Good Ol’ Words: Blessing

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We have friends who’ve been through the ringer the past few years, a series of mysterious health issues complicated by debilitating reactions to almost all building materials. It made their home, as well as most every home available on the market, unlivable. As a result, our friends and their kids have been gypsies, bumping from neighbor to friend to family, sometimes only for a few days at a time, trying to hold their life together as they figure out their future. They hired a builder who fitted the house with custom specs aimed at shutting out these immune system offenders. It was a grand day when the builder handed our friends the keys to their beautiful home tucked among lush trees and just above a lovely creek. We’re praying this will be a place they can, for the first time since this ordeal began, sigh deeply and lay down their bodies, lay down their lives.

Several of us gathered to bless their house. One friend brought honey from the wild bees they keep on their wooded acreage. Another friend arrived with a bouquet of wildflowers. We all brought our hopes and our prayers. We stood on the front lawn, straw strewn over the clay dirt to hold moisture for the grass that will one day cradle the dew and tickle bare feet.

I helped their two boys take a leafed twig from one of their trees in the front yard, and I pulled out a small bowl of water. “In the Bible,” I said, “water symbolizes things being cleansed, made new, and even more, water symbolizes God’s presence with us.” I told the boys to be ready to take turns, ready to dip their leaves in the water and sprinkle each room.

We read Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, how they were to speak peace over every house they entered. Then we went on a tour. Due to health concerns, our friends have to build most of their furniture, so the rooms were sparse. Sleeping bags and pillows covered the bedroom floor, and a couple boxes sat in a corner of the living room. The furnishings may have been meager, but love was full to the brim. In each room, we’d ask, So tell us about this space. Who will live here, and what will this room be used for? What do you love about it? Tell us about what you hope to happen between these walls? Answers came quick and were beautiful. Hopes of laughter and joy, of good rest, of sunshine, desire to watch the light through the large windows and listen to the sounds from their woods.

Then, in each room, one of us prayed. We blessed whoever who would sleep there or the work that would be done there. We prayed for light and love. We prayed that evil would not cross this threshold. We prayed that the windows would rattle with laughter and gladness. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Miska prayed over the laundry room. Miska’s tears took her by surprise as she blessed this place of such quotidian grace, this place where ordinary love floods in and where our grime washes away. After each blessing, one of us would say: The Lord is here. The rest of us would answer: God’s Spirit is with us.

We concluded in the large open living space, circled and holding hands. We read a blessing from John O’Donohue, a poet who knew how to bless a place, to bless a life. After finishing the work we had come to do, we lingered. There are some experiences so precious you are not prepared for them to be finished.

There are many things we’re told the church is supposed to do these days, many of which seem to actually tear at our calling to live well in our place and with our people. However, could anything be more important than moments like these, moments when we walk through family halls or down a hospital corridor or atop a mountain ridge or through a precarious transition, listening to hopes and grabbing hands and speaking a blessing. We’ve been given the sacred trust to bless the soil and the sky and the cul-de-sacs and the cancer wards and the celebrations and even, with few words and heavy souls, the places of sorrow.

As our parting gift for our friends with the new house, we left a tile with St. Francis of Assisi’s blessing, the same one we have in our home. Perhaps they will hang it near their door as Miska and I have done with ours. These words pray a prayer over all who come and all who go. Pax et bonum. Peace and goodness over all.

The Blessing over Mom’s Resting Place

mom's stone of blessing

We buried my mom today, and a craftsman chiseled this blessing into the stone that greets you as you enter the grounds. This blessing reminds us that this soil, like all God’s earth, is hallowed. I am so thankful for my mom’s life. We have now returned my mother to God’s care and her body to the earth, where God’s very ground will cover her and surround her with the fullness of love.

The Spirit of God is around you
In the air that you breathe
And his glory in the light
That you see
And in the fruitfulness
Of the earth and the joy
Of its creation
He has written for you day by day
His revelation
He has granted you day by day
Your daily bread

God is Amused

Most nights, I go to each boy’s bedside and tell them goodnight. I make a slight sign of the cross on their forehead, bless them, say a short prayer for love and rest, tussle their hair and kiss them on the cheek. There are nights when I do this with fatherly joy. There are also nights when, because they are 10 and 11 and have mastered the children’s equivalent of digging their bony elbow into my rawest nerve, I do this in faith, trusting the love I know is there.

