Women and the Power to Heal

by JessawhyHealing Hands

Less than two weeks ago, my sister gave birth to her first child, a beautiful baby girl. Although I have three sons of my own, I’ve never witnessed a birth (not even my own!). Tacy was so brave, she labored all night, pushed for two hours, and gave birth completely naturally. Throughout the labor, she was surrounded by mostly women who loved and supporter her.  Along with her midwife, our parents, her two friends, and my sister and I helped her work through the difficult process of bringing new life into the world.

The experience was awesome. It brought to my mind all of the beautiful poetry, art, and literature about the miracle of birth.  During some of the more painful parts, I tried to spiritually support Tacy by explaining that I know women who believe that birth is the first ordinance that a child receives, one that can only be given by women, not just any woman, but a special woman: mother.   I also told her about how baptism is like childbirth, we are born again of blood, water, and the spirit.

All of the women in the room each took turns stroking, supporting, holding, and helping Tacy through her many hours of intense labor. As she pushed for hours, there were six of us at her bedside offering words of love and encouragment.  In the end, after it was all over, Tacy remarked how she  she needed each of us to help her through bring her baby into the world.  I felt blessed to have been part of such a miraculous, spiritual event.

Ten days after this remarkable experience, my sister was in the hospital again with her newborn who had a high fever. While it wasn’t very serious and she is now healthy and home a few days later, I was still worried and wanting to be there to support her.

However, because of family schedules and time constraints, it ended up that my husband went to the hospital in my place with my father to give the baby a blessing.

Obviously, I couldn’t give the blessing because I don’t hold the priesthood. The situation upset me more than I expected. Although my mother was there to help support my sister through this difficult time, I wanted to be there as well to put my arms around her, hold her crying baby, change a diaper, or tell a joke.

But, in the LDS church, we can only play the part that we are assigned. I was not assigned a Y-chromosome, so therefore I was not assigned to hold the priesthood. But, my powers to heal through faith in God should not be confined because of my lack of ordination.

Indeed, I’m not the only one confined by the rules of male-only priesthood. My husband didn’t really have a choice in this situation. My dad asked him to help give the blessing, and he pretty much had to do it. There wasn’t a substitute. Instead of enjoying the evening in the pool with this kids, then reading to them and tucking them in, he was back in the car for another hour, sitting in the waiting room, cramped in a small hospital room, giving a blessing that my sister didn’t request, but allowed because she knew it was important to my dad.

My husband would never complain about these things. He’s happy to serve and really loves my family. I appreciate all of that so much.

But, I really wish that I could have gone to the hospital to give my new niece a blessing, or if not, just be there to support my sister. I know that is where I was supposed to be. What seems most upsetting to me is that we have such a narrow definition of who has God’s power to heal. From my experience, it involves at least two men in suits, a drop of consecrated oil, laying on of hands, some murmured words, and of course, faith.

I’m glad we have this option, but isn’t God’s power to heal bigger than that? Can’t my power as a sister and my faith as a woman also heal? Why don’t women discuss the spiritual gift of healing? Why don’t we heal each other? It seems to me that with church’s patriarchal system, it would have to be encouraged by the Brethren, and I don’t know that it ever has been and ever will be.

But, getting permission from men doesn’t make sense. As women, we should take the power to heal into our hands directly from God. That’s where the gifts come from anyway. It’s not as though we’re competing, right? There’s no competition in serving God.

I don’t see how God will stand in our way when we want to use our hands to heal.  The problem is changing the way we look at women and healing.

We need to reclaim our heritage as preistesses and healers.

Our spiritual power is from God and we can and should use it.

Photo: These are my hands, massaging my sister’s neck during her labor. It’s special to me because it reminds me of the power we have as women to support and heal each other.

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Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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20 Responses

  1. David says:

    The gift of healing spoken of by the Apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthian Saints must be distinguished from the power of the Holy Priesthood. While this gift cannot be enjoyed without the Priesthood, it may not always be present in those who hold the Priesthood.
    The power to control this healing influence rests in God. As the power of God is delegated unto men who are directly called of Him and ordained to the Holy Priesthood, so these may administer this healing influence unto the sick and if they are receptive to it they may be healed.

  2. mb says:

    I understand your sense of loss and I’m glad you felt that spiritual connection and bonding in your sister’s birthing experience. You articulate those well. Thanks for sharing that. I also sense your feeling of a lost opportunity.

    One thing confuses me. You wrote: “However, because of family schedules and time constraints, it ended up that my husband went to the hospital in my place with my father to give the baby a blessing.”

