Love and Priesthood

We’re super grateful that Melody Newey would share this guest post with us.

I.
“Will you please include me in your prayers tonight?”

It is a simple and sincere question. I am preparing for an exceptional challenge the next day and I mention to my friend, Mark,* that I could use extra spiritual support. He replies that he’s glad to offer up all his faith on my behalf and he thanks me for asking.

The following morning he sends an email to check in and to tell me what he’s praying for. The words and phrases he uses are indeed prayer-like and as I read, something interesting happens: I feel as though I am being “blessed” in a literal sense. The words on the screen carry a message of peace and comfort not unlike words I’ve heard before. The feeling is not unlike feelings I’ve had before when good men have placed hands on my head to offer priesthood blessings. The feeling includes what I interpret as a spiritual witness –something about priesthood power–not just as a memory of past blessings, but also as a concrete experience in this moment. Mark is a Melchizedek Priesthood bearer.

II.
I’m thinking about a long-time neighbor, Fern, who passed away a few months ago. She was a poet and storyteller. She was 86 years old when she died. She lived a long and eventful life and she loved to talk about it. In the months prior to her death she recounted a story about when she was a child, perhaps 6 or 7 years old. She had been very ill and her mother had anointed her fevered forehead and the front of her neck with consecrated oil and then offered a prayer. My neighbor believed she had had a severe case of what was likely strep throat – in the 1930s, prior to the use of penicillin. The mother pronounced a healing blessing on her child in the name of Jesus Christ and the child’s fever broke shortly thereafter. Fern recovered without any of what were then common sequelae for strep infection.

III.
Cindy* is married to a good and worthy Melchizedek Priesthood bearer. She carries a vial of olive oil in her purse, consecrated by this best friend husband of hers. She is a convert from a faithful and fervent Christian background where women often pray over those in need or give healing blessings. All the congregants know who the real prayer warriors are among them. It would be quite natural for her to use the oil when or if a situation calls for it. She carries consecrated oil like I carry a first aid kit in my car as a nurse – if we come upon an emergent situation, we want to be prepared with the right tools to offer assistance. Like Fern’s mother, Cindy believes in the power of her husband’s priesthood and in the power of Jesus to answer a prayer of faith.

IV.
June* has silver-white hair and an endearing smile. She is loved and respected because she is smart, warm, and funny. She is also a no-nonsense semi-retired 40-year-veteran nurse. She knows how to get things done and she isn’t afraid to administer either gentle or tough love in therapeutic doses as needed. She may have learned this rare skill through rearing ten sons.

One of her sons is immersed in training for military Special Forces. He has hit a hard patch in the rigorous program and is teetering on physical and mental collapse. He is also thousands of miles from home somewhere on an island or out at sea. June doesn’t know for sure because the location is classified. She and her husband call several of their grown sons to gather in their home where one of them serves as proxy for their military brother. The other priesthood holders anoint and bless him on behalf of the son who cannot be physically present to receive the blessing himself.

V.
I stand at the veil of the temple in an endowment session. I repeat the words at the end of the ritual recitation. These words assure me that through the power of the priesthood all my posterity and I will be blessed. The father of my children abandoned his desire and his opportunity to bear the priesthood long ago, and he is no longer my spouse. So, through me, a woman, through the priesthood, all my posterity will be blessed. I feel the truth of this as I am simultaneously washed clean with awareness that my very flesh and bones are bound to my immortal soul by virtue of this priesthood.

When I consider these five varying expressions of what we call priesthood power or priesthood blessings, I find myself with a view of this power that reaches beyond what is often seen as an administrative order. For me, priesthood power is simply and literally a means by which God’s love is made manifest in the world. I believe this power has many facets, some of which are apparent. Others of which may not be reflecting light into the world in ways we can readily see.

Whether this power is used to perform saving ordinances, to consecrate and set apart oil, or to dedicate a person, place, or structure to God, Priesthood is an endowment of holy love–or perhaps of Whole Love. Bearing this priesthood or using its power represents an opportunity to experience and to share with others a sort of love that is in short supply in mortality.

Sometimes I’m puzzled that this expression of love has been assigned by revelation to only men. I’m not convinced this limited expression represents the final or full expression of priesthood or of the potential for God’s whole love in the world. I feel it is entirely possible that other facets of priesthood are yet to be revealed. Most of the time I’m just grateful to know such love exists in a place and time when men are told that their worth comes from physical, professional, or personal acumen for climbing their way to the top of the proverbial heap. This priesthood offers a different model: an image of a power that does not erect or climb ivory towers, but which works to expand the foundation of Christ’s example of submission and service.

