After all this talk of blessedness it is a bit late, perhaps, to consider what it means to be blessed – to be blessed by God and to bless each other – but since we will not be seeing each other for a while over the school holidays, I thought perhaps it might be good to take a time out from the individual beatitudes and to journey through Easter and our break with an awareness on blessing itself.
There are many promises of blessing in the stories of scripture. Abraham and Sarah are promised a son and, through him, a people who will be a blessing to all nations.
This is God’s promise to them, which they seem to see saw in believing…who can blame them? As numerous as the stars in the night sky, as uncountable as the grains of sand on the beach – those are big pictures to hope for.
But what is your life without a big picture? What sense can we make of your story and our story without a Big Story to fit it into or measure it with, or to guide us as we muddle through looking for the light of good, true, wise and beautiful?
A generation later, we come across Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac on his death bed and ready to bless his son Esau, but Jacob pretends to be his brother and steals the blessing. When Isaac discovers he has been tricked into blessing Jacob with the blessing he intended for Esau, both he and Esau are distraught. You can read the story here.
Isaac “trembled violently” when he realised what had happened and Esau “cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father ‘bless me, me too, father!’ “
But there was nothing left. Isaac had blessed Jacob with status and authority, with wealth and plenty. Esau now could not receive his father’s blessing but Jacob was able to steal it. It’s interesting that Isaac’s blessing promised things that were not within his power to provide, and yet the loss of them was grievously bitter for Esau.
When we bless each other, is it that the blessing we receive is not so much about the things themselves?
I wonder if the blessing is found in hearing the words spoken in a tone of warmth and affection, it’s in the affirming of your value and of being seen and known. And out of being known and loved, words are spoken that describe the good and beautiful hope for your life. I think the blessing is also in feeling the resonance with what the images and metaphors evoke – it is in feeling your heart’s ‘yes!’ to these.
So, then, I wonder how Jacob could have stolen that? How could he have heard Isaac’s words to him as his own blessing, when he was intentionally deceiving his father? Was he so far from knowing his own heart that he thought he could simply dress up and assume his brother’s story, his brother’s place in their father’s affection?
Perhaps it’s a story that shows how far we’ll go from our true selves in order to get what we think we need – how deeply we can deceive ourselves as well as others – and maybe also, how hard it is to accept that a parent can fail to see, fail to know, fail to love you for yourself.
I wonder whose blessing you have hoped for, but not received.
I wonder what happens in us when we withhold a blessing from those who hope to receive from us?
These and the following are questions to journal or walk/swim/run/dance with and you may need to take the role of an observer as you review your story so that you can see from a broader perspective…
Who has blessed you? Who needs your blessing? What needs to happen for you to be free to offer a blessing, or to receive one?
The blessings that touch us deeply are the ones that connect with our sense of our self and of our inmost longings and hopes. A blessing is crafted from love and tells a story of what is as well as what is not yet but may be. John O’Donohue does this quite beautifully in his collection of blessings, Benedictus, where he paints word pictures of affirmation and hope for the transitional experiences of life, blessing the difficult and painful times as well as the joyful and celebratory moments. You don’t need to be a poet to paint a word picture to bless another, though, you just need to listen and notice what image or metaphor is already a part of the story and then give it the wings of hope.
A couple of examples for you:
May the path to the deep well of grace be your path, may your journey there each day – each moment – be uncluttered and easy. May you find unexpected treasures of joy along the wayside, and may the cup you fill from those clear waters run over freely as you go…
May your turning to the water be for you a retreat to pause and to ponder, may the rhythm of breath and movement restore stillness in your soul, may the salt of the ocean welcome your tears even as it lifts you buoyant on the tide, each wave helping you find your way home to the peace of your own heart’s wisdom and knowing.
So can you add a blessing to a text message? To a birthday card? To a lunch box, an email or a bunch of flowers?
A Celtic approach
Known for blessing every blessed thing, everything, every beginning, endeavour and ending is blessed before, during and after it happens.
Asking a blessing or offering a blessing is a way to practice recognising thresholds, movements and moments as opportunities to be aware and awake to the sacred Presence, present in every moment, in every thing, every one and every place.
For example: Bless to me, O God, my toothbrush, this clean, running water, and rose scented soap, this soft towel, warm shower and shampoo that is cruelty free.
(Are you now aware of these things in a new way? Yes, you are. Are you more grateful for them and awake to how you take them for granted? I expect so…keep going throughout the day, you’ll be amazed how it changes your attitude and your energy…)
….bless to me my mobile phone, God of grace, and give me grace and wisdom how I use it…bless to me the time on my commute, my fellow travellers….
….you get the picture.
Taste and See
Taking in and receiving blessing can be a challenge. It’s easier to let them slide off, shrug them off or discount them (I’m not worthy, didn’t earn that, it’s not a big deal, you’re embarrassing me now…)
So try these two steps to recognise, open to and embrace blessing:
- Look for the good thing and let it move you. Aim to notice at least 6 things over the course of the day. These can be ordinary or extraordinary – a job done on the to do list, someone brings you a cup of tea, a tricky conversation is well handled – you know they are good, but don’t often stop to feel that they are good. Give yourself 15 seconds (or more, but no less!) to let the goodness buzz you without being distracted by anything else. Soften and open to the experience, gentling away any resistance with a slow, deep breath.
- At the end of the day, as you lie in bed, review the all the good you noticed and then intend and sense the blessing sinking in to you. Find an image or sensory feeling that helps you focus in as you hold on to this – perhaps it is like hot chocolate on a chilly evening warming you as you sip it, or like a stream of warm water pouring over you, or a rose in your chest opening. If you can do this for 30 seconds every night you’ll be making new neural networks of joy in your brain, and it will give you material to draw on to offer as blessing to others. Win/win!