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Racine, WI 53405

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Giving Blessings

When most of us think of someone blessings someone else we think of a pastor or priest, most likely in a formal ritual like a baptism or marriage, and possibly with hand motions or laying on of hands. John O' Donohue, in his book "To Bless the Space Between Us," broadens our understanding, takes the formality and the elitism out of it, and firmly believes everyone can bless. He says, "When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere." We know that speaking negatively resonates within us in a hurtful way, bringing feelings of constriction, fear, anxiety, ugliness. Speaking or even thinking blessing opens the way for feelings of expansion, love, care, hope, joy, peace.

A blessing is like opening a window and bringing in fresh air or opening a door to bring a sliver of light into a dark room. It changes our focus to bring forth the “quiet eternal,” as O’Donohue calls it, to "embrace and nurture." Here are a few  stories to help us expand our understanding of giving blessings and hopefully see how we are each capable ot making this part of our daily spiritual journeys.

Consider this anecdote by Rev. Kathleen McTigue:

When I arrived at the check-out counter and the clerk distractedly said, "How are you?" my brain went blank. I couldn't say "fine," or even "okay."... to my horror I found myself blurting out a real and honest answer. "I'm not so good," I said. "My Dad died last night."... I was mortified at having revealed to an unprepared stranger just how not-fine I was. Everyone froze in this moment of uncomfortable paralysis- except the young man bagging the groceries, who had Down's syndrome. He stopped moving completely, looked straight at me, and with a little slur and great emphasis said, "I bet you feel really sad about that."... "Yes, I do. Thank you," I said to him… I thought about that encounter for a long time. The young man bagging groceries would be considered disabled, in thought, speech, and movement. Yet he was the only one able to offer what counted in that particular moment: He knew how to give a blessing.

That young man gave her a blessing simply by being an empathetic presence, acknowledging her pain without needing to fix it, and making space for that sadness for that moment in time. Rachel Naomi Remen says, “When we bless others, we offer them refuge from an indifferent world.” 

Mark Nepo tells the story of Miriam Elkes who survived the holocaust and the death of her husband, a revered elder of the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania. Miriam told her son years later that there were two objects that sustained her: “One was a piece of bread, which she always hid about her person, the other a broken piece of comb. She kept the bread in case someone needed it more than she; and no matter what, morning and night, she would comb her hair to affirm her person.”

Both items and intentions are so very important. And perhaps it is the second one that enabled the first to be possible. In the simple act of combing her hair so as to remember and affirm herself as a person, a being of worth, perhaps this enabled her to continue to also see others as people of worth. And so she carried that small piece of bread in case someone needed it.

The question Nepo asks of each of us is, “What small thing do we each carry that we can give to others more in need than we?” What small crust of bread, or kind word, or compassionate gesture, or truth do we always carry with us that we can offer to others as blessing? To acknowledge the sacredness of the person and the moment?

Joseph Healey, in "The Way of Kindness" tells the story of two brothers who wanted to go to a distant country to make their fortune. They asked their father for a blessing, saying, “Father, we are going away to make our fortune. May we have your blessing, please?”

Their father agreed. “Go with my blessing, but on your way put marks on the trees lest you get lost.”

After they received the blessing, the two brothers set off on their quest. The older brother entered the forest and, as he made his way through it, cut down some of the trees and made marks on other trees. He did this for the whole length of his journey.

The younger brother took another route. As he was walking along, he came to a house. He knocked on the door, was invited in, and made friends with that family. He stayed there for a while and then continued along on his way, making friends through the whole length of his journey.

Finally, the two brothers returned home. Their father gave them a warm welcome, saying, “How happy I am to see you back home again, my sons, especially since you have returned safely. Wonderful! Now I would like to see the marks that you have left on the trees.”

So, the father went off with his first-born son. On the way the son showed his father all the trees that he had cut down and others he had marked along the way. They traveled a long distance without eating and finally returned home empty-handed, as they had set out.

Next, the father set out with his second-born son. During the journey, various friends warmly received the younger son and his father, who were treated as special guests at each place they visited, with goats often slaughtered to prepare a feast to welcome them. When the father and his son retuned home, they brought with them many gifts they had received.

Then the father summoned his two sons and said, “Dear sons, I have seen the work that you have done." Then he turned to the first-born son and said, “My son, I think you are foolish. You do not know how to take care of people. I told you to put marks on the trees wherever you passed, but you have cut down many trees. Where is the profit in all these felled trees?”

Turning to the second son, he said, “My son, you are clever. I am happy you have left such important marks on your journey. Wherever we passed, we received a fine welcome. This came from your good relationships with the people we visited. I am going to arrange a big feast for you because you have left good and lasting marks wherever you passed.”

Who are we? What does the trail of our life journeys look like?

Who will we be? Will we go through life marking our way, but not making connections. Will we be indifferent to those around us, or will we create connections that bless others so that their lives are enriched and they are happy to see us coming? As John O’Donohue wrote, "Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you." That doesn’t have anything to do with getting a party as a reward, it has to do with how our souls feel.

May our intentions be to leave a trail of blessings behind us every day.

Love & Light!