In the LDS Church, there are many different positions within our priesthood. Like other religions, these positions, or offices, come with certain responsibilities. One of these positions, usually given to some venerated and intensely spiritual older man is the office of "Patriarch." A Patriarch's role is to give special blessings to members of our church. This blessing, called a patriarchal blessing, is nearly always given only once during your life and can serve as a road map. Different than fortune telling--which is usually done for profit and/or entertainment--LDS people believe that these blessings are sacred to the hearer and contain direct, divine direction passed through the giver. A Patriarch is therefore a conduit to Heaven. No small thing. As another contrast to fortune telling which fortells a nebulous, general outcome based on "fate, " the patriarchal blessing is often very specific, with promised blessings based on the hearer's obedience to God's commandments.
In the Old Testament, however, the term "patriarch" is more frequently used. It was applied to all the prophets as well as a title of respect for certain Israelite rulers. It was both a specific office, with a capital "P" and a title of great honor, with a lower case "p." It comes from a Greek term meaning "father-ruler," but in the Hebrew, the word translates to simply, "father."
The archetype of the father-ruler gets a bad rap in our post-feminist era. To many, a family (and by extension, a church) following a pattern of patriarchal order automatically is discriminatory and unfair to women. This topic is debated outside the LDS Church, and HOTLY debated inside the Church; if you are interested you can probably find several web pages on the topic.
This is not one of them.
I only bring up the term "patriarch" with its formal, informal, ancient and more modern usage to try to give some context and definition. It is true that a father as a ruler will mean many different things to different people, probably depending on your own experiences with male authority figures. Americans tend to think of "rulers" as mean, despotic, selfish and spoiled because we are so trained to dismiss monarchy as a terrible system of governance. However, a ruler who is generous, kind, diligent and equality-minded might do an enormous amount of good. (As grateful as I am for democracy, our current state of bipartisan, stalemated, NON-governance has me sometimes wishing for a benevolent king who could make everyone play nicely just by force of his personality.)
In other words, my perception of a true patriarch is extremely positive. And now we'll get to the point. Really.
My own father taught me much about generosity and hard work. As I grow older, I appreciate more and more all the time the lessons he taught by example. He is the first to admit that he isn't the most spiritual guy on the block, but he never shirked a responsibility. My dad, in many ways, has become a friend to me.
In the last post I mentioned the love I have for my husband's family. The first person I met in his family was his dad. He was in our city on business when Plantboy and I had been together a few months. He offered to take us to dinner, and being poor college students we weren't stupid. Father-in-law is a very discerning person; maybe he knew before Plantboy and I did that we were meant to be together, but whether he did or not, his kindness to me that night, and his desire to know me better were so genuine that I felt at ease despite his wise years and great intelligence.
As I've come to know Father-in-law over the years, I can genuinely say that more than any other man I've ever known personally, he exemplifies all of those best traits of a true patriarch. It is true that he has led his family absolutely by example, but he doesn't overlook opportunities to teach the gospel directly either. This was a new experience for me.
I mentioned in the last post, that one evening Father-in-law made a request for us to put kids to bed early, so that he might hold a meeting, of sorts, with just the grown-ups. He did this at each of the last two reunions as well. As we gathered, he asked one of his sons to pray (or was it a son-in-law? It all seems to be one with him). He then expressed that he had spent some time fasting and praying about what to share with us, and then how to present it. I remembered noticing him earlier that evening, being preoccupied, obviously deep in thought.
He pulled out some old notes he had made years and years before on a flight he thought he was supposed to be sleeping on instead. These notes were the beginnings of inspiration he made to give a talk about consecration.
Consecration isn't a word we hear much anymore, not unlike the word patriarch. It is a word loaded with of meaning. It comes from the same Latin root as the word "sacred" and an LDS understanding of this word means to dedicate something for a sacred purpose. For example, money given to feed the poor is consecrated. Time spent helping others might be considered the same, when the time is given un-grudgingly. In fact, in LDS circles, we are encouraged to consecrate everything.
Time. Talent. Energy. Financial means. Anything that might help to build up God's kingdom on earth.
Anything with which we've been blessed.
As Father-in-law spoke, he talked much about marriage and the need to put the good of our spouse and family first. The group he spoke to knows a little bit about the topic. We were sitting in a room of 11 couples spanning 3 generations and over 150 years of marriage. He encouraged us all, as individuals, but more especially as couples, to take stock of our lives and evaluate how we were doing when it came to consecration.
It was late and I was tired. My mind drifted to surface things--whether or not I followed through on church responsibilities, our financial donations to our church each month and whether or not I could term them generous, how much time we spent devoted to church-stuff each week.
Yet, as with all good teaching, his words stayed with me throughout the weekend and I began to realize a few things. Each move we have ever made is because we felt "impressed" to do so. Our two most major moves, in fact, were in response to a powerful pull that the Church in some way needed us to be where we were. These locations took us far from extended family at a time when it would have been personally beneficial to be close to them. Hardly an hour goes by that I don't do something, or think something, or say something that I do in direct response to the fact that I am an LDS person. I wouldn't even know who to be without my religion. Some of you might see that as frightening or repressive; I see it as the greatest blessing of my life.
I thought of my day to day life and the way I raise and teach my kids. And I stopped dead in my tracks.
What is my greatest blessing? Rephrase: WHO are my greatest blessings?
And I got it. I haven't just consecrated MY life to the Lord. I'm consecrating theirs. Oh, I may not be like Samuel's mother who literally went and donated him to the temple when he was a baby to keep her covenant with God, but each time I take them to church, pray with them, teach them a simple gospel principle, sing the strains of "I Am a Child of God" until even my three year old doesn't miss a word, I am dedicating their lives to a holy, higher purpose.
I don't know what that purpose will be. That is between them and God, and no doubt they will have to work out the details of their own lives with Him as they grow and make choices, but their future choices won't change the one I am making now. I am trying to give all that I have been blessed with to the Lord, and I hope to do it better each day than the previous day.
As I sat with my husband's family, surrounded by such dedication to an ideal, I understood something else: each day, as parents, we strive to do our very best. Hoping, almost against hope, that someday it will all be worth it. I think this is the essence of faith, Paul's elusive "evidence of things not seen." My in-laws spent a lifetime serving and working and putting family and church ahead of their own desires. Each family home evening, scripture study, early morning seminary run and paid for mission was a leap of faith. And yet, there we all were, sitting at the feet of our patriarch, the evidence of all those acts of faith over the years. A generation consecrated to the Lord.
Now it is our turn.