Linda’s blessing

It was the first time in years a baby would be blessed in this tiny Belgian branch. The missionaries had explained how it worked and the handbook provided some scanty instructions.

– Brother Vincent will now bless his granddaughter.

He was over eighty. His health was declining, his memory erratic. He belonged to that revered group of pioneers who had accepted the Gospel from the first missionaries to the city, almost forty years before. He had married a much younger wife, convert like him and as devoted to the Restoration. For decades the couple had patiently served in this remote part of the Kingdom. Theirs was a small Mormon branch in a grey city.

I had attended that unit during my college studies. Now, years later, I happened to be there, passing through on a Sunday. The branch had hardly grown. It exuded the authenticity of early days. A rented apartment. Chairs aligned in the living room. A makeshift pulpit covered with a green drape. The sacrament table with two trays, one for the bread, one for the water. It still sufficed.

– And of course we welcome Linda. Congratulations on your baby girl.

She was there. She had not attended church for years. In spite of their dedication, the Vincents had not been able to keep their children in the fold. I remembered Linda as a difficult teen, bored by talks and lessons, annoyed by her parents’ commitment to a movement she could not identify with. Once a young adult, she had left quietly, not in contention, but still to the chagrin of her mom and dad.

Now she was in her mid-thirties. The infant sleeping in her arms had brought her back today. From the depth of imperceptible ties, from a resonance of sacred emotions, she wanted her father to bless her child.

– Will you please come forward with the little Angelina?

She comes, carrying the white bundle. Unaccustomed to the procedure, thinking of a confirmation or a setting apart, someone pulls an empty chair from the first row and turns it to the audience. Linda sits down, the baby in her arms. Brother Vincent, overwhelmed, hesitant, places himself behind her, while the branch president and his first counselor join at his side, both lost in the turn of events, but trying to keep up the appearance of a liturgy under control.

Brother Vincent puts his hands on Linda’s head.
– Our Father in heaven…

The branch president interrupts him, whispering.
– Oh yes, he mumbles, embarrassed, taking off his hands.

He moves to the side of the chair, bends a little forward, reaches out his arms, his fingers touching the delicate down of baby’s head. The two other brethren reach out too, their hands enclosing the bundle.

– Linda, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the holy priesthood, we are here to bless this little girl and give her the name of …
– Angelina Sophie Madeleine, Linda whispers.
– Angelina Sophie …
– Madeleine.
– Madeleine.

He pauses. A blank mind in search for the divine.

– Give her health, Linda whispers.
– Father in heaven, we bless this baby with …
His phrases flow.

– Give her a cheerful nature, Linda whispers.
– Give her love, Linda whispers.
– Give her faith, Linda whispers.

That Sunday, I left a little branch with the ineffaceable certainty that somewhere, somehow, everything will be in order in the holy order of things.

15 comments for “Linda’s blessing

  1. herodotus
    December 5, 2006 at 4:19 am

    I tend not to leave simple compliments for posts as I think they sometimes cheapen the sentiment, but this was beautiful.

  2. December 5, 2006 at 9:30 am

    I think with every one of the four baby blessings I have given, I wouldn’t have minded a little guidance such as Linda provided in the least! Thanks, Wilfried.

  3. December 5, 2006 at 9:38 am

    A wonderful story. Thanks for passing this along.

  4. meems
    December 5, 2006 at 9:49 am

    I wanted to do the same for my babies’ blessings. Instead I was in the back of the congregation, praying fervently for the member of the bishopric who was giving the blessing to pick up on the message I was trying to communicate to him through Heavenly Father. Linda’s way was so much more efficient!

  5. Roki
    December 5, 2006 at 9:54 am

    No power on Earth or in Heaven could deny the validity of the Priesthood combined with a mother’s love.

  6. Wilfried
    December 5, 2006 at 11:23 am

    Thank you all. In recalling this event, I meant it also as a reflection about the relations between generations, about the ties that can bind us in unseen and unexpected forms as we all strive for mutual understanding and peace. Do children ever lose the faith their parents instilled in them? Even those who turn against the Church, even those who claim total detachment, is there not always something left that calls them home?

  7. December 5, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    Wilfried, that’s how I understood it when I first read this piece. Whether Linda felt the echo of a faith she had never acknowledged, or whether she only recognized that her parents’ faith was a good thing, she valued it enough to want it for her daughter.

    My ward is looking forward to next Sunday when our old Primary (all seven of them) are coming back from their new ward to sing Christmas songs for us. We miss the kids that much. But imagine a branch going for years without witnessing a baby blessing!

  8. Proud Daughter of Eve
    December 5, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    So, Wilfried, when’s that book coming out, eh? I want a copy!

  9. Travis
    December 5, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    Sometime during my first month as a missionary in Mexico I became very ill. Soon thereafter our mission president, with a general authority in tow, visited our small branch. I had hoped for a blessing after the meeting was over, but the visitors were anxious to leave, since Mexico City was a long drive from Acapulco. So, I went home disappointed and sicker than ever.

