Claim your blessing!
Because children are baptized at age 8 rather than as infants, the Mormon version of a baby’s christening (blessing) is not considered a saving ordinance on their behalf. The LDS interpretation of this ritual is found in D&C 20:70:
“Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”
We’ve all seen how it goes: dad, grandpa or some other worthy Melchizedek priesthood holder brings the baby to the front of the chapel, a few other men surround them in a circle, they collectively bounce the baby like she’s on a trampoline to keep her from fussing during the blessing, a deacon holds a microphone in front of the speaker’s mouth as the child is given “a name, by which she will be known on the records of the church and throughout her life,” followed by a brief blessing. Funny thing is, she’ll still get her name on the records of the church with or without a blessing, so it’s not even a required ritual for entrance on our attendance rolls.
And some of us wonder….”Where’s her mother?” We think that all too-often, don’t we? Oh, there she is! A few pews back, arms reverently folded as she strains to hear the man’s blessing on her child while other shrieks and squeaks punctuate the sacred silence, the same plight afforded to a father only when he is deemed “unworthy.” Is she also unworthy?It seems paradoxical that in a church which reveres motherhood as a woman’s highest and holiest calling, she cannot participate in presenting her newly born child in front of her friends and ward members, let alone act as voice for the blessing, despite it not being a saving ordinance. While some members see no problem with this, many woman have felt wounded by this exclusion. For example, according to the Church Handbook, there is no direct prohibition of having the mother hold the child during the blessing, and while some women have been successful at getting permission from their bishop to do so, others have been turned down. It seems to be left up to the discretion of the bishop or stake president in most cases. And even then, as Caroline points out, it’s still a male-centric ritual.
What’s wrong with this picture?!?
Pregnancy, labor and childbirth are, by all metrics, woman-centric. And yet, women traditionally have no part in the blessing of their children before the congregation.
I gave birth to my 3rd child (and first daughter!) earlier this year and the prospect of not being involved in welcoming and blessing her into life was very discouraging. I have a very understanding bishop and stake president, and I bet that I would not have run into much resistance if I had asked to hold her for the blessing. After all, I hold my other children in my arms as their father anoints and blesses them for other occasions, including sickness — how could this be different?
But even then, the idea of being the voiceless mother became so repugnant to me. My husband was generous and helpful, offered for us to write the blessing together and he deliver it memorized. That didn’t feel much better. I didn’t want to just hold her. I wanted to hold my baby girl in my arms and bless her myself.
So that’s what I did.
I decided that the system in place for fathers to bless their children was very nice, but that it wasn’t really about me, nor could it include me in the way I wanted to be included. So I released any feelings of wanting to control or wishing it could be different and just allowed it to be something special her Daddy gets to do with her.
I followed in the footsteps of many faithful women who have already done likewise and held a matriarchal blessing ceremony in my own home on the night before my daughter’s traditional church blessing.
I asked a handful of women to attend and invited far-away family and friends to send a poem or blessing to be read. I gathered some inspiring poetry, blessings and music to make a short program and printed the texts into a little booklet. We gathered and sang Susan Howe’s and Linda Hoffman Newell’s text Hymn of Welcome to the tune of “Come thou fount of ev’ry blessing” (I prefer that tune over the Hie to Kolob melody), and each woman in attendance read some of the poetry selections. Some dear friends and family wrote blessings and poems for my child to be read in their absence. Each of us was in tears as we spoke the tender words of our selection. (If anyone would like a pdf copy of my selections, I’m happy to share. It was a community effort in the first place.)
Then the time came for me to pronounce my eagerly-anticipated blessing on my little girl. I was surprised at the awkwardness and slight embarrassment that passed through me at this moment. Should I even be doing this? I realized yet another privilege that being a priesthood holding man in the church affords: practice giving blessings in front of other people. From confirming converts on their mission, to blessing and confirming their children, to blessings of health and comfort, men in the church are expected to be inspired and pronounce Heaven’s blessings in front of an audience. Even in front of some of my dearest friends, I felt self-conscious and almost backed out of having us stand around in a circle until one of them nudged me into doing it as I had imagined. I was grateful for the show of confidence.
Once I got going, I was able to pour out my heart for this child. All of my hopes, wishes, dreams and blessings for her flowed freely from my lips. I felt no shame, no hesitation, only the confirmation that “there are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother.” I felt no pressure to make my blessing brief or to repeat tired old rote sentiments. I stopped and adjusted her when she fussed, hot tears licking my cheeks as I went. I blessed her with all the good gifts a mother desires for her daughter. The gift of tongues, that she may learn about the people of the world and communicate with them in their own languages. The gift of healing, that she might understand the workings of her body and keep it healthy. The ability to know of my love for her, and God’s love for her, and likewise the love that our Heavenly Parents have for all of their children and to let the knowledge of that love guide her in seeking out systems of oppression and to find ways to relieve suffering.
Afterward, we all had cake and ice cream. Because really….what’s a Mormon gathering without cake?!
Unabashedly blessing my child was such a gift of empowerment. No longer did I feel like a mute observer of my child’s future, but a creator and facilitator in such. It made me want to rise up and claim more of the power I already have. I’m looking forward to the mother’s blessings I will give my children on the eve of their baptisms, ordinations and birthdays. I anticipate making it every bit a tradition as father’s blessings, with nary a competitive whit about it.
For all of us who feel like voiceless observers on the pews, let us all rise up and claim those blessings that we are entitled to give!