The Blessing You Receive and the Blessing You Do

Bless the World, part 1

“Choose to Bless the World,” a benediction by my colleague Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Rebecca Parker:
Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.
The mind’s power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,
The gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting
Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
Bind up wounds,
Welcome the stranger,
Praise what is sacred,
Do the work of justice
Or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door,
Hoard bread,
Abandon the poor,
Obscure what is holy,
Comply with injustice
Or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
The choice to bless the world is more than act of will,
A moving forward into the world
With the intention to do good.
It is an act of recognition,
A confession of surprise,
A grateful acknowledgment
That in the midst of a broken world
Unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.
There is an embrace of kindness,
That encompasses all life,
Even yours.
And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
There moves a holy disturbance,
A benevolent rage,
A revolutionary love
Protesting, urging insisting
That which is sacred will not be defiled.
Those who bless the world live their life
As a gesture of thanks
For this beauty
And this rage.
The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
To search for the sources of power and grace;
Native wisdom, healing, and liberation.
More, the choice will draw you into community,
The endeavor shared,
The heritage passed on,
The companionship of struggle,
The importance of keeping faith,
The life of ritual and praise,
The comfort of human friendship,
The company of earth
The chorus of life welcoming you.
None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility waiting.
Blessing is our theme in May. It’s what we’ll be exploring in our Journey Groups this month.

There’s blessing, the noun, a thing that brings goodness, joy, or help to our lives. Food is a blessing. Waking up in the morning is a blessing. Air filling the lungs is a blessing. Friends are a blessing and, if you’re lucky, so is family. In this sense, the theme, blessing, is essentially the same as the theme gratitude. Reflecting on, noticing, attuning to and taking in the blessings in our lives is all about noticing things to be grateful for and being grateful for them.

But blessing also has this other side. Besides the blessings you receive, there is the blessing that you give. Besides blessings, the nouns, there is blessing, the present participle of the verb, to bless.

I and many others have observed that gratitude and generosity go together. When you are filled with the sense of thankfulness – that you are provided for abundantly with gifts you did not earn or deserve – then you are naturally primed to give generously: to pay back or pay forward. That close connection between gratitude and generosity – so close that they are two sides of the same coin – might not be obvious. But with blessing, those two sides are combined in the same word, aren’t they? When you pay attention to the blessings you receive, you are naturally primed to look for ways to be a blessing to others, ways to bless the world.

You receive gifts, and you have gifts, which you can use to enrich the lives of others, or not. You can choose to notice the blessings. You can choose to be a blessing. You can bless the world. By yourself, you can bless it a little bit. Together, adding your blessing to yours and yours and mine -- coordinating our blessing for synergistic effect – together, we can save the world.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Bless the World"
See also
Part 2: Together Is Hard
Part 3: Creating Situatedness


Muhammad Ali and Thomas Merton

Muhammad Ali died last week (Jun 3). His hometown, Louisville, KY, is hosting his memorial today. Tens of thousands are expected to line the streets for the procession, which will traverse Muhammad Ali Blvd for 25 blocks.

I'm reminded that the thoroughfare that has been named Muhammad Ali Blvd since 1978 was previously known as Walnut Ave. It was at the corner of Walnut Ave and 4th Street in 1958 that a 43-year-old monk visiting Louisville from a monastery in Kentucky had a profound experience. His name was Thomas Merton, and he had been a Catholic Trappist monk for 15 years. As he stood on that corner, all around him people and cars were going about their usual business. Then something amazing happened. His heart opened up. This is how he wrote about it:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream....This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: ‘Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.’ It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes:...A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. They are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers! Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed....I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
Louisville was Ali's hometown, and the town where Merton had a profound experience of "home." The street where Merton had his epiphany now bears Ali's name.

In many ways, of course, the brash Ali and the calm Merton could not have been more different. Yet both men are known for their commitment to their respective faiths. Both stood out, and faced rebuke, for their opposition to the Vietnam war. Both of them were men of both words and action. They were each models of courage, and both showed the world new possibilities of liberation.

Their lives, so different, both remind me of Jonathan Swift's epitaph (written in Latin by Swift himself, and here translated by William Butler Yeats):
Imitate him if you dare,
World-Besotted Traveler; he
Served human liberty.
Ali and Merton -- for all their unimitating and inimitable uniqueness -- each served human liberty. Their lives have left us freer.