths with a midget, or got better because they have a rabbit’s foot on their necklace, or got sick because they took a sip of coffee and broke the word of wisdom, or got better because they consistently read from the BoM.) This occurs across all cultures, races, and religions. Being in the position I am as a health care provider and seeing the things I have, I could easily argue that the priesthood power heals just as well as methods used by Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, or whomever.

    To me it seems “miracles” brought about by blessings are usually only result from ailments not understood, with an unknown cause, or are hard to predict an outcome. When we have concrete evidence of something, say like a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, a blessing has no power to heal it, regardless of faith, who’s anointing, what religion you belong to, and the will of God. Like someone mentions, why is it that we usually only see “silly colds healed when crippled children aren’t”?

    I know I have sounded very “faithless” and I apologize if I have offended anyone’s beliefs. As I mentioned before, I do think prayers, blessings, or any form of comfort are very good and I welcome it in my practice of medicine. I am not discouraging anyone from doing what they believe. The more faith you have the greater comfort your body/mind will get when you receive such a blessing. I encourage these methods and I even ask patients – regardless of what religion they are – if they have anyone they’d like to visit and administer to them.

  24. Ugly Mahana says:

    Wow. Even if I were an unbeliever, I think I would hesitate before proclaiming that the will of God has no bearing on the ability of divinity to heal.

    It is my personal belief that God answers prayers, regardless of whether they are offered by a Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, or Mormons. The fact that these prayers are similarly efficacious does not seem an effective basis for rejecting the “apparent effects” of priesthood blessings.

    That is all. Carry on.

  25. “See Jonathan Stapley and Kris Wright, ‘Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,’ Journal of Mormon History, forthcoming (Winter, 2011).”

    Time travelling with this citation? ;)

    Looking forward to reading that issue!

  26. Scott T. says:

    Ugly Mahana,

    I heard about a General Authority who recently said that he doesn’t like hearing members say “it was God’s will that so-and-so died”. He referred to an example where a mother of 4 small children died in a car accident. At the funeral someone said, “God took her so He could have her do a greater work beyond the veil, it was His will.” The GA disagreed with the person. The GA said God’s will was to have her still alive because the greatest work she could ever do was to continue raising her children as a mother. He said that due to The Fall, God’s children are subject to the laws of nature and accidents are a part of life.

    If someone with clinical depression wanted to kill themselves by throwing themselves off a cliff, I know it would be God’s will that the person NOT do it. But God’s will isn’t enough in that situation because if the person decides (who’s free agency is clouded by mental illness) to do it they are subject to the laws of gravity and physics.

    You accuse me of “proclaiming that the will of God has no bearing on the ability of divinity to heal”, but I think you misunderstood what I meant (probably b/c I didn’t explain it very well). I was saying that in my example of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Let’s say it’s a mother of a young family. Surely God’s will would be that she doesn’t die so she can continue being a mother. But if there is no one to surgically repair the rupture in a timely manner then she will die, even if it’s God’s will that she doesn’t. Such is life.

  27. Study and learn something for yourselves. It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child;

    In the context of that quote, I see the breadth of what a mother “administering to her child” can (and imo, should) mean.

    While I appreciate the power of the priesthood, I think we underestimate the power of a mother’s care, inspiration, nurturing, and wisdom that can be brought to bear in the process of healing. I rather think that there is power in the potential partnership of husband and wife working together in this way, rather than women desiring after the ritualistic elements that may be invited into the healing process. Brigham Young’s quote to me seems to say the same thing.

    So, my response to lisa would be that I think the reality is that we underestimate what the gift of healing can include. I don’t think it’s only tied to the act of giving blessings.

    I also was interested in the quote that Elder Oaks used from BY to support the balance of medical assistance with seeking priesthood blessings, since I had often heard him quoted to discredit medicine. I suppose that shows that he saw a place for both in appropriate ways and times.

  28. One last comment, in response to Mark Brown:

    he said that we shouldn’t request frequent blessings

    I heard this a little differently…that sometimes this *could* be an indication of a lack of faith. But I didn’t hear him outlaw it outright. As such, I am seeing that as space for the possibility that it could be ok if done in faith.

    Or maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. I have asked for numerous blessings over the course of the past seven years while struggling with health challenges, and it has been a remarkable thing to see the threads of inspiration in the words that have been said. Elder Oaks talked about how sometimes the words matter, and sometimes they don’t. For me, seeing the patterns through the blessings has helped me see the inspiration that has been present, and that has helped me a lot. It has also helped me understand that faith is sometimes needed to endure well rather than to have a health problem just fixed.

    But maybe it would be more in line with what he taught to at least be anointed only once and then ask for blessings of strength along the way. ??

    As a side note, I loved loved loved what he quoted from the father (family member?) who lost a child: “”Our…faith is in Jesus Christ, and is not dependent on outcomes.” I think it can be hard not to focus on outcomes as the measure or proof of faith or God’s love or awareness of our pain.

  29. I think we underestimate the power of a mother’s care, inspiration, nurturing, and wisdom that can be brought to bear in the process of healing.

    Add prayer to that list…remembering Elder Bednar’s talk that shared a story that illustrated this idea?

