Guest Post: Swallowed Up #CopingWithCOVID19

by Anonymous

It is only great upheaval that truly destabilizes the structures of power and allows that which was held by the few to be claimed instead by the many.

The act of taking, so unthinkable a week ago, is now the only reasonable course of action.

A week ago, I hurried through my morning routine to make it to my local chapel in time for the passing of the sacrament. If I was late, I knew, I’d have no chance to receive it for another week at least. These are the rules of the world, of the universe, of God: the sacrament of our Lord’s supper is something that must be given to me by a priesthood leader, and can be denied to me by that same leader.

And it has been denied, many times. When I became lost in the labyrinthine London transportation system and arrived at church too late to partake, I was denied. When I turned to the priesthood holders in my travel group and asked them to bless it for me, I was denied. I have been denied because of snow storms, conferences, exigencies of travel or of employment or of health. You cannot take the sacrament, Sister. I cannot, or I will not, or may not, bless it for you. Wait and try again. Patience.

All my patience has been swallowed in one gulp by the great upheaval that is an unthinkably small string of RNA code.

Meetings are cancelled around the world, the traditions of my entire life destabilized in a finger snap. I share lodgings with a woman who works in the pediatric ward of our local hospital—she, and all the microorganisms on her hands and in her mouth, travel each day between my home and rooms consecrated to four-year-old cancer patients. To allow a priesthood holder, and all his defiled exhalations, access to my home is a matter of life and death. I think of millstones and the depths of the sea, and refuse my ministering brother’s offer to bring the sacrament to me.

“What about Skype?” I ask, in a voice that suggests I am joking when I am not. “Can you bless it for me over Skype?”

He laughs. “I don’t have permission.”

I don’t have permission either. And for the first time in my life, I do not ask for it.

I change into clean, formal clothes, brush my quarantine-neglected hair, and perform that most precious and ubiquitous of ordinances: the washing of the hands. I lay out upon my kitchen table the ritual objects that have always been here, in guise of common household goods: a scrap of bread in a sauce bowl, a mouthful of water in my smallest glass, the leather-bound books that went with me across the ocean and came back again. I cover the emblems with my great-grandmother’s white handkerchief.

I sing the hymn that is stuck in my head, every verse, straining through the melody line though my voice wants the easy familiarity of the alto harmonies, the proper intervals braced against the voices above and below. Then I open my books, pull back my handkerchief, and bow my head.

“Oh, God . . .”

Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God. I speak blasphemies. I am committing heresy. I am defiled. I am blessing the sacrament with my woman’s mouth.

“The Eternal Father . . .”

My own father is far away. Everyone I love is far away. All that presses in close around me is the virus, the virus, the virus, the dread that sticks to my skin like drying blood. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

“We ask thee . . .”

God, I ask.

But I ask no one else.

And I swallow into myself the emblems I have blessed.

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20 Responses

  1. Bryan says:

    This was powerful and so beautiful. Thank you, anonymous writer. May we all see the day when women and girls all over the world are granted the same authority to act and bless with God’s power that men and boys have enjoyed for nearly 200 years. And may that day come soon.

  2. Terry says:

    No one has to wait for “granted authority” as evidenced by the author.

  3. Kaxlen says:

    At the moment, D&C is pretty clear that blessing the sacrament is a priesthood ordinance and requires clear priesthood authority. Given the current global situation, the gesture in the above article is touching and powerful, but granting that ordinance to be performed without authority devalues both the ordinance and the authority. Allowing people to take the authority on themselves undermines any real argument for legitimacy that the LDS restoration claims over all the other Protestant denominations that Joseph Smith was confused about, since at some point all those denominations started in just that way. Arguing that women should be allowed to hold that authority, however, seems much more reasonable, since there really isn’t any clear scriptural argument that it should be strictly male. In fact, there are plenty of clear scriptural instances as well as doctrinally implicit examples that would strongly argue otherwise.

    Personally, I think women are denied the priesthood for the same reasons that racial minorities were up until a few decades ago – not because they “weren’t ready” for it, but because the mainstream church culture, and even that of the leaders, wasn’t ready to accept it. The answer then wasn’t that African Americans just say “forget the prohibition, I’m doing it anyway.” It was to fast and pray that culture can change. Sexism is very and very powerful in our society, both in and outside the church, and if we ever want to truly establish Zion it will definitely have to be overcome. In the meantime, we fast and pray and work towards it. Eventually when women are allowed to hold the priesthood, it’ll be a long awaited indicator that we’re making progress in the right direction as a society.