    In your essay your absence from the hospital brings to the fore your sense of lost opportunity due to not exercising priesthood. But your essay blames your absence on family schedules and time constraints. Are you blaming both? It’s not clear. Why is your sense of injustice aimed at the delegation of priesthood responsibilities and not at the family schedules and time constraints? Or is it aimed at both and I’m just missing that?

    You wish you had been able to go and are unhappy that your husband “who is happy to serve and really loves my family” was able to go. And then you say that “it’s not as though we’re competing, right?”

    But it sounds like you are, or at least that wish it had been you instead of him, which is a form of competition.

    I’m not arguing with your feelings, Jessawhy. They are real and worthy of respect. But the construct of the essay left me wondering about your statement about not competing.

    Maybe the essay just needs some tweaking?

  3. Caroline says:

    mb, Jessawhy didn’t put this in that sentence you first quote, but I think she also makes it clear that the reason she didn’t go to the hospital was because she doesn’t have the priesthood. If she did, her husband could have stayed home with the kids and she could have gone to give the blessing.

    Jess, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I agree that women need to develop their gift of healing. (Which is a spiritual gift and open to every human.) It’s too bad that the Church has not carved out an institutional role for women healing, as they have for men.

    As you probably know, there is huge precedence for women blessing and healing (even with oil) in the earlier days of the Church. Even up to the 1930s and 40s, women were giving other women childbirth blessings and annointings. But then (sadly) that was stamped out by the authorities.

    This is one area – healing – where it would be so easy to make feminist progress within the institutional Church. We have scriptures to back up the idea of women healing, we have historical precedence within Mormonism. It’s all right there. We just have to have GA’s who are willing to give back this opportunity to women.

    Or, we women just need to seize the opportunity. What we do in our own homes and in our own families is our business. Can we really envision a God who would punish us for wanting to serve others by laying our hands on and blessing and healing? I certainly can’t.

  4. mb says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Carolyn.

    I do disagree with your statement “But then (sadly) that was stamped out by the authorities.” Linda King Newell’s excellent essay “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share” which carefully traces the history of women anointing and blessing and healing in the church, including the evolution of official church statements on the practice by general authorities, which you are right, played a role in this, also outlines the ways that women in the early 1900s contributed to the decline of that practice. It wasn’t just “the authorities”. Let’s not make them the lone villains. Besides, if we create an “us vs. them” mentality, we not only increase resistance to dialogue and revelation, we also create divisions in the body of Christ.

  5. Alisa says:

    Jess, I love this story! What a powerful exprience the birth was.

    Every so often, I discover something in womanhood that has a direct parallel in the Priesthood. You mention that baptism is like a man’s way of bringing someone into new life, just as a woman does naturally. I also think of the bread of the sacrament, and the blood that was spilt from the side of Jesus. As we take of these symbols, aren’t we eating of his flesh and breast, like breastfeeding (I’ll credit Julian of Norwich for bringing this to my attention). Temple-endowed women bring children into the world underneath their own “veil” of the garment (I’m speaking generally about forming the baby and not suggesting a birthing mom wears the garment), and men become the veil workers in the temple to take them out of mortality, symbollically. Or even strike the literal garment thing – any preganant woman’s body is changed in those same bodily places where the garment markings (or most of them) occur. (I am trying to be vague and respectful here.)

    I don’t know what to make of these parallels. My psychoanalytical side says that men could have a certain “child bearing envy” that creates anxiety from their separation from the very real power that it takes for a mother to create a life and to nurture it – or even any question that their child is really their own since it doesn’t come out of their bodies. So maybe that’s why they “need” the Priesthood (to reference what many of our faith say) – to make symbollic claims to what a mother does naturally. Under this light, it seems that mothers, regardless of their religion or righteousness, participate in real, physical and spiritual ordinances that only men bearing the Priesthood can later shadow. This is one of the things that makes me wonder why women aren’t ordained to the Priesthood, but act in the temple as if they have it, and, in a certain light, act in the world as if they have it through powerful events, such as birth.

    And that’s where it breaks down for me. I’ve never been a fan of “women get motherhood, men get the Priesthood” b/c there are righteous women who don’t get motherhood, and there are unrighteous women who do. And the Priesthood, that’s only given to very few rightous men on the planet. The parallel doesn’t seem to match. So I’m conflicted: I would say fatherhood is the equivalent of motherhood. Or at least that’s what seems to make sense to me.

