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When I was growing up, whenever I needed comfort, guidance, or stability in the face of a difficult experience, my instinct was to ask for a priesthood blessing. I asked my dad for blessings as a child when my best friend moved away. Once in high school when I was embarrassed to ask my dad for a blessing I turned to my Bishop to help me feel better about something wrong I had done. In college I received blessings from my dorm-mates when college life became too much, and on my mission I asked my companions to bless me when I received difficult news from home.

So I guess it makes sense that when I started grad school—a very stressful experience—I felt a need to receive a blessing. The problem was I was no longer a member of the church and I had come out as a gay person. The transition had been difficult, and the thought of turning to an active priesthood holder for a blessing would have filled me with rage, not with comfort.

Instead I turned to a faculty mentor and my art school peers. We approached the subject as grad students do with research, theory, and experiments. What does it mean to give a blessing? What are the essential elements? How can we subvert the power structure embedded in the action? They asked me to give them blessings, and I asked them to give me blessings. Despite the lack of priesthood authority, these experiences were tender and were full of comfort and power.

Of all of the experiments we did with the idea of a Mormon blessing, learning how to bless myself was the most important. I tried many approaches to giving myself a blessing. I recorded myself speaking words of comfort and then asked a friend to stand behind me and place her hands on my head while my own words were replayed back to me. I projected an image of myself onto the wall and sat beneath it. I had a friend sit in a chair as a proxy for myself and then blessed him as if I was blessing myself.

Ultimately the form that was the most powerful to me was also the simplest and most private. I sat first in a chair for an extended period of time listening to the hymns I loved when I was younger. Then I stood behind the chair, which was still warm from my presence, and I pronounced a blessing over the space where I had been.

I haven’t given myself a blessing in years, but what I have maintained from that experience is a new instinct when I need strength. Instead of turning outward to another when times are difficult, I turn inward knowing that I have the capacity to bless myself.

Blessing from Daniel Embree on Vimeo.