    • JD says:

      Isn’t God so kind as to ignore the faithful pleas and cries of the marginalized and the downtrodden so that the mainstream church doesn’t have to be uncomfortable?

    • cat thatcher says:

      I lost my job today, so I’m feeling pugnacious. Here goes.

      “D&C is pretty clear that blessing the sacrament is a priesthood ordinance and requires clear priesthood authority.”
      What’s not clear is where it actually forbids women, or Blacks for that matter, from having the priesthood. Those prohibitions were/are habits not based in scripture.

      “Allowing people to take the authority on themselves undermines any real argument for legitimacy”
      Who ordained Alma the elder? Were all the heroes of the books Alma and Helaman agents of an illegitimate religion?

      “the mainstream church culture, and even that of the leaders, wasn’t ready to accept it.”
      This I agree with, but I can state the same thing using one word: ‘bigotry’.

      • kaxlen says:

        Pugnacious? I didn’t think you actually disagreed with anything I said, it feels like you just heard me selectively, or took parts of what I said out of context.

        point 1: I agree, I don’t think the scriptures forbid women, or Blacks for that matter, from having the scriptures. I think I made that pretty clear in the second paragraph of my comment. In the early church African Americans were ordained. There’s historical evidence that Joseph Smith might have intended women to have it as well eventually. But he didn’t, and we don’t know why. We can assume that African Americans stopped being ordained because it exacerbated persecutions when communities in Missouri & surrounding states saw Mormons as abolitionists, and there’s historical evidence to support that. But as for women, I don’t think we really know.

        Point 2: The second half of that sentence that you left off was very important. If you have a testimony of the restoration, then the restoration of priesthood authority that Joseph Smith claimed was of paramount importance. If you don’t, then there’s no reason you’d need to bless the sacrament in your living room vs any other denomination. As for Alma, we don’t know. There’s really no reason he couldn’t have been previously ordained – Abinidi likely had the priesthood, and there’s no reason to suppose that Zeniff and his priests weren’t ordained. Or even Noah for that matter, even though he exercised it unrighteously. But in the modern dispensation, Joseph Smith said the authority was restored to him by John the Baptist, and later by Peter, James, and John. If we believe what he said, then we believe that the chain of authority matters. If we don’t, then become an evangelical, or anything else, because the logical destination is then that the authority doesn’t have any real value anyways.

        point 3: I think I agree, though I’d use less inflammatory language. You could likely say the same of Peter when Paul confronted him on how he treated the new gentile converts. Does that mean Peter’s authority was invalid? No, he just had flaws that he had to overcome, like all of us. I think the same of our leaders. I had such strong hopes this conference that there would be a big announcement regarding women and the priesthood, and it broke my heart when all they put out were the same empty comments about, “you have access to the priesthood. . .” – arguments which this post clearly shows have obvious shortcomings. But I felt the spirit enough during the conference that I still feel like this is truly the Lord’s kingdom. I like to hope that the leaders don’t pursue women’s ordination only because they don’t understand the issue well enough to take it seriously, because they have decades of preconceived notions that they can’t see past. I’ll continue to hope and pray that changes.

  4. Ziff says:

    Oh my gosh. This is an amazing post!

  5. Caroline says:

    Such a powerful post, beautifully written. Thank you, anonymous. Regarding Kaxlen’s comment, my question is: how about the author and those that feel similarly do both? Both participate in those rituals that make them feel close to God (whether authorized by the church or not) and also fast, pray, and speak and write about women’s ordination? Doesn’t seem like the two have to be mutually exclusive, and then two purposes could be served. a) The woman claims her power and enacts ritual which draws her closer to God and b) she and others raise this issue forward to the consciousness of leaders through fasting, prayer, and speaking/writing. I don’t know this author, but I can imagine that at some point, people get tired of waiting and asking leaders for permission, and then the moment comes when it feels right to self-authorize. I know many women who feel that way about praying to Heavenly Mother.

    • kaxlen says:

      I think the post was intended to push boundaries and make us ask questions and critically analyze what we do – all of those are good things. Personally, I think the struggle for women’s ordination will only be a success if it comes through the legitimate authority – because it’s the change in mindset and culture that is just as important as the authority itself. The post makes me uncomfortable because it implies that we can just sidestep the whole question, and like I said, it feels like that devalues the authority and the ordinance. I don’t see any real difference between what the author did and just saying a prayer in your home. I think the latter has real power, and shouldn’t be minimized. I likewise think that women can and should give blessings through faith, just like they did until the early 1900s, and I think that the encouragement to stop that practice was unnecessary and caused real harm. But they were instructed even back then that they not proclaim those blessings through the priesthood. Similarly, if the Sacrament is an ordinance, and not just a prayer, then doesn’t authority matter?

