Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Emma Smith's Blessing to Herself

You may have heard the story of Emma Smith desiring a blessing from the hands of her husband Joseph shortly before he was taken to jail at Carthage. Because time and opportunity did not permit, Joseph suggested that Emma write the best blessing that she could, and that he would sign it on his return. Joseph was killed on June 27, 1844, and never signed Emma's blessing. But still extant are the words of the blessing Emma wrote.

“First of all that I would crave as the richest of heaven’s blessings would be wisdom from my Heavenly Father bestowed daily, so that whatever I might do or say, I could not look back at the close of the day with regret, nor neglect the performance of any act that would bring a blessing. I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting. I desire a spirit of discernment, which is one of the promised blessings of the Holy Ghost.

“I particularly desire wisdom to bring up all the children that are, or may be committed to my charge, in such a manner that they will be useful ornaments in the Kingdom of God, and in a coming day arise up and call me blessed.

“I desire prudence that I may not through ambition abuse my body and cause it to become prematurely old and care-worn, but that I may wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world and be a blessing to all who may in any wise need aught at my hands.

“I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side, and I ask my Heavenly Father that through humility, I may be enabled to overcome that curse which was pronounced upon the daughters of Eve. I desire to see that I may rejoice with them in the blessings which God has in store for all who are willing to be obedient to his requirements. Finally, I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.”

Because of some recent circumstances in my life and a separation from my husband for the past week and a half, it was suggested to me that I write myself a blessing. DH was amenable to this suggestion. So I have been thinking about this possibility and considering the words of Emma Smith.

The first thing I have wanted to consider in possibly giving myself a blessing is the priesthood authority which would be used in such an action. Recently on the Mormon Heretic blog was a post discussing Women and the Melchizedek Priesthood which spoke of the priesthood which an endowed woman receives in the temple in concert with her husband. I have often wondered what constitutes this priesthood which is independent of ordination or hierarchical office. Does it include, as Mormon Heretic suggests, "the power to act in the name of God?" Does it make a difference that my husband has approved the action? Would he have to sign the blessing for it to be effective?

Next, can one give oneself a blessing? Can even an authorized priesthood holder write a blessing for himself, or is part of the very nature of a blessing contingent upon giving it to someone else?

Impossible to ignore is the wording which is used in Emma's blessing. Rather than giving the promises with authority, she instead "desires" and "craves" the blessings, couching them in the form of requests. Contrast her words with an example of an 1844 patriarchal blessing given to Mary Elizabeth Knight by Joseph Knight, Sr.:
"If you will obey your parents in all things you shall live to return to Missouri and you shall see the foundation of the Temple laid and you shall inherit plenty of the riches of the Earth inasmuch as you are faithful."

As Carol Cornwall Madsen has observed, Emma's words are longings, perhaps even a "penitent's recovenant with God." Even in the modern-day Church, most members would be more comfortable with a woman writing a blessing in the form of requesting blessings from God rather than as a pronouncement in Joseph Knight's style and in the style used by male priesthood holders today. I am not sure I would even consider a writing done in the style of Emma Smith to be an actual blessing.

What do you think? Is it appropriate for an endowed woman to give herself a blessing? Should she request the blessings, or confer them? Must it be signed or approved by her husband (with whom she shares this priesthood authority) to be effective? Can blessings be given in other, non-traditional ways, such as through an email or over the phone?

I would like to request any of you who might hold these views to give me a blessing, whether through the traditional Mormon priesthood or not. This is a time in my life when I particularly need comfort and guidance. You can put it on comments here, or send it to my email, clbruno at hotmail. If you would like, I'd be particularly interested if you state the authority by which you are giving the blessing. Thank you, friends.


Mormon Heretic said...

Fantastic post, and thanks for the pingback!

Can a person give a blessing to himself/herself?

Well, from Emma and Joseph's perspective, it seems like an ok thing to do. This letter was dramatically portrayed in the movie, Emma Smith: My Story, though they made it an in person account rather than a letter. I first heard of this letter through one of John Dehlin's Mormon Stories podcasts.

I'm glad to hear your husband seemed to have the same reaction that Joseph did. I think the ideal is not to bless oneself, but if the situation warrants, as it appears yours did, then I see nothing wrong with it.

I have to say that I think it is exciting to see a historical precedent for women to bless the sick, and I think women should try to exercise this power more. I'll pray for you, and see if I can put your name in the temple this weekend.

Anonymous said...

God bless you!

That was a thought that I had way up in the second paragraph, not a reaction to your request. I know of no modern precedent of blessing oneself, but then, I had never heard of this letter, so I may be woefully uninformed. Nor am I familiar with written forms of blessings sealed by a signature, rather than oil. That said, I say follow your spirit and do what feels right.

If you don't mind, I'd like to share a family story involving women giving blessings. My great-grandparents were very orthodox members--great-grandfather served as mission president more than once, later temple president--these people were not periferal members. Anyway, in the late 80s/early 90s, one of their daughters was quite ill. My aunt is the source for this story--she witnessed their visit to their daughter's hospital room. They entered, chatted, and asked if their daughter wanted a blessing. Very naturally, my g-grandpa turned to his wife "Kathleen?" and they both put their hands on her head and blessed her. They did it naturally, as if it was no big deal and as if they had done it many times.

I love that story, but I don't know quite what to make of it.

SilverRain said...

I suppose my main thought with all of this is that writing oneself a blessing is far different from giving oneself a blessing. Emma's writing reflects this.

As far as I know, no one can give oneself a blessing.

In regards to the post you linked to, I have heard this assertion before and have listened carefully to the initiatory, endowment and sealing ceremonies. In no way that I can parse the phrases have I ever understood that women (or men for that matter) are given the priesthood in the temple. In fact, the wording is quite specific that we are not given a priesthood. I don't really care to elaborate in such a public forum, but that has been my understanding. Whatever the phraseology used by Brigham Young et al, I think that concentrating too complexly on such texts will not lead to a better understanding of what is really being said.

From what I have been taught, approaching history (or science for that matter) with the intent of searching out a specific preconceived meaning or end goal serves little purpose other than to blind oneself to truth. In other words, a scholar is better served by asking open-ended questions than by approaching a text with prejudice as to what it means.

But I am no historical scholar. Perhaps Ardis could shed better light on it.

J. Stapley said...

Note that in the Nineteenth Century and early twentieth century it was not completely uncommon to bless oneself. There was even approval in one early twentieth-century general conference. That said, it wasn't standard.

esodhiambo - check your email.

Regarding temple and the priesthood, modern readers often get in trouble with presentism. That is, they read into the term "priesthood" today's common meaning regardless of context. Joseph Smith used it in multiple ways, the Nauvoo temple being one of them. All that being said, the authority to bless in the nineteenth and early twentieth century shouldn't be used as an argument for priesthood. It is simply bad analysis.

Mormon Heretic said...

All that being said, the authority to bless in the nineteenth and early twentieth century shouldn't be used as an argument for priesthood. It is simply bad analysis.JStapley, can you expound a little more? What/Why is it bad analysis?

Kiskilili said...

What an interesting post! I hadn't read Emma's self-blessing before.

I have nothing religious to offer you as I'm stuck in a rather bitter place right now, but I'm sending all my good wishes your way. I really hope you find the peace and comfort you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

As a brand new mother, I blessed my son as I held him in the hospital recovery room. I laid my hands on his head and blessed him by virtue of the love I had for him as a mother. I felt distinctly inspired to do this, and it was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have ever had.

Were I to bless you, I would call upon the power of my love for you as a sister in Zion, which is a reflection of our Heavenly Father's love for us as his children. Perhaps I have a poor understanding of the way priesthood operates, but in my heart I believe that nothing is more powerful than God's love that flows through us all. That's what priesthood is to me.

xJane said...

I think blessings work best when they are given by another (rather than to yourself) because I think belief shapes reality and the more who believe the more likely there will be an effect.

May you be blessed. May your life be filled with blessings. May you have the strength to walk the path before you. May you always feel your God at your side. May you never want for blessings. May you never want for people to bless you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late to post a comment, but I've only discovered this blog tonight.

The simple truth is that only God gives a blessing. He may inspire one having priesthood authority to pronounce promises and blessings, but one ordained with priesthood does not have authority of himself to pronounce uninspired blessings, lacking revelation from God. Prayerful petitions to the Lord are answered according to His divine purposes and perfect love for each child. He may answer, "yes", "wait", or "I have a better Idea". Our Father readily answers a faithful child's prayer as she seeks to be led by Him. All priesthood blessings and prayers are contingent upon personal faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, and a commitment to serve Him. I love Emma's desire to receive blessings according to her uderstanding of God's divine purposes for her. Our question might be: "Am I willing to seek God's will and draw upon His power to bless my life?"


Bored in Vernal said...

Thanks for your comment, oneofhiskids. I, too admire Emma for seeking the Lord's will in her life, even if she did it a little unconventionally. Sometimes inspiration comes through authorized channels, and sometimes it comes in unexpected ways. I think we have to be open to both to be able to recognize the full spectrum of what is available to us spiritually.

Annalea said...


I recognize this is a well-aged post, but I wanted to chime in. I've been learning a lot lately about blessing and cursing . . . and it's much more simple than a lot of members (myself included) have been taught in recent times.

We tend to think of those ordained to the office of an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood as the only ones having the power to bless. This is a product of the church's reaction to the ERA (can't remember which decade--60's? 70's?). There was such an overreaction that women weren't permitted to pray in sacrament meeting for a time. Part of that reactionary time was the restricting of blessing as the domain of the priesthood alone. It was a time of fear. And that never brings about good things.

Thing is, the power to bless and curse is held by every son and daughter of God, regardless of who they are or what church they belong to. Blessings are good things spoken to others. Curses are evil things spoken. Plain and simple. The power of words is far, far more than we think. There's a reason all of creation happened at the word of God. The power of our words doesn't affect the physical world in the same way--our stewardship doesn't extend that far--but our words DO affect the spiritual reality around us with magnitude.

Those ordained to the office of a Priest have specific authorization in the church to use certain forms, officiate in certain ordinances, and claim authority in certain ways. But the power of God is given to those who live His laws and follow after the ways of His heart. I have received many priesthood blessings, which have varied wildly in power and efficacy. I have also been prayed over by friends (both in and out of our church), which have also varied in power nearly as wildly . . . but in several instances have rivaled in power the intense experience of receiving my Patriarchal Blessing. The Power of God (which is the whole POINT of the Priesthood as we know it) is given to those worthy, and who will follow the Lord in its use, no matter who they are.




Now, please understand: I am NOT saying that, because sometimes the power of God fills me through His Spirit, I am authorized to officiate at the Sacrament table, or to baptize. I AM saying that, when the Lord needs me and I am worthy to serve Him in that capacity, He can and will fill me with His power from on high to declare blessings, speak His word into another's life, or exercise any of the Gifts of the Spirit detailed in scripture. (Including healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc. Spiritual gifts are available to all--not just ordained priesthood.)

There is also a really important thing we don't understand about prayer. In the Greek New Testament, there are two words used for prayer: deesis and proseuche. Deesis means supplication; a beseeching prayer. it's how we nearly always pray now. But the other word, proseuche, is a declaratory prayer. It doesn't ask, it states. This is the word used when describing praying over the sick to heal them. It's the word used the vast majority of the time in the Greek NT. It's this type of prayer that's called the "blessing" portion of Priesthood blessings. It must be directed by the Holy Ghost, but when we pray this way, amazing power flows and miracles happen. My life, included.

Annalea said...


I wish, so so so fervently, that we could stop looking at everything as being connected to or dependent on the Priesthood. The whole aim of the Priesthood is to help them receive the power of God into their lives. It's an extra guide . . . almost like an extra iron rod on the other side of the path to the Tree of Life to help guide them. All of the hierarchical and administrative overlordship is purely an invention of the late 19th & early 20th Centuries, and NOT part of the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God.

Did you know that, before Correlation, the RS,YW & Primary operated independently, had their own budgets (based on contributions from members), published their own magazines/newsletters, and directed their programs as they were directed by the Spirit? The longer I've thought about that, the more I see the crippling nature of the subjugation of those organizations to a subordinate position in the patriarchal structure of the priesthood.

And now I've rambled far, far afield. And I'd love to leave you with a blessing.

Daughter of the Most High, I bless you with faith to walk in the ways He directs, no matter how they may appear to you. I bless you to recognize the voice of your Lord and Savior, and that of His true servants. I bless you to hear and heed the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and to trust completely in the loving care of Jesus Christ. He came to set the prisoner free--and that includes you. He is sufficient for all. ALL. I bless you to see His hand in ALL things. I bless you, when you read the scriptures, that the Holy Ghost will open them to your eyes that you can see the types and patterns carefully chosen for us, by prophets who saw us, in our day, and tried to warn us in the only way the Lord would allow. I bless you with deep peace and strength in Christ our Lord and Master, and I leave these with you in the power of the Holy Ghost that gave them to me, in the holy name of Jesus himself. So be it! Amen.

Bored in Vernal said...

Thank you! What a wonderful blessing. I'm glad you commented, even though it's several years since I wrote this, and I'm in a much better place now. :)