I recall, years ago, being asked to go with a friend in a response to a call for a priesthood blessing. The adult son of a member of our ward had been involved in an accident at home and had suffered extensive third-degree burns. We were asked to “administer” to him, which in Mormon parlance means that two priesthood holders anoint him with consecrated oil and, in the name of Christ, lay their hands on his head and pronounce a blessing as moved upon by the Spirit. Usually one person anoints, and the other person gives voice for the blessing.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when the circumstances are serious, I would rather do just about anything than be the person giving the blessing. Although no one pretends that they are speaking as dictated to by God, you still don’t want to say something stupid. You don’t want to announce that a person is going to be healed, and then they die. Nor do you want to destroy hope through a pessimistic blessing, only to have the person dance out of the hospital a day later. You do your best to follow the promptings of the Spirit, but my first prompting usually is: “Let the other guy do it.”
On that occasion, we asked the family who they wanted to do what. I started edging backwards and avoiding eye contact. They asked me to give the blessing anyway. Great. I really liked the guy, so I wanted to bless him that he would be fine. On the other hand, those burns were really impressive. Maybe I should just slur my words so no one knows what I said and hightail it out of there. (A similar strategy helped on the Bar exam. When I came to a question I wasn’t sure about, I fell back on the “write sloppy” approach. Worked just fine).
Decorum won out over panic, so I stayed and gave the blessing. I have no recollection at all what I said, but it must have been hopeful, because there were no dirty looks afterwards. And the guy did, in fact, completely recover. I am thankful that the Spirit showed up and took the situation over before Robin blew it completely.
So I can’t imagine what was going through the heads of two of my dearest friends when they were called to Parkland to administer to me. Both of them had been through this fairly recently with me, when my subcompact car was further subcompacted in a collision with three semi trucks. But things were a little less scary then. I was a bloody mess, but I was out of the woods relatively early: Broken, but not dying.
This time, as one of these good friends told me later, “It really looked like you weren’t going to make it.” He already had a pretty good history of giving blessings to people and having them die later. I have teased him about it unmercifully. When Tony Brigmon walks through the door to give you a blessing, call your lawyer quick to make sure your affairs are in order. I’m sure he thought there was a very good chance that this would be the last blessing I ever got.
My closest friend, Carlos Munoz, also was there. Back when I was in my car accident, he had made it to the hospital before the ambulance did. That’s just how he rolls. Master of Time and Space, and Servant to No Speed Limit. He had more on his mind than just the blessing. I was on a gurney in my new suit, and Esther asked him to help her take my pants off. “If I let them cut his new suit, he’s going to kill me,” she said. “If he wakes up and finds me taking off his pants, he is going to do worse to me,” he responded. Priorities, people.
This wasn’t going to be my last blessing. There were going to be several more in the coming months, as fears and physical problems would continue to mount. I would feel the hands of the people I respect most in the world resting on my head as my friends and brethren would exercise their faith on my behalf. And it would not end there. They were there to administer to my wife and children, providing sustaining strength to them as they suffered much more than I.
My family believes in priesthood blessings. They have been a source of divine aid and miraculous recovery many times in my family. I never felt closer to the Lord than when my father gave me a blessing. My daughters will wake me up at two in the morning to ask me to administer to them. We take seriously the power of prayers of faith, especially when exercised in the context of a priesthood blessing.
(I learned just this week that a circle of faithful female friends also stood around my bed and prayed at one point. Although women in our church do not “hold” the priesthood, their faith certainly works through the priesthood in a similar way. The priesthood is God’s power exercised on earth, and whether invoked through a priesthood blessing or through a prayer of faith, God responds in the same way. I wish that I could have been awake for that prayer. I know those women. You will not find greater faith anywhere).
One of the things I like about being a Mormon is that when we are in harm’s way, we don’t call upon a minister or pastor and hope that he will have the time to come and pray on our behalf. In the LDS Church, the priesthood is held by all worthy male adults. When trials or tragedies arise, you can call upon your own father (or, in this case, his substitute in my life, James Bratton), your brother, your adopted brothers, your home teachers, or your friends.
We often say that because the priesthood is the same, it doesn’t matter who blesses you, whether it is the President of the Church or a Primary teacher. But, to me, it makes all the difference who is there. When I was seriously ill at 12 years of age with the swine flu, I didn’t want President Kimball to administer to me. I wanted Dad. If I had been asked who I wanted there while I was in a coma, the list would have included Tony and Carlos. These are men who know me, and are among the closest friends I have had in life. I know their hearts. I trust them in a way that I would not trust a local minister whose ministry was his livelihood.
The hands on my head were familiar ones. I have seen them lift and bless other people. I have seen them work for the benefit of the less fortunate. I have seen them clasped with the hands of those they love. I know the works of those hands, and while anyone can use the priesthood on my behalf, the familiarity of those hands fortifies my faith and shortens the distance between me and the Master.
For all of those good brethren who have exercised their faith on my behalf this year, I thank you for your devotion and worthy efforts to do what is right. I thank you for the love that has called you out at all hours of the day and night. I thank you for the patience to listen to a broken man, reduced to tears, who needed to lean on your shoulders, because mine had lost all strength.
Thank you for invoking the powers of heaven for me and my family, and for standing as bulwarks between us and despair.
Tomorrow: The Helpers