Blessing and Belongingness

What Is Blessing? part 1

What is a blessing – what does it mean for something to be a blessing? What is blessing – what are we doing when we bless something?

Blessing is our theme of the month for May. So, looking ahead to next month, I offer these reflections of help stimulate the sharing and the going deeper that you will be doing in your Journey Groups next month.

We bless God. We ask God to bless us. We bless each other. We bless food. We bless objects – boats, cars, houses, buildings. We count our blessings, and we count on our blessings.

We often bless each others' hearts, but rarely bless one another's spleen or pancreas. In the south, where I’m from, adding "bless your heart" will, excuse any insult: "Why he's just as dumb as a post, bless his heart."

Blessing is about place. It's about being situated, being located, being in the context that fits. Thus, it is about belonging.

Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese,” concludes with these lines:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,
Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”
Blessing is all about knowing and affirming our place in the family of things. By announcing our place, those wild geese are giving us their harsh and exciting blessing.

This community, this congregation, is your place – at least for now on your journey through life. And this community’s place is with you.

Divergent faith traditions suggest a common idea in blessing of interconnectedness, of partaking in the significance of a larger whole through relationships of meaning and care.

Let me tell you how I came to explore the function of blessing – in this case, the act of one person blessing another.

In 2002, I was a chaplain at a large county general hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. During the last three months of my year as a chaplain, I was assigned to the surgical intensive care unit. The nine-bed, surgical intensive care unit is for patients who have just come through serious major surgery – or they are in often-dire circumstances about to go into major surgery. For these reasons, about a half of the patients there at any given time were under heavy sedation or otherwise unconscious. Some of these could squeeze my hand if I asked them to – many made no response at all.

My job as chaplain was to make visits -- and to listen. That was my job. So I visited these sedated or otherwise unconscious patients – which presented a bit of a quandary. I was there to listen – but they weren’t talking. So: I blessed them. It started slowly at first – this is not something that came naturally to my UU-humanist-raised rational skeptical mind. One hand on their shoulder, just a couple sentences, log it as a two-minute visit, then on to the next room. Gradually, I found more words. Gradually, I grew more comfortable with more silence around and between the words – letting the silent presence be part of what conveys the blessing.

At some point I wrote down some of the typical things I would say, and this week I went back and looked at that document. I see that I used language from various places: the closing words they used every Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, metta exercises from the Buddhist tradition, Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata.” Certain phrases I’d repeated several times – for emphasis.

So let me offer to you this blessing, similar to the ones I gave those patients fourteen years ago. This blessing, though, is not so much from me to you, but rather among us – a small web for realizing our place in larger webs. If you and your neighbor are both comfortable doing so – and it’s OK to say no -- let me invite you now to place a hand on the shoulder of the person sitting next to you. If you and both your neighbors are amenable, you might put your other hand on the shoulder of the person on your other side. You might try closing your eyes.

As I speak, think of these words being your words flowing out from you through your hands into the people next to you. Be aware of the flow from them back into you.
Hello. My name is Meredith.
I’m here to say, hi, to be with you now.
We are here to be with each other.
We know our bodies are working very hard, even in our fullest health, to keep us going.
Our spirits our working hard, too.
Life itself is a time of great labor.
In this time of labor, may you know that you are good.
Know that you are loved.
Know that your life is a blessing unto the world.
The breath that you breathe – can you feel it?
It is holy breath. Holy spirit.
Holy spirit breathes through you.
Sacred spirit breathes you.
For you are a child of God.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.
You are good.
You are loved.
Your life is a blessing unto the world.
And the kindom of God is within you. Within you.
The calm, abiding presence of the holy spirit is with you.
With you always.
May you have a calm, clear mind and a peaceful loving heart.
May you stay physically strong, healthy, vital, and vigorous.
May you be safe.
May you experience joy and love, wonder and wisdom in this life, just as it is.
You are good. You are loved.
Your life is a blessing unto the world.
Peace be with you.
And God bless you.
I don’t know which, if any, patients heard me. I don’t know what happened inside the patients if they did hear me.

Maybe the words and a sense of a presence zipped around some unconscious brain circuitry in there and stimulated something that looked like what hope would look like under a brain scan. I don’t know. In any event, I think the act of blessing them stimulated something that looked like hope in me.

Maybe at some unconscious level, some of the patients stepped toward realization of their place, of their belongingness, within the vast web of relationship. I know that through those experiences I stepped toward such realization. I had a very strong sense of being in place – right there, and through “right there” to everywhere else also. And if we are as interconnected as it felt at that moment, then anyone’s realization of that connection is everyone’s.

Blessing affirms situatedness within a relationship of worth. To bless is to affirm the place of ourselves and something or someone else within the order of things.

* * *
This is part 1 of 2 of "What Is Blessing?"
See also
Part 2: Gifts of the Entire Universe

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