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Blessings on the Journey

This is the first in a five-part series on Celebrating Blessings. It seemed appropriate to begin the journey of summer remembering to watch for the blessings that are found on every journey. This poem/blessing by Jan Richard, Beloved is Where We Begin, was used as our sacred reading for the day. It moves me every time I read it, for it is so very true.

If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
Beloved,
named by the One
who has traveled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.

 

I know the world feels chaotic right now, and that it doesn’t ever seem to move in a better direction. I know the news is overwhelming – wars and shootings and the pandemic. I know events in many of our lives have been distressing. This series does not deny any of those struggles, but reminds us, in the words of David Steindl-Rast that “blessing is the lifeblood throbbing through the universe.”

A blessing, very simply, is something good or helpful. It is something to be thankful for, a moment of joy. Some might consider it a sign of God's favor. One of the best definitions I heard was that a blessing is "the infusion of something with holiness."  I just love how that sounds!

Sometimes journeys are equated with travel. And, yes, those are journeys, but there are so many other kinds of journeys: stages of life, spiritual journeys, self-awareness, health and healing, loss, family, work, learning. Think for a moment about what journey you are currently on. It may even be more than one.

Jan Richardson begins her poem with the words, “If you would enter the wilderness…” This suggests that we have a choice about whether we take these journeys or not, but sometimes we are propelled onto a journey whether we want to go or not. I think of my dad who had a stroke about two and a half years ago. This propelled him very quickly out of his home and independent living in Mesa, Arizona, to an intensive rehab facility for a month, and then to St. Monica’s assisted living here in Racine. Journeys through accidents, illness, tragedy, loss, are journeys most of us would prefer not to go on.

Regardless of how our journeys begin, it seems prudent to begin with a blessing, a remembrance of the favor and love of the Divine Essence upon us. Jan Richardson reminds us that we are the Beloved of God. Beloved… it’s a word we don’t often use. Beloved is someone who is dear to our heart, someone we cherish and care for. Picture the one person you love and cherish more than anyone else, and then try and wrap your head around the fact that even our deepest love can’t compare to the Divine Love for each of us.

So, the blessings we receive on our journeys – the most fun journeys and the most difficult ones – come from this beautiful Loving essence.  Let this sink in, but understand that this does not promise that everything is going to be easy. It doesn’t promise that we are free from danger or fear, that we won’t find ourselves desperately in need of something to sustain us, or that we won’t get burnt or lost in the darkness. We may find that all those things, and more, happen on our different journeys. Things aren’t as easy as we hoped they’d be. We get emotionally, physically and spiritually drained. Our expectations aren’t met. We have days we don’t feel like getting out of bed.

Every journey has its risks, and we don’t always come through unscathed, but we can be assured that we don’t walk alone. As Jan says, there will be help on the path. There will be people to point us in the right direction, people whose presence and wisdom will quench our thirst, people whose strength, knowledge or insight helps us take one more step, gets us through one more day.  These are blessings on your journey.

When I was 26, I finally gave in and went to seminary. I had denied the voice in my head and heart for years. Seminary was crazy for someone who’d never read the Bible, who had only taught pre-school Sunday School, and who had never been on a church committee!

I didn’t want my life to change, I didn’t want to be at the mercy of the church, I didn’t know how it might affect my marriage, or children. And the women pastors I went to talk to about it were not terribly helpful, they simply affirmed that it was going to be hard. I cried, often, fearful of the journey but unable to deny the call.

If I ever had the naïve idea that going to seminary would ensure that I’d be in God’s favor and all things would flow my direction, I was sorely mistaken. I started seminary pregnant with my oldest child, my brother-in-law almost died and ended up in a vegetative state for the rest of his life, and the challenge of getting up to speed with so many people who’d grown up in the church was just overwhelming.

But, at the same time, there was help on the path. I found a friend to carpool to Evanston with, I had classmates who cared about the pregnant young woman, I met a woman who let me stay at her apartment once a week to save on going home late at night just to turn around and return early the next day. I had professors who were patient with my questions and my tears. One woman gave me a little singing ball on a chord that I wore through the pregnancy and longer, she said the gently chiming sound would keep my baby company and help us both through the stressful time. Looking back I don’t remember all their names or even all of the instances, but I remember feeling cared for.

In addition, Richardson says, you will find rest on the way. It may not be a day to sleep in, or a day to get away from it all, but you will find moments when you can stop. You will find music playing that feeds your soul. You will hear the birds sing in the morning and it will calm you with an awareness of the gift that the moment brings. There are so many moments of rest to be had when we pay attention.

Finally, she says, “you will know strange graces that come to our aid… bearing comfort and strength… and with their curious insistence whisper our name: Beloved, Beloved, Beloved.”

Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of being with her kids one afternoon as they were watching television and she was folding laundry. Suddenly, there was a terrible bang on the window. A bird had hit the patio door. The three of them just looked at each other and crept to the door. They all walked quietly outside, half expecting the bird to be dead, but she wasn’t. She was stunned and her right wing was a little lopsided, but it didn’t look broken.

Sue said she looked so small and fragile and afraid that she sat down beside her and reached out to gently stroke her wing. Her daughter wanted to know why she didn’t just fly off. She told her because she is hurt and just needs a little time to be still. They watched her be still for a very long time. Eventually the kids wandered back to the television. But Sue felt like she couldn’t leave her, like they shared a brokenness in common.

She studied the bird who seemed to know instinctively that she needed to be still to heal. Twenty, Thirty minutes went by and Sue remained by the bird. Fifty minutes and she was finally finished being still. She cocked her head to one side, lifted her wings and flew. It was one of those strange moments of grace for her that taught her that sometimes we need stillness for healing, and sometimes we need others to sit with us to keep us company in that stillness.

There are so many “strange moments of grace” that sustain us on the journey, surprising us with the strength we need, the encouragement we long for, or maybe the insight we seek.

I also want to note one other thing… I have a friend who, instead of being on a journey, was recently talking about feeling stuck in place. For him, and perhaps for many people right now, the state of the world has him feeling stuck, afraid, uncertain, powerless, and unable to move. I know we all have times like this, but sometimes they last too long because we choose to remain there. We don’t like our options, but choosing to do nothing is also to choose. Yes, choices have risks associated with them, but we can’t actually live life without risking. Perhaps the questions for you if you are stuck are: what journey is awaiting me that I’ve been avoiding? Why am I avoiding it? What is the cost of remaining stuck instead of venturing forward?

When you do venture forward, or for those of you who are already on your journeys (whatever it may be) remember that you are the Beloved of the Divine Essence which flows in and around all things. You are not alone on your journey, though it may be difficult and challenging. You will find help. You will find rest. You will know grace. You need simply to be aware as you travel.

Love & Light!

Kaye