    Over the next several days my condition deteriorated rapidly, until I was nearly delirious with dehydration and pain. My companion, who was leaving for home in several weeks, used the time I was sick to do I know not what. He would disappear in the morning and return late at night. We lived in one of a series of connected huts. A steel gate at the street opened onto a concrete path with one-room units on both sides—each had a single bedroom, small kitchen and bathroom. The front of each unit was a waist-high cinder-brick wall, with wooden louvers reaching up to a corrugated metal roof, which would heat up during the day to unbearably hot temperatures, turning each room into an oven.

    Across from us lived an older couple who, according to my companion, were inactive or lapsed members of the church. Most of the other units in our alleyway complex were populated by prostitutes, which made returning at the end of a missionary workday an ironic affair, usually involving a gauntlet of catcalls, chirps and hoots from the women and their customers. When I felt myself literally on the brink of death, the portly woman across the way ambled over, and upon seeing my condition she helped me procure IV fluids and antibiotics from the gynecologist conveniently located across the street from our neighbors, and later she returned with her husband.

    He brought with him a very large bottle of olive oil, the entire contents of which he poured over my head as I lay feverish on my hammock. He then gave me a blessing, the actual language of which I could not understand. Whether or not the oil had been consecrated and he followed proper protocol, I don’t know. Whether or not he had the Melchizedek priesthood, I don’t know. I don’t even know with any certainty whether or not he was still a member of the church. What I do know is that while my mission President was entertaining a general authority back at mission headquarters and while my companion was eating dinner at Denny’s with the two Assistants to the President who had stayed to explore Acapulco’s beaches, the two people who cared enough to actually help were two humble souls who officially were no longer “in the fold.”

    Regardless of whether Linda was still in the fold or genuinely believed in the efficacy of her father’s actions, her whispered instructions reveal with rare eloquence the love and desperate desire for a higher order that anyone who has held their own newborn child would instantly appreciate. And if that order is one which ranks a kind and selfless heart above dedication to religious routine, then I’m inclined to believe that as the scriptures promise, in the world to come, if there is such a world, the last will indeed be first—whether or not they found a comfortable spot in the various folds this world has to offer.

  10. December 5, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    So beautiful! Thank you for writing this!

  11. December 6, 2006 at 1:07 am

    Travis, that was very meaningful to me. My mission was also filled with people like this. We as missionaries learned so much from the unorthodox not-quite-members. Your story was precious, as was Wilfried’s.

  12. December 6, 2006 at 10:21 am

    Thanks, Wilfried, wonderful as always.

    Just before my cousin moved to Japan as her husband would be working there in the foreign service, her husband blessed her baby at a ward in Washington D.C. He–an eloquent soul, with a Princeton PhD in linguistics to boot–spoke the blessing in the halting, searching tones that give voice to a spirit seeking whispers from heaven; his–hers–was one of the most beautiful blessings I’ve heard. Chief among the blessings was a promise that this little girl would be a special friend to her mother as they lived together in remote places all over the globe–the unspoken and unbreakable ties that bind were palpable. Thanks for reminding me.

  13. Lisa F.
    December 6, 2006 at 11:48 am

    Thank you, Wilfried. These stories of the beautiful and sacred in the ordinary are a treasure to me.

  14. random me
    December 6, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    thank you, wilfried, and travis also. such beautiful stories. wilfried, i read your story with tears in my eyes, understanding the intent with which it was written. my husband is the lone active sibling of six and his mom is one of two out of six. some have just decided the “rules” aren’t worth following and some have felt much stronger impressions about leaving the church.

    when my niece was born, her inactive mother and non-member father brought her to our hometown, where they did not live, and asked my husband to name and bless her. it was very poignant. the entire family turned out, the whole mishmash of members and non-members and not-quite-sures. and it even took place in the chapel! the tiny ward was a third bigger that day, thanks to our oddball of a family!

    a cousin had a baby shortly thereafter and also asked my husband to also give their baby a name and a blessing in church. we later discovered that mom was never actually baptized as a member… she just always assumed she was, having grown up in “an lds family.” her parents never practiced, but her cousins all went to church, so i guess she assumed she was lds, too? it’s been common to watch some of the relatives come close to full circle as they’ve had children. the most disparaging of the family admits, “it’s a nice way to raise children.”

    when my husband was growing up, his father was an inactive recent convert and only one uncle of the six was active lds. that uncle’s name is on every blessing, baptism, and ordination certificate for any occasion. my husband has slowly been taking over that role and it’s lovely to see him work on filling those very large shoes.

  15. Wilfried
    December 6, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    Merci all for your comments. Gratitude also for the additional reports of events – Travis, Tyler, Random me. You show that our religion builds as much on our personal relations and experiences, as on history and content. We find strength in the faith of others, especially if their faith surfaces in unexpected moments and unexpected ways.

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