A guy gets a Lamborghini. He goes to a priest and asks, could you say a blessing for my Lamborghini. The priest says, I guess so, but what is a Lamborghini? The guy says never mind.

He goes to a methodist minister and asks could you say a blessing for my Lamborghini. The methodist clergy says, I suppose, but what is a Lamborghini? The guy says never mind.

He goes to a Unitarian minister. Could you say a blessing for my Lamborghini. The Unitarian minister says, I don’t know, what’s a blessing?

It’s an old joke. Certainly, we do know what a blessing is, and particularly our clergy are prepared to say blessings. The joke pokes fun at us for our comparative theological illiteracy, and maybe there’s something to that. We can sometimes be so proud of our rejection of supernatural claptrap that we neglect helpful resources. And, indeed, where religious claims are seen as contending with scientific conclusions, I’m siding with science every time. But I don’t think theology, properly understood, does contend with science.

Theology is a kind of poetry. This being human calls us to appreciate both science and poetry, and to understand that if the poet seems to describe, say, light in a way that contradicts light as that which, when squared and multiplied by mass is equal to energy, there’s not a real contradiction – they’re just using words for different purposes. If the poet speaks of defying gravity, and the scientist tells us that gravity can never be defied, we understand that they’re engaged in using words for different purposes – and that being human means sharing in both scientific and poetic purposes.

Science is literal-minded and mathematical and its purpose is to predict what the world will do, while poetry, including theology, opens up to us creative possibilities for meaning-making – less for predicting the world and more for befriending it. Once you recognize that a given utterance is poetry – including the prose-poetry that is theology – then you can see it not as supernatural claptrap, but as a metaphor.

Unitarians have been rejecting traditional Protestant claims since our inception, starting with the trinity and moving eventually to theism itself and everything that went with it, and for much of that time we have also been at work developing ways to reclaim those concepts. With that in mind, today let us see how we can understand blessing. What does it mean for something to be a blessing? What are we doing when we bless something?

People sometimes ask God to bless something. We bless each other. We bless food. We bless objects – buildings, boats, Lamborghinis. We count our blessings, and we count on our blessings. I think it helps, in understanding this conceptual resource for living in this world, to think of blessing as being about place. It's about being situated, being located, being in the context that fits. Thus, blessing is about belonging – being where you belong. (In today's story, we heard that "'bless you' means we love you and we wish for you always to be safe.” They were evoking the feeling of 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.

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. When I was serving as a hospital chaplain, and was sometimes assigned intensive care patients who were unconscious and unresponsive, I would put my hand on a shoulder and say a minute or two’s worth of words of blessing. Maybe they could hear them. 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.

In the Jewish tradition, the Talmud teaches saying 100 blessings a day over any little thing: a piece of fruit, a cup of tea, a sandwich. "Blessed are you, Yahweh, our God, Source of Life, who creates the fruit of the tree,” or “by whose word all comes into being,” or “who brings forth bread from the earth.” In this context, to bless the item is to say that God is blessed – and to acknowledge the source from which the item comes. So the sense in which we say some object is a blessing, meaning that it’s a good thing, nice to have, is derivative from a practice of asserting that God is blessed.

The object or event is a gift we have received for which acknowledgement of an ultimate source is appropriate, and in that acknowledgement, “blessedness” belongs to that source itself. Saying an object is blessed or a blessing is shorthand for saying it comes from a blessed – that is, divine or ultimate – source.

The Talmud goes on to teach that
“whoever has enjoyment of something from this world without saying a blessing, it is as if she or he had improper enjoyment of the thing – as if she or he has robbed the Holy One and the community."
Robbed. Receiving without blessing – without acknowledging source – is like stealing – robbing from the Holy One and the community. That's what the Talmud says.

There is so much that is granted, and we take it. If we take it, and it is granted, how do we not “take it for granted”? It’s a simple matter to pause and acknowledge the source – of the food you’re going to eat, of the house that shelters you, of the friendships that soothe and enrich, of the great green earth, clear air, and quenching water.

There’s a Roy Zimmerman song with the lyrics:
Everybody loves,
Everybody hurts,
Everybody has a touch Weltschmerz.
Everybody laughs,
Everybody sneezes,
Everybody bright and everybody breezes,
Everybody, everybody, everybody is everybody else.
Indeed, Roy, everything is everything else. Acknowledging the source means recognizing that the thing comes from, is produced by, all of reality. It means seeing the thing in the light of its place – its belonging – in the web of interconnection. In the Talmud, the broader whole is recognized in saying Yahweh is blessed. But whether you say “Yahweh” or “Universe,” you are affirming your and the blessing's placement – situatedness -- within a relationship – a relationship of worth, of meaning, of community, of nurturance and care. If you were to follow the Talmud’s recommendation of deliberately, consciously doing that 100 times a day, what would that do to you?

