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Kirby: Laying on of hands makes Mormon meetings more reverent

Published November 24, 2012 11:16 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

From my usual seat in the very back of the cultural hall, I can see everything that goes on in sacrament meeting. It's like being the bishop, only backward.

The view from Slackers' Row includes who's in attendance (or not), who's dozing off, who's sneaking out early and who is experiencing the laying on of hands.

Note: I have no idea how laying on of hands works in other faiths, but it's an important sacrament meeting ordinance for Mormons. We probably couldn't have a meeting without it.

There are two forms of the sacrament meeting laying on of hands, the first of which we learn early. The gospel of Jesus Christ wouldn't work for kids like me without plenty of this ordinance.

For example, in the middle of some criminally boring meeting, I would find myself possessed by a demon.

Robbed of free will, I would then be forced to draw in a hymnal, etch my initials into the pew or torment a smaller parishioner.

It's possible my father knew some form of invocation I didn't.

What I do know is that with the help of the Lord, my old man's arm would actually grow longer, sometimes the length of an entire pew.

I never saw it happen, of course. I was always unaware of the miracle until it coiled itself around my neck, hoisted me into the air and bore me in haste to the parking lot or some other place where hope wasn't.

Depending on what I'd been doing, or how many times I had previously been told to knock it off, the laying on of hands could be a simple cuff on the head or a more lengthy ordinance resulting in a full-on screaming in tongues.

But it worked. Properly blessed to the point of incontinent terror, I would then be restored to the meeting in a much more reverent (semi-conscious) frame of mind.

The older form of laying on of hands has a spiritually calming effect as well, but without the fear factor. It's a gospel meeting massage indulged in by married couples or the otherwise romantically inclined.

Essentially, it's a back rub intended to distract the recipient from either going to sleep or going nuts because the meeting is dragging on longer than the Second Coming.

Unlike the previous form, this laying on of hands requires only one hand. The recipient bows forward, elbows on knees, while his or her back is lazily stroked, scratched and/or rubbed.

Done properly and with the Spirit, this meeting ordinance makes tolerable a third party's interminable holding forth on the subject of tithing, home teaching or the Book of Isaiah.

In extreme forms (student wards) you'll sometimes see the one doing the laying on of the hands spell out words on the recipient's back: "R U Bored 2?" or "I LV U," or "Let's ditch Sunday school and go get waffles."

It's all completely innocent ­­— or ought to be because it's happening in church — but I wouldn't try this reverence ordinance on someone else's spouse. Not unless you want some hands laid on your face after the meeting.

In either form, the laying on of hands is a great way to help maintain reverence in a meeting that is often begging for a more lively ambience.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.