Several years ago I attended a weeklong retreat studying the Jewish Jesus. It was led by Rabbi Rami Shapiro who is a prolific writer, spiritual leader and friend. During the retreat I had a very uncomfortable encounter with someone and it knocked me off center and left me upset. So, when I ran into Rabbi Rami in the hallway the next morning he could see I was still upset so he stopped and we had a short conversation…I said “I need a blessing!” So, he took my head in his hands…kinda shook it a little bit and said, “May you roll with the punches and trust the Wisdom in your own heart” It didn’t seem particularly holy…may you roll with the punches….but it was exactly what I needed and it has become my mantra. It was what I needed rolling with the punches doesn’t come naturally….trust my own wisdom touched a deep place within. There was something very powerful about that blessing something shifted inside me. The experience made me realize I am in need of blessing…we all are.
One of the reasons I asked for a blessing was because the week had been full of blessings. You see, it turns out that in the Jewish tradition from which Jesus comes from (sometimes I think we forget that and make Jesus Christian) there is a blessing for everything….waking up, going to sleep, a blessing before a meal, a blessing after a meal, yes even a blessing for going to the bathroom! We prayed the blessings, sang the blessings and blessed each other! Historically much of the Jewish religion is practiced in the home so that people…mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles pass down blessings and blessing becomes a part of who they are as a family. To bless in the Jewish tradition is quite natural.
In Christianity blessing became a priestly function. For those of us who grew up Catholic we know we wouldn’t dare bless anything or anyone only the priest is allowed. In the Protestant tradition we bless the elements for communion and every week we send the congregation off with a benediction, which is a blessing. But what about in the home what have we been taught? I am afraid we have forgotten about blessing, we too have allowed it to be a priestly function. Not only that but it became associated with Catholisism and we protestant think we need to still be protesting again that…maybe we have thrown out the baby with the bath water. Blessing after all would be central to who Jesus is and we are followers of Jesus aren’t we? And central to being Protestant is the belief in the “priesthood of all believers”, therefore to bless can and should be something we all do as faithful Christians…as God’s people we are called to bless….We are made to bless!
I learned about blessing also at The First Congregational Church in Southington where I served for 11yrs. At their contemporary service after receiving communion people come forward to a kneeling bench and the pastors (sometime deacons) put oil on their foreheads and say words of blessing. One week when I was at the kneeling bench a young rambunctious boy came forward and he started to fiddle with the oil container, his mom looked a little nervous, but I didn’t care so I let him play with it…the next thing I know he puts his little finger in the oil and brings it to my forehead and blesses me! It seemed so natural to him he had be coming up week after week he knew that’s what we did and he wanted to bless too!!! He didn’t think it was a priestly function at all! I loved it and after church someone came up to me and said…Linda I saw how that young boy blessed you..that was so beautiful to watch…beautiful indeed!
We are made to bless!
What does it mean to bless someone or something? Why do we do it?
It’s quite powerful really because it means to invoke the power and presence of God asking God to pour out God’s grace for a particular purpose. It is an act of faith because it means that when we call upon God we really believe in the power of God’s presence to bless. It’s REAL! Sometimes doubt and self-consciousness gets in our way and we minimize the power of blessing.
Do we believe in the power of God? Blessing is an act of faith.
I want to encourage all of us to make blessing one another part of what we do as people of faith. Blessings can be done in many ways…formally and informally…out loud and silently. We can bless while we are driving…or standing in the grocery line. Try Silently sending out blessings to all the people you meet in any given day….bless even the people or especially the people that get on your last nerve. But be bold too and say some blessings right out loud! Let’s see how resolving to make blessing others a part of our ordinary day might shift our thinking and open your hearts.
I want to share a story from writer and physician Rachel Naomi Remen that illustrates so beautifully the power of blessing:
On Friday afternoon, when I would arrive at my grandfather's house after school the tea would be already set on the kitchen table. My grandfather had his own way of serving tea. There were no tea cups and saucers or bowls of granulated sugar or honey. Instead he would pour the tea directly from the silver samovar into a drinking glass. There had to be a teaspoon in the glass first otherwise the glass, being thin, might break.
My grandfather did not drink his tea in the same way that the parents of my friends did either. He would put a cube of sugar between his teeth and then drink the hot tea straight from his glass. So would I. I much preferred drinking tea this way to the way I had to drink tea at home.
If it was Friday, after we had finished our tea my grandfather would set two candles on the table and light them. Then he would have a word with God in Hebrew. Sometimes he would speak out loud but often he would close his eyes and be quiet. I knew then that he was talking to God in his heart. I would sit and wait patiently because the best part of the week was coming.
When Grandpa finished talking to God, he would turn to me and say "Come, Neshume-le." Then I would stand in front of him and he would rest his hands lightly on the top of my head. He would begin by thanking God for me and for making him my grandpa. He would specifically mention my struggles during that week and tell God something about me that was true. Each week I would wait to find out what that was. If I had made mistakes during the week he would mention my honesty in telling the truth. If I had failed he would appreciate how hard I had tried. If I had slept for even a short nap without my night-light he would celebrate my bravery in sleeping in the dark. Then he would give me his blessing and ask the long-ago women I knew from his many stories, Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah and Leah to watch over me.
These few moments were the only time in my week that I felt completely safe and at rest. My family of physicians and health professionals were always struggling to learn more and to be more. It seemed there was always more to know. It was never enough. If I brought home a 98 on a test, my father would ask "And what happened to the other two points?" I pursued those two points relentlessly throughout my childhood. But my grandfather did not care about such things. For him, I was already enough. And somehow when I was with him I knew with absolute certainty that this was so.
My grandfather died when I was seven years old. I had never lived in a world without him in it before and it was hard for me. He had looked at me as no one else had and called me by a special name, "Neshume-le," which means "little beloved soul." There was no one left to call me this anymore. At first I was afraid that without him to see me, and tell God who I was, I might disappear. But slowly over time I came to understand that in some mysterious way, I had learned to see myself through his eyes. And that once blessed, we are blessed forever.
Many years later when, in her extreme old age, my mother surprisingly began to light candles and talk to God herself, I told her about these blessings and what they had meant to me. She had smiled at me sadly. "I have blessed you every day of your life, Rachel," she told me. "I just never had the wisdom to do it out loud."
Whether we bless one another out loud or within our hearts it’s important that others know they are receiving our blessing! It’s important we give our blessings freely and lovingly!
I have been blessed by each of you these 8wks we have spent together….blessed by your smiles and hugs and hospitality. It was easy for me to feel I was part of this community if even for a short time. I encourage you to be intentional about making blessing a part of your life the way Jesus did. Remember we are made to bless!
May you seek to bless one another as you journey together in faith! Amen