Who has a right to access this power? And in what manner? And when? Who has faith to utilize this love to its fullest mortal potential? Who has God called to minister, either via ordination or by the whisperings of the spirit? Perhaps a bishop or a home teacher answers the call; perhaps a mother of a child whose life is at risk; perhaps a brother, a friend, through a random email. (Did Mark even intend to administer to me in this way or did God create an expansive bridge through space and time to deliver that blessing to my troubled heart?)

I do not know the meaning of all things, but I know God’s love when I feel it. And I know the power of God is love and I believe that if the priesthood is the power of God, then in its purest essence, it is Love. And who can say how that love will manifest itself and under what circumstances it will be enlarged and expanded to reveal its many facets as the years of this earth move on?

————————————

*All names are changed. Except Fern – I just couldn’t change her name. She wouldn’t want that.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this marvelous post, Melody. D&C 121 seems to support the idea that priesthood should be the manifestation of God’s love in the world.

    Experiences like Fern’s were once common in Mormonism, as J. Stapley and Kris Wright show in their article “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism,” published in Journal of Mormon History:

    http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/mormonhistory/vol37/iss1/1/

  2. I really, really like that you’ve shared these experiences, and particularly your framing of priesthood as fundamentally being about love. And your closing line is perfect! A less elegantly-stated conclusion might be that priesthood might not ultimately be correlateable, which is a bit jarring in such a correlated Church. :)

  3. Thanks, Jason. Great historical perspective. There is a nice timeline out there somewhere detailing how female ritual healings have been systematically snuffed (so-to-speak) by various leaders over time. . . I’ll see if I can find a link to the timeline and add it to the comments here.

  4. Thanks, Ziff. I always appreciate your voice and perspective.

  5. I love the idea of priesthood being the power to make God’s love manifest in the world.

    But…

    …and it’s a big but…

    But in the Mormon church it is also all tied up in hierarchy and institutional power. Which means that we have, to some extent, simply reproduced the kinds of metrics we use to measure men’s (and women’s) value in the world. Certainly our lay leadership approach mitigates that to some extent (my dad went from being stake president to being a cub scout leader), but only to some extent (he was still called “President” and everyone knew he had been in that position of power; plus, we all know which men “have what it takes” to be a leader and which don’t, at least in high density Mormon populations). So yes. Priesthood is all about love. But it’s also all about power and the ability to make decisions and to impact others’ lives, sometimes in hugely significant ways.

    Until we achieve a zion state, until we jettison patriarchy and hierarchy and instead live as a zion people, priesthood will not be purely about love. At the very least until we break the idea of priesthood into its two component parts–the one about governance and the one about love and service–priesthood will continue to be about power and hierarchy as much as it is about love. I personally believe ordaining women will help move us toward that state because it will start to break down the preconceived notions of what it takes to be a priesthood leader (from income to education to genitalia). But even that will only be a start.

    Sorry if it sounds like I’m raining on the parade. But I think we cannot split priesthood as love/service away from priesthood as power/governance/hierarchy.

  6. Beautifully done. The pretension with which we talk about priesthood and power — as though we comprehend it! I think you are right that the nearest channel for our understanding is love, a necessary companion for real power in the priesthood. I (a woman) recently had an experience where I was the only one who could tend to my very sick son, and did not know how I would get him to the hospital with three other sleeping children. I did, for the first time in my life, humbly anoint and bless him. He healed completely in the night: not a trace of illness come dawn. God’s love, mother’s love, priesthood love, is that. Whatever else we try to make it.

  7. I find experiences like the ones you mention to be pretty rare in my life. I’m not sure if that’s a product of modern life, where we rely less on blessings are more on technology, or if it’s the estrangement I feel from priesthood in general because I experience it primarily as a tool of organization, hierarchy, and sexist practices. Maybe it’s both. I do feel my spiritual life is impoverished compared to my ancestors, who seemed to have God at the center of everything, and in many ways compared with my more orthodox friends in the Church. I need ways to build my spiritual life that are outside the “Sunday School answers” because I find the Church so saturated with patriarchy that it hurts to interact with it in ways that other people apparently find comforting. I do believe priesthood is ultimately the power of God’s love, but I find it hard to experience that within the terrestrial context of the Church.

    “priesthood might not ultimately be correlateable” – that’s brilliant, Ziff.

  8. Amelia, it may interest you to know that I agree with you. I feel we are burdened by our mortal propensity to misuse and abuse power. The current all-male priesthood structure lends itself nicely to male dominance, unrighteous dominion, and it is, indeed, hierarchical. I agree patriarchy is an imperfect model.

