The first gift of the Spirit I want to examine this month is the gift of healing. I want to look specifically at the difference between that gift and formal Priesthood blessings - largely because I believe they are conflated too often by too many church members. I don't want to complicate it any more than is necessary, but I also want to make sure I articulate something clearly as a result of how I address this topic.
The gift of healing is listed as a spiritual gift, but I believe it can be manifested in two very different ways:
1) as a "gift of the Spirit" that someone has received that appears to be an actual "ability", if you will;
2) as a situational gift given in particular cases when a healing occurs independent of the gift of the Spirit described above.
The first gift is one that I have seen in a few people in my life. These people are "natural healers" - people who can exercise a gift and heal as a direct result of that personal gift. Sometimes, this is manifested through advice and counsel that is more "insightful" than "medical" - cases where the gift might appear to be more of a case of "discernment" than of traditional healing; other times, this is manifested through a traditional healing that often includes some sort of "laying on of hands" - usually not in a formal manner, like what we see in formal Priesthood blessings, but rather through some sort of physical contact. Everyone with whom I have spoken who has this type of gift can't remember a moment when they received it; rather, "To (them was) given the gift of healing" - and they have had that gift for as long as they can remember being aware of it.
Importantly, these people can be male or female, and they can be inside or outside any particular religion or denomination. They even can be agnostic or atheist, although that is rarer in my own experience. This is because, generally, these people see it as a "gift" and not as an "ability" - meaning they see it as something given not obtained. They believe in a giver in most cases.
The second manifestation is one that I personally have experienced as I participate in Priesthood Blessings, but, in my case, I don't see it as a "gift of the Spirit" that is constant and "mine", if you will.
I have been the voice in hundreds of blessings in my life. The vast majority have been blessings of comfort and counsel, rather than obvious healing - but, occasionally, I have been present when healing occurred. It was obvious and undeniable, and it was a wonderful thing. (I also have been involved when counsel was given that included information that simply was not known to the person who was the voice in the blessing, including me on more than one occasion. This post focuses on instances of healing, but I need to acknowledge those times when physical healing does not occur but emotional healing does - through the revelation of information within the context of counsel and/or comfort. This type of healing is real and powerful - and I believe it is undervalued and even dismissed too often in our modern culture with our modern skepticism.)
I have come to see Priesthood blessings as an opportunity for God to heal through non-healers - through people who do not have the "gift of healing" as a constant, natural gift. There are lots of other things that can happen within Priesthood blessings. They can be a conduit for healing, but they also (and more often, in my own experience) can be a conduit for counsel, comfort, insight, love, communal support and many other things. They are a format to "bless" - and that, by nature, is much broader than healing. Healing blessings are a subset of Priesthood blessings, and I think it's important to remember that relationship - if for no other reason than that a failure to remember it leads to the disappearance of all of the other purposes for Priesthood blessings and the expectation of healing whenever a Priesthood blessing is administered. That is not an inconsequential or trivial thing.
I don't go into any formal Priesthood blessing expecting to be able to speak words of healing. I would like to be able to have those words come to me, but it is not a requirement in any way in my own mind. I go into Priesthood blessings praying for insight into what the person needs to hear and experience; I clear my mind right before I begin speaking the words of the actual blessing portion of the ordinance; I say whatever comes into my mind. As I am voicing the blessing, I don't think; at that moment, I simply speak.
In the vast majority of cases in my life, what I have spoken was indistinguishable from "mortal" counsel, encouragement, comfort, etc. There was no obvious connection to the divine in the words themselves, so I can't say with intellectual certainty that they were the words of God and not my own words. They might have been divinely inspired (and, again, in some instances, the source of the words I have spoken has been unmistakably divine), but they might not have been; they might have been nothing more than my own thoughts, desires, insights, advice, etc. I'm totally fine with that, since I believe God expects us to do a lot of things without his direct involvement, but I'm fine with it also because I believe the Holy Ghost can inspire us in ways that are not obvious - in times when what we think are our own thoughts and words actually are God speaking to and through us in non-obvious, non-dramatic ways. I don't always know the original source of my words, but that doesn't bother me in the slightest. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in all the other, non-healing aspects of Priesthood blessings, so I'm not disappointed when healing doesn't occur.
To make this point from a historical perspective, Oliver Cowdery was told that God had spoken to him in his mind and in his heart - but Oliver didn't understand that it was God speaking at the time. He assumed those thoughts and feelings were his own at the time. It only was after God pointed out to him a particular experience and told him that what he thought and felt had come from God that Oliver understood that experience more fully - in hindsight.
I believe God has done that with me, and, while that adds a degree of complexity to my life (since I'm not certain always whether something came from God or if it just came from me), I appreciate the principle that inspiration really can be indistinguishable sometimes from our own thoughts and feelings - that, in a very real way, we as individuals can be the source of God's inspiration simply as a function of the people we are and are becoming - that, in a very real way, "ye are gods" and "I am a child of God" - and that the implications of that belief are so much greater and expansive than we often realize.
Finally, I want to reiterate that the gift of healing, as a gift of the Spirit, is not limited to men who perform Priesthood blessings. If I were to count the people I have known who possessed the gift of healing as described at the beginning of this post, my own experience says that there are at least as many women who possess it as there are men - even within the LDS Church. However, I believe our conflation of the two types of healing available in the Church has created a situation where the first manifestation has been "delegitimized" in the minds of too many members - that they can't see or accept a woman performing such a healing without seeing it as a counterfeit threat to Priesthood blessings. I think that is a shame - as would be anything else that denies or diminishes recognition of and respect for any gift of the spirit.
Women can be conduits of healing in the LDS Church, if they have this particular gift of the Spirit - and they also can be conduits of comfort, counsel, insight, love, communal support and many other important things. They might not be able to exercise the Priesthood in formal ways and by explicit invocation currently, but I believe strongly in things like Mother's Blessings and other similar constructs that don't invoke specific Priesthood authority. I believe deeply in Priesthood blessings, especially given my own experiences participating in them, but I also am troubled by what I believe to be our improper focus on them to the exclusion of other forms of "blessings" and the consequence of that too narrow focus.
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