Wednesday, March 28, 2012
The Technology of Patriarchal Blessings
My Dad actively served as a stake patriarch for nearly two decades, giving more than 700 blessings. Mom typed most of these blessings, but I typed a few, and I often assisted because I was the family computer geek.
At first the blessings were typed on a typewriter. (At least this was an improvement over the days when blessings were written by hand.) My folks soon acquired their first PC. It took a while, but I eventually figured out how to set up a template so that Mom could type up the blessings using WordPerfect (which came on a series of 5¼” floppy disks).
It took Mom some time to adjust to using the word processor. At first she frequently returned to the typewriter. But the abilities to save, cut, paste, change font size, etc. soon became indispensible and the typewriter was relegated to the closet. Over the years I kept upgrading the blessing template as new hardware and software were acquired.
During Dad’s service, I learned a lot about his approach to giving patriarchal blessings. While much had to do with his ability to be in touch with the Spirit, the spiritual preparedness and maturity of the recipient was also important.
Dad said that it was a great pleasure to bless some valiant recipients because the words flowed from above smoothly and beautifully. A few recipients, on the other hand, were so spiritually disconnected that Dad said it was like pulling every word out of heaven with a pair of pliers. It was real work for him.
Dad had a voice tape recorder into which he spoke as he delivered each blessing. Mom later put on headphones and typed up the blessing. She had a foot pedal that operated the playback device. Dad would review the blessing and make changes with pen. Mom would make the changes on the word processor.
When Dad was satisfied, the blessing was printed and signed. One copy went to the recipient and one copy went to church headquarters. This process usually took about two weeks. (Dad and Mom would be working on multiple blessings at any given time.)
Dad gave his final blessing about eight years ago. Since I work in information technology, I have been quite aware of technological developments since that time. But I was still surprised by the technology in use when I went with one of my sons to his patriarchal blessing a couple of months ago.
I expected to see a digital voice recorder. The patriarch had one of those, but he also had an iPad that recorded his voice (better, he said, than the voice recorder). The voice recorder was just a backup. The patriarch had learned to always have two recording devices at each blessing as a failover mechanism.
The technology was somewhat interesting because the patriarch and his wife live in his ancestral home, which has been carefully restored to look very much like it did in the early 20th Century when it was first built. Beautiful woodwork and antique furnishings were on display, but not much technology was visible in the home’s living room and den. The iPad, which sat on a small antique side table, was small enough to detract little from the décor, but it still looked somewhat out of place.
The patriarch explained that he would sit down at his PC the following day, turn on voice recognition software, plug his headphones into his iPad, and replay the blessing. As he did so, he would clearly repeat the words of the blessing into the PC’s microphone. The words he spoke would appear on the screen and he would make any needed corrections manually. The reason he did not directly feed the original recording into the voice recognition software was to ensure clarity, eliminate pause words like “uh” and “er,” and improve grammar.
Less than 24 hours after the patriarch laid his hands on my son’s head, he dropped off a printed copy of the blessing at our home. Having seen the process my parents went through to produce a final version of a patriarchal blessing, I was quite impressed with his speed.
As each of our children has received a patriarchal blessing, I have transcribed the blessing into our computer (which is regularly backed up). I have then printed a full-size copy and a smaller copy made to fit in a set of scriptures. We have stored the original in a safe place. We plan to give the originals to the children when they are sufficiently responsible. In the meantime, we can print up new copies whenever necessary.
Some years ago I grew tired of pulling out a copy of my own patriarchal blessing every time I wanted to review it. So I made a project of memorizing my blessing. In 10-point font it fills a single sheet of paper, so the memorization wasn’t too terrible. Doing this might be more challenging for those that have multi-page blessings.
To maintain my memory I repeat my blessing to myself about weekly. While it may seem odd, I often do this in the shower. Showering is kind of an automatic task that doesn’t take much active thought. It also takes about the amount of time needed to review my blessing.
I figure that I might as well do something productive with my mind (and spirit) while in the shower. I also frequently recite scriptures and poetry to myself while showering. Why not?
While the technology behind recording patriarchal blessings has changed over time, the important factors involved have remained the same. It will always be so.