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The Practice of Blessing

Lessons: Mark 10:13-16; Numbers 6:22-26


Today we are going to talk about the practice of giving blessings, like the blessing that Alice read from Deuteronomy, “May God bless you and keep you…,” like the blessing that Jesus gave the children, like the blessing on our bulletin covers, “May the road rise up to meet you…,” and like the blessing that’s painted into the labyrinth on Juliet Wood’s painting, “Blessing Journey,” the painting hanging in our chancel during Lent. [The blessing worked into the artwork is John O’Donohue’s “Bennacht,” from To Bless the Space Between Us (New York: Doubleday, 2008)] I’ll share that blessing with you later in the service because it’s pretty hard to read from the pews.


I found a story that helps explain what a blessing is, and why they are important. 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, and while it isn’t about me, I ran across this story just in time, because my husband had shoulder surgery a week and a half ago. 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. Do you know what a morning person is?


ANSWERS


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?


ANSWERS


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. Let’s do that now.


BREATHS.


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.”[1] That 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.

Who can tell me what holiday was yesterday?


PATRICK’S DAY.


St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, right?  For a very long time, Christians from Ireland and Scotland have given blessings. It is one of their practices. During Lent, we are learning about faith practices. Remember the prayer beads we made last month to help us pray?


SHOW BEADS.


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.


The blessing that Alice read in Deuteronomy is famous. “May God bless you and keep you….” How many of you have heard it before?


HANDS


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.


So we are going to do two blessing projects this morning. In your bulletin is a green four-leafed clover post-it.


I invite you to write or draw a blessing on that post-it. You may write whatever blessing you need to make this morning, depending on what it is you need to open your heart to. If you don’t have someone you already know you need to bless today, 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.


You can write that blessing at any time in the rest of the service, and then let’s put the post-its on the walls, anywhere in the sanctuary, during the offertory (the music during the offering), or after church.


Our other blessing project involves these shamrock stones. St. Patrick actually taught with a shamrock, not a four-leafed clover. With the children’s help, we are going to bring enough stones for each person to the end of the pews. This will take a few minutes, so you might write your blessing while we come down the aisle.


Whoever hands the cup of stones to the first person closest to the aisle will say a blessing to that person. It can be simple. Say, “God bless you.” Or “May God bless you and keep you.” “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe.” Or if you know the person, you could bless them in something that you about. Like, “God bless you as you wait to hear from the colleges you applied to.” As we bless the person, we hand them a shamrock stone, to keep, to remind the person of receiving a blessing. And then that person does the same for the person next to them, down the pew.


Is that clear?


We are practicing blessing – both giving and receiving.


© Joanne Whitt 2018 all rights reserved.

[1] Christopher K. Germer, Ph.D., The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (New York: Guilford Press, 2009), 62-63.

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