    Part of what I hope to do with this post is to offer an invitation to patriarchy-loving folks to consider a different way to view the power they or their loved ones have been given. Yes, it’s a lofty goal. But if Zion begins within the hearts of Her inhabitants, then even those individuals who may be blinded by their own privilege may eventually have a new perspective about their roles and about how they exercise their relative power. I hope that makes sense.

    I think a few good men really do see their priesthood as God’s Love. These are my favorite men in the church. And I appreciate the importance of OW in the changes already happening within a patriarchal structure. Thank you for your thoughtful and compelling comment.

    This was my favorite part: “At the very least until we break the idea of priesthood into its two component parts–the one about governance and the one about love and service–priesthood will continue to be about power and hierarchy as much as it is about love.” mic drop.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Melody. Very thought provoking.

  10. Melody, part of what I found moving about this piece was how you frame the Priesthood in the context of blessing lives and loving others. There’s no hierarchy or control. It is beautiful.

  11. Twila Warner says:

    What you describe is Zion happening on an individual and momentary level. It’s the truest thing we have at the moment and, for now, I’ll take it where I can find it.

  12. I love this. You’ve expressed what I feel also. Thank you so much!

  13. Thanks Melody. To me, this is what the priesthood is all about. Because of the covenants in the temple, the “power” applies to all. both male and female, bond and free, etc.. In particular, the thing you describe at Section V is actually an invocation to power. Notice that it flows directly to the speaker, and the speaker is calling down to her (or him) unlike the other things that go on there. It is that power God wishes us all to have. It is that power that was stripped from the Old Testament when almost all references to Enoch and Melchizedek were removed (or at least hidden). Amelia and others who reference Zion are right. And the Melchizedek Priesthood power blessing the lives of all is what got Zion in the first place. Alma 13:16-18 explains that process in very general terms when we look for it.

  14. melodynew says:

    Kevin and Steve – thank you for reading and responding. Your attention here means a lot to me. Steve, yes, yes, indeed.

    Twila and Emily and others . . . I think we all long for the same thing. Deep down, we know things aren’t quite right, but we intuitively know what “right” looks and feels like. Come quickly, Zion!

    Merzi04 – thank you so much for sharing your experience! I’ve given mother’s blessings more times than I can count, not using oil, because that never occurred to me. But mother’s blessings are beautiful and necessary and, I think, under utilized.

    Angie and Terry – Thank you fro taking time to comment. Terry, I’ll spend some time in Alma today and I love the scriptural background you brought to this discussion.

  15. I’ve been thinking about this a bit more. I really think that, as an institution and community, we need to consider that we may be in error because we have used priesthood to create hierarchy and power structures, rather than using it exclusively to minister. I know that many, many priesthood leaders in that hierarchy, my father included when he was, think of the work they do as priesthood leaders as work of love and ministry. But the reality is that the work is also the work of governance. And when we conflate these things, we elide the ways in which some things really are just governance and administration and therefore should and must be subject to reevaluation and change, while others truly are the pure love of God manifest in the world.

    I don’t know what it really means to split priesthood as governance from priesthood as love/ministry. Maybe it’s not doable. Maybe universal ordination, regardless of sex, would help overcome some of the problems inherent in combining priesthood as governance and priesthood as love/ministry. I don’t think it would be a comprehensive solution, because women are no less susceptible to corruption and misunderstanding than men. But I think it would help break down some barriers. It would make more thorough understanding of realities on the ground possible at all levels of leadership.

    But I still think we have to find a way to get away from priesthood as governance wielded in order to police and control boundaries and behaviors. Even if we do go to a system of universal ordination regardless of sex.

  16. I hope that we can evolve as a church and as a people (although it’ll probably be the other way around) and, as Amelia says, “get away from priesthood as governance wielded in order to police and control boundaries and behaviors.” This was lovely; thank you.

  17. Yes, Amelia, I think many of us are thinking along the same lines. You’ve articulated many of my own thoughts in your comments. I’m not convinced splitting loving ministry from hierarchical governance is possible, because: mortality, telestial kingdom, etc. We live within a time-honored vertical social, political, religious structure and people like Jesus Christ have been trying to dismantle that in favor of a horizontal structure since the beginning of time.

    Again, this is where I feel that the change of perspective within the hearts and minds of individuals is what will bring about the change of expression of what we call priesthood power. How will this change happen? When will this change happen to such a degree that we feel the power of loving ministry so strongly that our desire for hierarchical structures is subsumed? I don’t know. I just know I’m doing my best in my corner of the kingdom to speak to and from that place of love (and of priesthood power as God’s love) as I understand it.

    Thanks again.

    You too, New Iconoclast, thanks for being here.