Simeon and Anna by Rembrandt van Rijn
A couple of weeks ago L. got a call from a friend, T. asking if he would be available that morning to go to the hospital with him to give a child a blessing. Dear friends of their family, members of another faith, had a child with a terminal illness who was there and they had been touched and open to T. and his wife’s offer of a priesthood blessing. L. said sure and about half an hour later T. and his wife, J. came by to pick him up for that. He came home an hour or so later, moved by the experience and grateful to have been asked to assist.
Later that week I was listening to another conversation about women and the priesthood. There were the usual ideas as to why just men hold it now on the part of some, the usual confusion combined with some angst and frustration on the part of others, and the usual questions without definite answers. I mostly listened. I feel like we don’t know why men have the priesthood and women don’t right now. I understand why people try to make educated guesses or theories as to why it is the way it is. It’s human nature to seek for reasons. And as usual with human nature, it’s flawed. I am also certain that the genderized status of priesthood holding that exists now is not an eternal state. And I understand my sisters’ confusion and irritation, but feel none personally, so I mostly just listen.
Subsequently I attended a meeting in which a general authority said he thought that women didn’t hold the priesthood because they don’t need it. That is one of the more commonly expressed theories, and though I was pretty sure it is not the real reason (no Spirit testifying), I could understand why he would think that way. Such things do not bother me. I lived as a teenager in the 1960s and 70s and heard all kinds of theories over various pulpits about why people of African descent did not hold priesthood in our church and later heard Bruce McConkie (one of the more adamant theorizers) thoroughly retract his erroneous theorizing and recognize it as such in 1978. I figure that history repeats itself and will continue to do so.
I began thinking about stories I had read in an article that covered the history of women giving blessing in earlier church history. I wondered what it would be like if women in our church held the priesthood now. It occurred to me that if the sisters in my Relief Society were given priesthood and the responsibility to bless, things might be a bit different. In such a situation, if a sister in my ward called upon me for a blessing one morning, who would I call to come give that with me? Probably not my husband. His work commitments make it difficult for him to leave in the middle of the day. Certainly not any of the other men in our ward. That would feel awkward and slightly inappropriate in current culture. I’d call on another sister. I think most women would.
What if women were giving blessings? What percentage of the women in my ward would start calling on sisters for blessings, making them the first ones turned to? Probably a significant percentage, if not an outright large majority. Women are often more comfortable with women. Men on the other hand, are usually more comfortable with men. We would likely see fewer interactions between the sexes when it came to blessings.
I shared my musings with L. He thought about the blessing he had been able to participate in at the hospital a few weeks before. If there had been two women with priesthood there, he says, he is absolutely sure that the two men would have bowed out and politely suggested to the women that they perform the blessing. No question. I wonder if that would not be happening all over on a large scale; thoughtful men, selflessly or with a sense of relief, passing along the opportunity to bless.
But then (and this is what struck me) he said that he had been thinking about watching T. and his wife, J. at the hospital. J. had been the one to touch the father, embrace the mother and articulate lovingly the words of comfort and friendship and peace to them. He and T., he said, stood solemnly and carefully and gently performed the ordinance, but neither of them had the skills J. used to comfort and bless. He said it was enlightening to watch T. and J. use their gifts in tandem to bless that family and how it united the two of them. The power of both together was far more than the sum of the two independently.
I think we don’t often see those gifts in tandem in the same room at the same time. Sisters and brothers tend to do their godly work separately. Because we are humans in a telestial world, we tend, even the most enlightened of us, to place more value on the work that the men are doing, even though we give lip service to both, which is part (by no means all, I admit) of the reason that this division of labor feels so unfair to some. In the good scenarios of church work we see men and women in the church counsel together and keep each other appraised of their work. In the best scenarios they work totally in synch, as one. Way too often most of the work of one group is done independent of the other, with occasional calendaring involved.
I do not offer these observations as “the reason why” women do not currently hold the priesthood. I don’t know why and will not pretend to. Nor do I think this is "the reason". But these experiences have reminded me of God’s commandments that we work together as one, not just with those who have the same gifts we do, but also with those whose gifts are different. (1st Corinthians 12) And I have a bit of a better view of why that working together in unity is important to Him.