One might hope that one’s sons, over the many years enacting this ritual, would sense a little of the gravity and maybe even begin to cherish these moments. I’m not asking my two sons to pit themselves against one another, like Esau and Jacob, scheming or pleading for my better blessing. I’d simply like them to put down Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix or my collector’s edition of Calvin and Hobbes which they took without asking and actually notice that their father loves them, blast it.

Several weeks ago, I was in the room of my youngest. Sign of the cross, prayer, kiss on the cheek. “Good night, bud,” I said, hand on his head. Seth looked up, as if my voiced pulled him out of a fascinating dream sequence. Seth began to chuckle. “What?” I asked.

“Uhmmm…” Seth’s smile broke wide, more laughter. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Of course, this is where I jerked my hand away, leveled my most shaming look and slowly backed out of his room in disgust. Such a disappointment, this distracted, childish son of mine.

Ridiculous. I actually chuckled too, gave Seth another pat on the head. I probably asked him what girl was tiptoeing through his mind. I told Seth I loved him and left him to his sweet fantasies until the next night when we’d cue the whole spiel again. Obviously there was nothing heroic here, just how most any dad would respond to his goofball son being a goofball son.

Yet some of us think God a worse father than this. Somehow, many of us have learned to live in shame (or terror) of the ways we believe we disappoint the One who loves us. We live on the razor edge, vigilant over our every action, every motive, every belief. We’re so fearful that we’ll forget to pay attention, and heaven knows we can’t let that happen.

I believe God would love to chuckle with us in these moments. Keeping a close watch, getting things correct – these are not the center. Love is the center. “But still,” says Hafiz, “God is delighted and amused you once tried to be a saint.”

Bless all the Mothers

I understand this day we’ve set apart for mothers carries, for some, the hollow heaviness you’ve been unloading for years. I know that for others it pierces into your wounded sorrow as your longings go unfulfilled. I hurt for you. I pray with you. I hope for grace and love to flow your way.

But your heaviness bears witness to a profound good that should have been, a blessing that your soul aches to know. I must also bear witness to that beauty. We need more of this beauty, not less.

I understand it’s now chic to label these cultural moments as Hallmark fabrications. Allow me to dissent. If you wish, steer clear of the Gold Crown stickers and Target, quite fine. But do not miss the opportunity to bless a mom. Do not miss the opportunity to say, Thank you, mom who loved me or Thank you, woman who gave me a picture of mother when I had none to call my own. I do not despise Hallmark for prodding us. I only regret the Church didn’t think of it first.

The Church should be the first to bless. We should bless singles and married, bless the weary and the joyful, bless the mothers and the father and the children, bless the old and the young, bless the birds and the trees, bless all of God’s good creatures – and perhaps in the blessing, they will know they are loved. Perhaps in the blessing we will participate in their salvation.

As a man married to a woman who gives her heart and soul to children who will never, never (not for a single day) know what it is to wonder if they’re loved, I must bless. As a man who is son to a courageous woman who has given herself to the long, long work of love, I must bless.

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Women of grace, beauty and immense courage: When you desire to nurture and create life, you embody for us the power and creative love of the Trinity, the God whose very being emanates life. When you bring flesh and bone from your womb, you renew for us the holy truth that God, from the very beginning, births all that is good and beautiful in our world. When you show us what is true and pray over us with tear-drenched faith and point us toward the God who loves us, you articulate what God’s Spirit longs to speak into our heart. You, woman and mother, are a prophet of the Living God.

For those who ache for the children you’ve lost or the children you’ve yet to know,

For those who know wounds and loss from your own mother or children,

For those in the thick of the bone-wearying labor of loving children – and especially those who think you’ve been drained of every last ounce of energy,

For those with regret,

For those who, on behalf of your children or another’s children, wage war against some evil that would ravage them,

For those who are loving, mothering or blessing children not your own,

For those with new life in your belly,

For those who need to know the powerful ways your love, nurture, prayers, tears, fears, anger, weariness, hope, laundry, meals, midnight watches, exasperation and laughter have all participated in God’s mysterious act of creating beautiful life,

We bless you.