    To provide a solution to my own conflict, I wonder what we do to let men be more in touch with their fatherhood? If there is such thing as “child bearing envy,” what can we as women do to make fathers more a part of the process? Does there have to be competition? Does the Priesthood in fact compliment motherhood, or is there a kind of fatherhood that can more closely parallel these amazing experiences of motherhood?

    I am really just thinking out loud here. These ideas are so new to me, so forgive me if they don’t all seem congruent, or if it’s not apparent that I really am just exploring possibilities.

  6. Jana says:

    My experience with healing is somewhat different from the typical model of LDS gender-specific roles because in my patriarchal blessing I was given the gift of healing. In my family, when someone was ill or in pain, I was the one that was sent to their bedside first and not the men in the family.

    One time I gave my husband a blessing (for a matter only he and I were familiar with) and invoked my “authority” as someone who was endowed with priesthood power in the temple. It was an incredibly beautiful, moving experience and felt quite different than any other form of prayer. I loved that feeling of sensing his needs and offering a blessing that was specific to the situation.

    I can’t imagine that God would send any lightning bolts to those who experiment with using their healing power in new ways. Jess, I think you absolutely should try giving healing blessings if that’s what you feel called to do. 🙂

  7. Janna says:

    I agree with Caroline that we women just gotta do what we gotta do, and stop asking permission.

  8. Caroline says:

    mb, I’ve read that essay too a few times and I do agree that women seemed to play a role – though I think it was minor compared to that of the male Church leaders – in the crackdown on women giving blessings.

    From what I remember, women kept asking if it was alright for them (women) to lay hands on and bless. Eventually the male leaders started to say no. That was a huge point I took from the essay. Perhaps we better stop asking leaders for permission and just do what we think is right.

  9. Caroline says:

    Alisa, you ask great questions. Like you, I’m uncomfortable with the complementary argument that men have priesthood because women have motherhood. Doesn’t work for me because of all the reasons you mentioned (and more).

    An initial feminist academic reading (which I’m sure would be obnoxious to many) of the parallels between childbirth and religious ordinances is that these ordinances function as an appropriation by patriarchy of female symbols and power.

    I personally like a lot of the symbolism of baptism, etc. and am happy for religion to base its rituals off of childbirth, breastfeeding, etc. I just would like men and women together to officiate in them.

  10. Jessawhy says:

    Yes, the essay needs tweaking. I’m sorry my explanation was unclear.

    Had we better understood the schedules of everyone involved, I could have visited my sister earlier, then come home and my husband would have gone to give the blessing. Honestly, that would have been fine.
    But, because of delays only one of us got to go, and it had to be my husband because he holds the priesthood and in our church, I am not authorized to bless the baby in this way.
    Thus, I was blaming both the scheduling and the priesthood issue. I should have made that clearer.

  11. mb says:

    Certainly overdoing the asking for parameters, definitions and specifics played a large role in the decrease in women’s involvement in healing and blessing. I love Zina Young’s statement in regards to that, that if you plant a grain of wheat and keep poking and looking at it to see if it was growing you would spoil the root.

    Overdoing the asking for permission and anxious requests for specific guidelines does sound like an abandonment of the sense of being able to discern what is right and appropriate by the Spirit on your own. And I think women were guilty of that in regards to the history of blessing that we now see over the past 150+ years. It reminds me of a comment I heard in Relief Society a number of years ago when an earnest young mother said, “I don’t like all this ‘follow the Spirit’ stuff. I’d just rather that you tell me what to do”.

    In my opinion, if you humbly follow the promptings of the Spirit, whatever you feel prompted to do, you’ll ultimately be fine. If you follow them to make a point, however, you’ll end up way off base. All of us, men and women, need to get our egos out of the picture.

    I think that is probably why on most (not all, but most) occasions when men or women truly bless by the power of God, it is done with only a few, nearby people noticing or commenting, and rarely any discussion by the one who did the blessing.

  12. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments. Most members of the church believe exactly what you’ve stated.

    Thanks for the encouragement. It’s new to me to think about having and using the gift of healing. I’m going to have to think more and pray about it.
    The best part of this situation for me is getting out of the complaining phase and moving into the doing phase. I can do something about this, I can seek God’s help to heal.

    I always love to hear your thoughts on these issues. You have such a beautiful way of seeing women’s nature and childbirth.
    For our book group a few months ago, we read, “The Woman and the Alabaster Jar.” In it, the author explains that in the middle ages, references to the knee were actually references to genitals. I was surprised to hear this, but it actually makes a lot of sense in relation to your comments about the garment markings and the symbolism of childbirth and nourishing within the temple.