      • Wendy says:

        I think you got one key aspect of this post: it was likely intended to make readers like you uncomfortable, and to embolden women in the church to stop enabling their own oppression.

      • Sjmc says:

        My gender should NEVER limit my access to spiritual things/ordinances. Based on your words, it seems like you support a system that it OK with that idea. It. Is. Not. Gender should not be used as the sole qualifier for authority. Men have been the ones deciding who has “authority” and who doesn’t. I guess that’s maybe where we differ. The church believes GOD chose who has authority and he only wants men. I don’t believe that’s the case. How damaging is it to be given the message that God doesn’t want to work with you, only men? Men have usually, when given the power and choice to do so, will limit and exclude women. “If ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” Procedure and formality are being given the priority. It seems like men get caught up in who gets to tell whom what to do. I’m done waiting for the church to see my worth and its pathetic I feel like I have to defend my right to work with the Lord in meaningful ways. And I do have that “right” whether or not MEN give it to me (which they never will). The church is the one “devaluing” the sacrament by removing it from people’s lives on purpose. They also “devalue” priesthood authority by hoarding it and therefore stifling its reach and ability to bless lives.

  6. Julia says:

    Beautiful post. I’m sure your meager offering was accepted (and acceptable).

  7. Wendy says:

    I’m in awe of the vulnerability and courage contained in this post. Thank you for sharing, dear author. May more women and marginalized folx everywhere stop waiting for others to authorize their spiritual power and claim it for themselves. As God’s children, it is our birthright. Brava!

  8. Chiaroscuro says:

    beautiful. thank you so much for sharing your experience

  9. Anna says:

    When John reported to Jesus that he had seen someone casting out demons, in Jesus’s name, but forbade him because he was not one of Jesus’s group of disciples, Jesus replied to forbid him not because anyone who isn’t against Jesus is on their same side. And when Joseph Smith was asked if the women giving blessings to the sick should be allowed to, Joseph answered that if God was honoring those blessings by healing the person who was blessed, then obviously it was alright with God.

    So, if the person blessing the sacrament succeeds in getting the person taking the sacrament to always remember Jesus and keep his commandments and to take Jesus name upon themselves, then hey, it worked so it has God’s approval.

    Not being willing to allow the sacrament to be blessed over the phone or Skype, either says that the sacrament is not really important, or the women who have no one to bless it are unimportant. So, which is it? Are daughters of God unimportant, or is the sacrament unnecessary?

    See, right now the men of the church are insisting that giving permission to bless over the phone would somehow cheapen the sacrament. But by not allowing any way for some women to take the sacrament in these days of social isolation cheapens the women.

    By hanging onto their authority of the priesthood, and insisting that formality and ceremony are too important to bend, the men are just proving how worthless they really consider God’s daughters to be. They keep saying how equal women are, then this which proves how they really feel.

  10. Mary says:

    Your ox is mired. Good for you!

  11. M says:

    Amen amen amen amen amen

  12. ElleK says:

    Absolutely gorgeous post. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I have a priesthood holding husband, and yet I, too, participated in this ordinance in our home: my small children (girls and boy) broke the bread, and I knelt and blessed it, and my children passed it. My husband knelt and blessed the water, and my daughter passed the cups.

    There was no lightning bolt from heaven. There was no withdrawal of spirit. The emblems were just as meaningful as they’d always been, and perhaps more, as I watched my children break and pass with pride.

    And it made me wonder: what is the purpose of the sacrament, anyway? Do we believe that the Lord’s supper literally cleanses us of our sins each week, the Mormon version of transsubstantiation? Is taking the sacrament a necessary step for repentance? Or is the sacrament mostly meant to remind us of our covenants to follow Jesus?

    The more I pull on the thread named Authority, the more I realize that without it, the garment is still whole.

    It is not God who has placed barriers and hoops around God’s power. That power is freely given and accessible to all.

  1. April 21, 2020

    […] himself. LDS men have easy and instant access to the sacrament during these weeks of #stayathome; women without a priesthood holder in the house do […]

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