May the God who filled Mother Eve with life and who filled Prophetess Deborah with wisdom and power and who brought our Savior into the world through a women of remarkable courage, fill you with all mercy and joy today. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Easter Blessing

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People of the risen and conquering Jesus, lift up your weary hearts. Lift up your sorrowed eyes — your Jesus has risen from the dead. Easter’s for real. Jesus lives. And all the dying and all the deaths that lay claim on you have been crushed by the power of Jesus Christ, the one who descended into the very bowels of hell and marched out with a victor’s dance. Rise up and live. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. Amen.

Bless All the Daughters

Like me, one of Miska’s true joys is to speak a blessing over others. I think I must have learned this from her. Recently, Miska wrote a blessing for women in our little All Souls community. Receive these good words as your own – and they work just as well for those of us who go by the name ‘sons.’

Blessed are you, beloved daughters of God.
Lift up your hands, your eyes, your hearts
to the Living God.
Get into that soul posture of receiving.
May you continually re-orient your Being
to what is Real;
May you have the courage and grace
to receive Life from God in whatever
astonishing and unexpected ways He sends it.
Enter into the mystery!
May you hear Jesus calling your name–
calling your name–
inviting you to rise up, come forth into life
and be unbound.
Be blessed–may it be well with your soul–
for the Lord is your God,
and He is making all the sad and broken things come untrue
and He is making all things new.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit,
may it be so.

Blessed by Hope

Most Sundays, I write a blessing to speak over our church. I speak the words before we depart, hoping that God’s Spirit will take plain words and lodge them in places I could never reach. It is a great joy, to speak a blessing over friends. My preference is to write the blessing myself, but there are words in Scripture that blow any blessing I’d write to smithereens. This is one of them, from St. Paul. Breathe in these words. Open your hands and receive them.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirt. And may it be so. Amen.

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The introductory offer of Let God: Spiritual Conversations with François Fénelon @ $2.99 for Kindle (and Kindle apps on other devices) ends this weekend.

 

Songs of Friendship

On my desk sits a picture of me conversing with two friends. We're situated on old pews at the front of an old stone chapel. Gold rays cascade through the row of four stained glass windows perched high, at the rear of the vestry. The light shoots a straight train from those lofty windows down to the tops of our heads, as if the sun wanted to pass a few final blessings before setting. 

Miska took my photograph and printed a line on it reminding me that "to love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten." She knows that these friends, along with a few others, do this for me. And I hope I do the same for them.

We all need people to remind us what is true about ourselves, pointing out with great delight our strength and beauty and splendidness. We need people who believe in, and trust, the deep good God Almighty has firmly planted within us. You can go anywhere and hear someone sing a song of rejection or regret, duty or obligation, judgment or dismissal. We need more songs of hope, more songs of everlasting friendship. We need more blessings before the sun sets. 

A Blessing on Mother’s Day

Women of grace, beauty and immense courage: When you desire to nurture and create life, you embody for us the power and creative love of the Trinity, the God whose very being emanates life. When you bring flesh and bone from your womb, you renew for us the holy truth that God, from the very beginning, births all that is good and beautiful in our world. When you show us what is true and pray over us with tear-drenched faith and point us toward the God who loves us, you articulate what God’s Spirit longs to speak into our heart. You, woman and mother, are a prophet of the Living God.

For those who ache for the children you’ve lost or the children you’ve yet to know,

For those who know wounds and loss from your own mother or children,

For those in the thick of the bone-wearying labor of loving children – and especially those who think you’ve been drained of every last ounce of energy,

For those with regret,

For those who, on behalf of your children or another’s children, wage war against some evil that would ravage them,

For those who are loving, mothering or blessing children not your own,

For those with new life in your belly,

For those who need to know the powerful ways your love, nurture, prayers, tears, fears, anger, weariness, hope, laundry, meals, midnight watches, exasperation and laughter have all participated in God’s mysterious act of creating beautiful life,

We bless you.

May the God who filled Mother Eve with life and who filled Prophetess Deborah with wisdom and power and who brought our Savior into the world through a women of remarkable courage, fill you with all mercy and joy today. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Surprise Yourself

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.  
{Neil Gaiman}