Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Practice of Blessing

Lately I have been thinking about the practice of giving blessings, like the Aaronic Blessing from the book of Deuteronomy, 

The Lord bless you
           and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you
           and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you
           and give you peace. “

Or, like the blessing that Jesus gave the children in Mark where Jesus takes them in his arms and blesses them, or like the Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you…,”

I used to think a blessing was just sort of a vague wish. I bless you, I wish good things for you. But giving a blessing actually does something to us, and this story helps explain that. It’s a true story. A man named Christopher tells about looking forward to welcoming his wife home after hip surgery. He wanted to show his love for her by taking good care of her. He wanted to be a good husband. The first morning after she got home, Christopher realized he was feeling a little cranky. He is not a morning person. Some of us are morning people, and others of us have to live with morning people.

Christopher is not a morning person, but he was still doing what he needed to do to take care of his wife. And then he started feeling hungry, because he hadn’t had breakfast yet, and that made him even more cranky. Do you get cranky when you’re hungry?
And then he started feeling guilty. He started worrying that he wasn’t a good husband, because he was feeling cranky. And then he started thinking this was all his wife’s fault anyway, because she had this surgery. We do that sometimes. We feel bad, and so we blame other people. But he caught himself. He realized what he was thinking and feeling, and he took a couple of deep breaths. Which almost always helps. And then he thought, “I don’t want either one of us to suffer.” He thought: “May neither one of us suffer.”

May neither one of us suffer. Christopher called this a “mindful intervention.” This is a fancy way to say he became aware of what he was thinking, and turned it around with what we would call a blessing. May neither of us suffer. In just those few words, he turned his heart toward his wife, and it kind of softened him. It softened his feelings, and he realized he wanted the best for her.

Blessing is a practice because when we bless someone or something, God turns our heart toward the person or the thing. God makes space in our heart, God softens our heart to love the person or thing.

Blessings in the Old Testament were usually for your family, or for your own people, your own tribe. But Jesus shows us something very different. In Jesus’ time, children were not very important. I know that’s hard to imagine, but that’s why the disciples were telling them to go away. Children weren’t thought of as people. But Jesus said, “Let them come to me.” He said it takes a simple, open and trusting heart to understand what God wants us to be. And then he blessed them. Jesus shows us that we are to bless people who aren’t in our family, who aren’t in our neighborhood or town or school, even those people we would rather not even think about, because blessing opens our hearts to them, and makes a space in our hearts for them.

I challenge you to think of someone or some group that you think of as outsiders, not part of your family, your group, your tribe. Then think about how you might bless them.


TWELFTH NIGHT/EPIPHANY      I read this line in a interview with Christian Wiman in Christianity Today:   "Jurgen Mol...