I attend a LDS Homemaking Meeting and bring a book that I am reading with me. It is an older volume on the teachings of Joseph Smith. I share a quote that has left me perplexed:
Respecting the female laying on hands, he further remark’d, there could be no devil in it if God gave his sanction by healing— that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water— that it is no sin for anybody to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration
Nobody has ever heard of this before. None of us know how to make sense of it. I leave unsatisfied, with more questions than answers.
I am reading Betina Lindsey’s “Women as Healers in the Modern Church”:
When I was twelve years old, my father was rapidly deteriorating from Lou Gehrig’s disease. He slept downstairs and one night I felt prompted by an inner voice to go downstairs. I didn’t but the next morning my mother called me awake … and told me he had quit breathing and was dying. I ran down to sit with him while she called the family and Bishop. Somehow I felt I could do something about it. I held his hand in mine and sincerely prayed as best as a twelve-year old can. After a moment his eyes opened and he looked at me and asked, “What did you do? My lungs lifted and I could breathe again.” He said he’d been fighting to live all night and felt like he should give up. It was a very humbling thing and we both knew that the spirit had worked through me. A few months later, he did die, but we were all better prepared for it by then. I hadn’t labelled it as a healing blessing until years later when I was listening to a lecture about experiences like this in the church. I’ve always felt a need to heal the hurts of others. I would like to have the option to use that power, but I’m not sure what makes it OK to caIl on it.
I share the story with a friend. For the first time, she realizes that she has healed her son. In her patriarchal blessing, she had been told that she had the gift of healing. She recalled a time several years ago, that she prayed desperately for her toddler son who had pneumonia. Her husband was away, home teachers had been called in to administer, but he was not getting better. Alone, she placed the boy on the bed and prayed, keeping her hands on his chest to make sure he was still breathing. He miraculously improved. Until hearing this account, she had never connected the spiritual gift that was identified in her blessing with that experience, thinking it was the earlier blessing of the priesthood holders.
A LDS man shares that over the seven years he served as a bishop, a handful of women came into his office, to discuss their ability to heal. They don’t know what to do with it, they don’t want to do anything wrong.
Jonathan Stapley and I publish an article on female healing in the Journal of Mormon History. In almost every conversation I have about this topic, someone asks, “Why did it end?” I try to describe some of the many forces that lead to the cessation of the practice of Mormon women healing.
I have come to the conclusion that the problem with “How did it end?” type questions with regard to female healing is that they reflect a bias that defines religion solely as theology, doctrine and policy. It ultimately focuses upon the hierarchical (male) decision making processes and not the lived religious experience of Mormon women. It misses what Robert Orsi has described as the “everyday miracles … the earthy and quotidian” in favour of policies and manuals. It overlooks a world where women exist as hidden healers; often the gift of healing that literally lies at their fingertips is unused, accidentally discovered or serves as a source of confusion or guilt. Like Mormon women in the 19th century, these gifts were often identified, even authorized in patriarchal blessings. Church members and historians have debated (and will continue to debate) the issue of female healing. Indeed, Joseph Smith’s remarks on April 28, 1842 seem to flow from this debate. However, when the discussion circles around priesthood authority, keys and power as well as how church leaders defended or questioned the practice, academics miss a central point – how do believers with a spiritual gift experience their religious world when they are officially forbidden to use it? Some have hypothesized that the gift of healing was taken away or abandoned by women. I would submit that there is considerable evidence to suggest that female healing did not “end”; it simply went underground in both a conscious and unconscious manner. So far underground that issues of memory and historical forgetfulness hid it from view and presented LDS women with a paradigm that ultimately re-framed their understanding of healing and the gendering of spiritual gifts. Perhaps future studies will be more inclusive and move away from solely understanding healing as a top-down phenomenon that is defined from the pulpit and seek to explore the practice and lived religion of Mormon women who have the gift of healing.(1)
(1) Betina Lindsey’s “Women as Healers in the Modern Church” is a great place to start and contains excerpts of interviews done with several women who understand themselves as having the gift of healing.