  30. (gr. ignore the question mark at the end and replace w/ a period.)

  31. Could somebody point me to more information on Healers in the temple? The author mentions it in passing, but it’s something I’ve never heard of.

  32. Aaron, check out “‘They Shall Be Made Whole': A History of Baptism for Health” from the first footnote.

  33. I’m not a fan of attributing unknown explanations to supernatural events. (“God of the gaps” if you will).

    I do think prayers, blessings, or any form of comfort are very good and I welcome it in my practice of medicine. I am not discouraging anyone from doing what they believe.

    Hmmmmm . . . . . How would you like to have some cake . . . . we’ll just go ahead and let you eat it too.

  34. Stapley, thanks for this. Elder Oaks’ talk was definitely the talk of the conference for me and your post just adds to it.

    This isn’t directly related to your post, but Elder Oaks hit me with a double whammy when he spoke of attending the funeral of child where a relative spoke (his cousin?). Elder Oaks said he was “first taken aback and then edified” when his relative stated he knew it was God’s will for the child to die, because “within this family there was enough faith for her to be healed” (the quotes are from memory). I was struck not only by the doctrine, but by the fact that doctrine was taught to him (as an apostle) by someone further outside the church hierarchy and then taught in General Conference. A beautiful doctrine taught in a beautiful way.

    m&m, I remember Elder Oaks saying “sometimes” and “too frequent” when referring to requests for blessings — I didn’t have the impression he was saying once is always enough. I’ve given blessings to people where I’m convinced a second blessing was right.

  35. Scott T. #23, I don’t doubt what you’re saying. The placebo effect is scientifically solid, and blessings, chantings, etc. can certainly qualify. In fact, I’ve often wondered about the accounts of early church missionaries who would be too sick to carry on, only to receive a blessing and then jump up to fill their next appointment. And then get left by their companions to recover because they’re too sick to continue. Very common story. Seems like they weren’t truly “healed”, but rather got a temporary placebo-like boost.

    I’ve given many blessings and received a few as well, and I’ve experienced some pretty neat things. However, in no case could I say an incontrovertible miracle occurred. In every case, another explanation besides the supernatural could be employed. But that’s not how it FELT. And how it felt made me happy. So I choose to go with it. That’s how it is with faith.

  36. Aaron R. says:

    Scott B., I agree that there is the possibility is still there. My sense is that we are further away from it being sanctioned and encouraged. I think Stapley’s point about noting resisting the spirit is right and yet I know many women who have resisted the urge (or the request of a loved one) themselves because they felt it was improper. I think that if anything this will reinforce the normative notion that the P. heals rather than inspired declarations.

    Regarding the repetition of blessings. I am perhaps mis-informed but I was under the impression that on at last a few occassions the practice was to bless repeated until someone was inspired to make a divine promise of healing. I think for me this is another crucial shift, namely that it seems to me that until this talk we vocalised healing through inspiration and that this vocalisation enacted (or made active) the ritual part of that ordinance. Now the pattern is reversed.

  37. Scott T. says:

    152 (#33),

    I don’t see any contradiction in having my own opinion while welcoming others to have opinions that differ from mine.

    For example, if someone believes in Wicca and a ritual will bring them comfort, I am fine with them doing it (as long as it doesn’t interfere with hospital policies) . Do I believe the Wicca ritual will bring energy into the patient’s body and heal it? No. If the ritual brings comfort to the patient, do I think it will help? Yes, it can help patients in some situations.

    Comfort is better than distress, so regardless of what cultural ritual brings the patient comfort I am all for it [as long as it is absent of harm - so if a diabetic in ketoacidosis wanted some sugar cake I would not let them eat it too ;) ].

  38. B.Russ (formerly 152) says:

    37 Thats fair enough. I guess I would have said “I personally don’t” instead of “I’m not a fan of”.

    The way I read it you went on for a paragraph about how these practices can calm patients and do have real benefits, but then said (what sounded like) that you didn’t like it.

  39. Scott T. says:

    My apologies for any confusion. I should have said “I personally don’t”. Yes, calm patients provide benefits (not just to the patient) – simply, what “I personally don’t like” is attributing something to supernatural things when it’s as easy as attributing it to the calming of the patient of the placebo effect.

    Like most doctors, writing isn’t my forte, as you can tell. (maybe that has to do with the reason no one can read our hand writing?)

  40. Adam Greenwood says:

    “On repeated blessings, I have to say that while many repeat anointings are now discouraged, my own experience suggests that repeated blessings sometimes seem to finally open a door to truly remarkable experiences.”

    I believe Elder Oaks is correct that receiving multiple blessings indicates insufficient faith in the first one. But the reality is that most of us have insufficient faith at one point or another and sometimes another blessing can bolster it.

  41. Thanks for the discussion, and for the added comments by meems and others.

  42. “However, in no case could I say an incontrovertible miracle occurred. In every case, another explanation besides the supernatural could be employed.”

    Fwiw, I have been involved in at least three blessings where the truly miraculous did occur, with no other logical explanation. That was out of multiple hundreds, which reinforces my belief that part of enduring to the end is participating enough to experience the divine amid the overwhelming mundane.

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