    Thanks for sharing that experience. It sounds powerful and really special.

    To be honest, priesthood blessings for the purpose of healing have been a difficult topic in my marriage. I know I would feel much differently if Mark and I were both empowered and authorized to lay hands on and bless each other, and our children jointly. I hope to see that happen in the future.

    Alisa and Caroline,
    I don’t know where I fall on the idea that motherhood is complementary to priesthood. I understand that some women won’t be mothers, but there seems to be a lot of parallels, and whether that comes from man’s envy or from God, I don’t know.

  13. David says:

    Oh. FYI Blessings can be done by one elder and without oil. The gift of healing is always done by one elder.

  14. Howard says:

    All spiritual healing is based in faith. With or without the Priesthood we all ask God to do the healing for us. When those who are present believe, they have the power.

  15. Kelly Ann says:

    Jess, thanks for sharing such a personal story and bringing up an interesting topic. I hope your sister and baby continue to do well. I believe it is all a question of faith and that women can heal as readily as men.

  16. ThomasB says:

    Jess great post and as usual quite thought provoking.

    I will be nice and not rail on the pharisee’s. The fact is that faith precedes all miracles. We all have the capacity for spiritual gifts if we seek to develop them.

    Priesthood holders have been given authority to act in gods name but not autonomy to act in God’s name. I hate to break the news to any of you who may be just a bit over the top orthodox but people outside the church also have spiritual gifts (from God, yes the same one we believe in) and they recognize these gifts and act accordingly when circumstances present themselves.

    I have know two individuals that could heal by touch (one man, one woman). One was not a member of the church and I baptized the other and he had this gift before he held the priesthood. I actually witnessed him heal my companion (pre baptism) and it was an experience so powerful I will never forget it.

    My personal experience has been that many women have a healing touch in their hands and this is why many of women feel drawn to a career in massage and touch because it can be a gift and they recognize it.

    Give yourself some credit Jess I would say use what the Lord has given you when you feel prompted and when you feel there is not a convenient alternative. Do you have to use oil and go through the ministrations of a priesthood holder. No. Are you a disciple of Christ with the power to heal through faith and prayer. I believe you can be if it is a righteous desire.

  17. EmilyCC says:

    I love this post and the picture–it’s a lovely representation of women working to heal.

    As RS president, my MIL would take groups of women and do prayer circles for women who were sick or struggling. (Judy, care to elaborate? :))

    I think this is one way we, as women, can reclaim our history of healing. That and reading Women of Covenant–there are a few powerful stories about women exercising that gift.

  18. Eleanor J. says:

    I found this article very interesting. My mother was dying of cancer 13 years ago. And on the last evening of her life, I was sitting at her bedside, (my father was sleeping on the cot next to her, my other siblings did not want to be there anymore), becoming rather upset that she was still hanging on despite the pleas in her ear to let go of this life and go home. It was then that I took it upon myself to put my hand on her head and ask Father in Heaven, along with the power of the priesthood which I shared to take my mother. Within 10 minutes she was gone – and what a peaceful lovely feeling that was. I haven’t told anyone in my family this, especially my father – he would die of a heart attack I’m sure – and certainly didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong. Women in the time of Joseph Smith were healing by laying on of hands, and it stopped because of Brigham Young said that it was no longer to be done. I just think it would be great to be able to do that within our own family unit, especially if the husband is not available. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that.

  19. Jessawhy says:

    Eleanor J,
    Thanks for sharing your story. What a beautiful experience, I hope you can pass that down to your daughters as an experience you had with the laying on of hands.
    As far as what you did being wrong, I can’t imagine it was because it seems that you were listening to the Spirit. You know in your heart, I’m sure, how God and your mother felt about your actions and that’s all that matters.
    I wish you the best. Thanks for commenting.

  20. corinna says:

    I am a ex-mormon… and I just had this realization yesterday… it hit me so hard it almost took my breath away. It was for me another confirmation that the Mormon religion has some serious errors in thinking… in my opinion anyway… and I was a practicing Mormon for about 10 years. The words were whispered to me… “You are God’s beloved daughter and you have the innate God given gift to heal. That is your purpose.” Know I realize that might sound a bit dramatic… but I really did stop me in my foot steps. I was taken aback at hearing/feeling and coming to this realization. We as women are the nurturers here… we are the healers… we are the ones everyone calls on to take care of the sick, poor and lost. It makes perfect since to me that we have the gift to act in Gods name and lay hands on to heal. Wow… that is powerful.

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