To those looking in

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.


  1. There must be something in the air today that is promoting sheer poetry. Another beautiful post…

  2. Holy cow what a great post, Sam. I am so grateful for it.

  3. Beautiful.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Simply lovely.

    I liked how you pointed out to your daughter that Jesus’ “last name” signifies that he was the Anointed One (ho christos being the Greek translation of Hebrew ha-mashiach, which we directly transliterate into English as “the Messiah”).

  5. Josh Smith says:


  6. Amen.

  7. Wow. Balm for my tired soul, as well. Thank you.

  8. thank for sharing this.

  9. I think this post is exactly what Elder Ballard had in mind. Great stuff.

  10. Incredible.

    I have had a wife and restless children fall asleep in my arms immediately following a blessing, so this touched me deeply.

    Thanks, Sam.

  11. I must say that in my times of doubt and despair, the recollection of priesthood blessing is always comforting. When my husband places his hands upon my head, he is suddenly able to address concerns that I have not spoken to him about, and I have no earthly explanation for that.

  12. Sam,

    As a physician, do you think that touch plays much of a role in healing? I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but your post contains vivid descriptions of the tactile sense.

    Also, even though it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway. Your daughter is very blessed to have such a father.

  13. Chuck McKinnon says:


    As a father whose young daughter has suffered through croup episodes every winter for four years, I thank you for writing this. Had I your eloquence, I might have written it myself.

  14. Mark, thanks. I love my children desperately and am grateful to have Mormonism as the vibrant context for my fatherhood.

    I’m of two minds. As a professional skeptic, I am not particularly inclined to believe the claims of touch healers about actual physiological effects of non-medical interventions. But as a physician and theist, I believe strongly in the need to touch as part of healing. We are more than a concatenation of physiological processes, and therapeutic touch recognizes that we are “souls” in the Mormon parlance, the deeply meaningful combination of spirits and bodies.

    So, to put it in simple terms, I do believe in the meaning of healing touch, even if I’m not convinced that it has a true physiological effect (I am willing to be proved wrong; studies to date have not confirmed it).

  15. Thank you for the beautiful post, Sam. It seems that about every six months or so, I go through a bit of a spiritual funk and all I can see are the past missteps and mistakes the church has made, as well as my disappointment with the Church’s stance on more current issues.
    Your post reminded me in the midst of such a funk why I am grateful for the Church and its beautiful symbolism and teachings.

  16. S.P. Bailey says:

    Thanks for this, Sam. It is beautiful, and it rings true to me. Yet I wonder how crazy it sounds to some people. For whom is this kind of beauty comprehensible? (Feel free to chime in all “those looking in”!)

  17. Sam – In a few paragraphs you have beautifully captured one of the great blessings of life as a Latter-day Saint. For me the priesthood blessings always raise an awareness of my mortality – always a feeling of inadequacy, wondering if I am worthy to perform it – but always confident that God is simply using my hands to perform His miracles. Thanks for your poetic language describing a beautiful part of our lives.

  18. Thank you.

  19. Sam,

    Thanks for your beautiful words. I’ve shared them with some family and friends.

    While sometimes I wonder if my blessings make a difference, I am forever grateful for those times when I and my family have undeniably been healed and lifted spiritually and physically by the administration of heaven through earthly hands.


%d bloggers like this: