The following guest post is from Beth Buck. Beth is a stay-at-home mother of three. She works part time as a staff writer for an emergency preparedness website, has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies/ Arabic from BYU, and holds a black belt in Karate.
Patriarchal blessings are unique to Mormonism in concept and practice. No other denomination (save the offshoots of Mormonism) continues the biblical tradition of receiving a prophetic blessing unique to each person. The lds.org topical article describes these as “personal counsel from the Lord.”
You can order the patriarchal blessings of deceased ancestors, did you know? I actually found out by accident when I went to order a copy of my own. I am blessed to come from a rich spiritual heritage – I’m a fifth generation Mormon with multiple ancestors who joined the Church in the early years, lived in Nauvoo, and relocated to Utah in the late 1840s. I’ve been told stories of my ancestors for my whole life and so I knew exactly whose I wanted to order first. With one exception (because George Washington Hill was like my family’s version of Chuck Norris), they were all women.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has questioned my place as a woman in our faith tradition. I would like to speculate that there is a series of questions that most women in history have asked themselves about what it means to be a woman. Am I as important as a man? Is being barefoot and pregnant all that I’m good for? Would God love me more if I had been born a man? And in a similar vein: what did Israelite women think about being women? Did Nephite women have the same issues with their kids that we do? Did the women in scriptural times have the same troubles, hardships, thoughts and feelings that we are experiencing in the modern age? If so, how did they deal with them? How did they feel about motherhood, priesthood, and Godhood?
We are told to go to the scriptures for answers to life’s questions, and, truly, it would be useful to have more stories about women in our scriptures. Sadly, they are not to be found to my satisfaction. Books like “Women in the Scriptures,” and “Walking with Women in the New Testament,” are very helpful and I admire the work that was put into them, but still don’t provide answers to my specific questions.
These questions particularly challenging to me because even though I am heterosexual and was married in the temple and have three kids, I have never felt like a “conventional” woman.
I could give you a long and drawn-out sob story about how I felt so misunderstood and alone as a teenager; I’ll keep it brief. All the other girls in my Young Women’s class talked about “boys boys boys!” and who was “so hot!” and who was “such a loser,” and the technicalities of all the many shades of eyeshadow and widths of hair curler on the open market. That and volleyball, which I hated. At that point in my life, I preferred nunchucks. It was my dearest wish to relocate to a treehouse in the woods. Or maybe even to simultaneously become a doctor and figure out particle physics so as to develop a patent for a real-liifelightsaber. Everyone thought I was weird, even my close friends.
Because of this, I struggled with what it meant to be female, even well into my adulthood. I just didn’t like the things the other girls did. I didn’t dress like they did or think like they did or wear my hair like they did. When I married I had difficulty with keeping house; it seemed like everyone else I knew had this mysterious talent for painting walls and matching drapery. I couldn’t even keep the house clean. I was obviously failing the test.
My own patriarchal blessing was a comfort because it was tangible proof that I was known and loved by God, acceptable to him the way I was, and that the spiritual rewards in store for me were not contingent on my skill with mascara or willingness to don high heels. However, I still craved the companionship of other women who I felt were like me.
I knew the stories of these ancestors intimately, which prompted me to order their blessings in the first place. When I read their patriarchal blessings, however, I felt like I was really getting to know them as people. They became real to me. I think of them not as my ancestors and great-great-grandmothers – terms that imply a lot of distance – but as my mothers. I feel as though when we meet on the other side of the veil, I will immediately know them for who they are, and they will greet me with love. They do not and will not think I’m weird or unusual. In these women – many of whom did not know each other in life – I have found a group in which I finally fit.
Even more comforting, in the patriarchal blessings of these women I found answers to my questions. It would not be appropriate for me to give the specifics of language as to how and why these questions were answered due to the personal and sacred nature of these documents, but I can say that they speak of the blessings of motherhood, addressed fears about the safety of their children, and promised blessings that aren’t usually seen outside the Doctrine and Covenants.
Margarethe Schwemmer Schreiner had just emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1912, but she did not receive her patriarchal blessing until 1916. She was pregnant. Tears came to my eyes when I read the promise that both she and the baby would pass through the birth in safety. Harriet Davis, who was widowed at a young age and lived through many trials, was told that her offering was accepted by the Lord. These are things that, as a wife and mother, I worry about, too.
As I read more blessings, I came to realize that while women have more political and cultural rights and privileges than we did in the 1840s, the female experience has not changed fundamentally over time. I learned what it was to really be a woman, and that it is something beautiful and divine in ways that have nothing to do with the physical appearance of our bodies or the state of our houses. The hardships of pregnancy and childbirth are not Eve’s Curse, but Eve’s Blessing, the most beautiful blessing of all.
In short, this is what I had been missing: female-specific scripture. The collection of my ancestors’ patriarchal blessings has become my personal cannon. The pearls of wisdom found therein are above price.
How far back can I order patriarchal blessings?
You can order patriarchal blessings as far back as they go, that were given in the very early days of the church. Susan Amelia Risley’s patriarchal blessing was given to her by Hyrum Smith.
Who can order patriarchal blessings?
Any member of the Church with a lds.org account.
Whose blessings can I order?
Only direct-line ancestors: grandparents and great-great etc grandparents, only. Great aunts or cousins are not allowed. This is a shame because Melissa Lott, one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, was the sister of my ancestor Alzina Lott. I bet Melissa’s blessing is fascinating, but I will never know.
How many can I order at a time?
The Church History Department has requested that, due to high demand, each individual only order four blessings per month.
Are all patriarchal blessings on record?
A great many are. Of the dozen or so blessings I have requested, only one has not been found. This prompted several email messages from the Church History Department as well as a personal phone call, requesting a copy of the blessing if it it turns up elsewhere.
Did people in the early days of the Church receive only one blessing, which is the practice today?
Not necessarily. While many of my ancestors received just one, several have had two. One ancestor had three, and another received four. We have one account where the patriarch actively sought out one of my ancestors to give her a second blessing with the explanation, “Sister Miller, I have a blessing for you.” The Church History Department sends copies of all blessings tied to the same individual.
What if I am the first in my family to join the Church?
Even if you don’t have patriarchal blessings to draw upon as part of your spiritual heritage, I very strongly encourage detailed family history work. This involves more than names and dates – learn their stories. Seek out their journals, if they exist. What are the scriptures but a record of the Lord’s dealings with his children? Discover how the Lord blessed and moved your family through your family history. In addition, be the first to establish a family culture of loving, revering, and cherishing your patriarchal blessing. This is one of the most beautiful gifts you can leave your posterity.
Your blessing is not to be folded neatly and tucked away. It is not to be framed or published. Rather, it is to be read. It is to be loved. It is to be followed. Your patriarchal blessing will see you through the darkest night. It will guide you through life’s dangers. Unlike the struggling bomber of yesteryear, lost in the desert wastes, the sands and storms of life will not destroy you on your eternal flight. Your patriarchal blessing is to you a personal Liahona to chart your course and guide your way. – President Thomas S. Monson, “Your Patriarchal Blessing: A Liahona of Light.” Ensign, October 1986