Blessing is about place -- your place within the interdependent web. Rabbi Toba Spitzer writes:
“Saying a blessing is an opportunity for a particular kind of awareness. If I were really to think about all that it has taken to bring a plate of vegetables to my table – all the natural elements of sun and earth and rain, and all the human elements of planting and harvesting and transporting and selling, as well as the Godly power that underlies the whole process – I would feel a profound connection every time I sat down to eat. I would have a better realization of the myriad ways that my life is intertwined with people all over this planet.”
Those are words that might also have been written from other faith perspectives. I’m especially reminded of Buddhist writings – Thich Nhat Hanh, in particular, who emphasizes mindfulness of interconnection. The mealtime blessing in Thich Nhat Hanh centers and retreats begins by noting:
“This food is the gift of the entire universe: the earth, the sky, and much hard work.”
Taking a moment to say that your meal is the gift of the entire universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work, calls attention – awareness – to the vast complex to which we are linked through receiving its gifts. The practice of blessing gifts such as food wears different guises in different faith traditions, but the universal need that such blessing addresses is acknowledgment, gratitude, interconnection, relationship.

Blessing affirms and reinforces our sense of place within an interconnected network – a web of mutual care, a web that looks, if only we can attentively see it, like beloved community itself. Through blessing we help ourselves and one another see that web, realize the beloved community – to become aware of the beloved community is also at the same time to make it real.

In traditional Catholicism only a priest could issue an official blessing. Our democratic sentiments rebel against the idea. Still, I can see how in some ways it helped lend solemnity to the occasion. It signified that this blessing stuff was serious business. In the space of that solemnity, those present might more easily find their way to the awareness of interconnection and place.

Moreover, this human need to know our place, to feel ourselves enmeshed and held in relationships of support that ultimately include all of reality is not just a need that we have as individuals. We also have that need as faith communities – congregations of ten or of ten thousand -- to know and feel our faith community’s place within the broader network of all that is – a network that includes or emanates from – or constitutes – God. A medieval Catholic priest pronouncing a blessing upon the newly constructed village church may not have conceived of what he was doing in such terms of affirming and realizing situatedness within the interconnected web of all existence – but I think that, functionally, that was exactly what he was doing whether he knew it or not. He was helping situate his community within the vaster whole.

Turning from the Judeo-Christian tradition, a Buddhist practice is metta, generally translated as lovingkindness meditation. It looks a lot like what we would recognize as blessing. Typically, the way metta is done is that we sit in meditation and say some words of lovingkindness, first to ourselves, then others. Here’s an example:
“May I be safe from harm.
May I have a calm, clear mind, and a peaceful, loving heart.
May I be physically strong, healthy, and vital.
May I experience joy and love, wonder and wisdom in this life just as it is.”
And then we repeat those words replacing “I” with the names of loved ones, with the name of groups we identify with, with enemies or "difficult people" in our life, and finally, “all beings.” Buddhist literature says:
“Metta cultivates our ability to connect with and care in a rare unconditional way, for ourselves and others. Our hearts' capacity for patience, acceptance, compassion and forgiveness becomes boundless. With an inner and outer environment of safety our hearts and minds can open fearlessly. The result of this practice is an ever deepening stillness, from which the truth of life can be recognized clearly. It is a bodhisattva practice for blessing the world.”
Interconnection is the overriding reality, the “truth of life” to which, through mindfulness, “our hearts and minds can open fearlessly.”

We are here to be with each other. Yet our modern condition is rife with isolation, loneliness, alienation. The supposed liberations of individualism leave us uprooted. We need social identities in order to act effectively. Efficacy comes from knowing who you are, having a firm identity, and that comes from embeddedness in a rich social fabric. Other people, noted Ralph Waldo Emerson, “are lenses through which we read our own minds.”

Without a strong network around us, we never know our own mind. Without rootedness in social soil, there’s no belongingness and no sense of who one is -- no ground from which one can live daringly.

Marcia Pally’s book, Commonwealth and Covenant, offers the phrase, “separability amid situatedness.” This is the capacity to be unique, to create, explore, innovate, experiment with new ways of thinking and living – while also being situated — embedded in loving families and enveloping communities. She writes:
“Though we are all unique individuals, we become our singular selves through our relations and responsibilities to the people and environments around us. But overemphasis on 'separability' — individualism run amok — results in greed, adversarial and deceitful political discourse and chicanery, resource grabbing, broken relationships, and anomie.”
Blessing is about place. When a person, object, or event blesses you, when you bless someone or something, there’s a relationship. Blesser, blessee, and blessing situate each other, locate one another, and place us within a context of belonging and value. It is both cause and effect of healthy cultural infrastructure within which we can thrive.

Creating situatedness – the blessing of each other by each other – requires, as Marcia Pally recognizes and as our Unitarian Universalist covenantal faith tradition has long embodied, covenant rather than contract. When two isolated individuals make a deal, they express it as a contract. When we are situated within something, we have a covenant. A contract protects interests. A covenant protects relationships.

David Brooks writes:
“A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people. People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts.”
And New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said:
“we have to be a nation that aspires for love, which recognizes that you have worth and dignity and I need you. You are part of my whole, part of the promise of this country.”
That’s what it means to be situated in a shared collective life. That love, that recognition of worth and dignity and our interdependence, locates and grounds us, makes it possible for each of us to be blesser, blessee, and blessing. Without that, there is no “together.”

Be a blessing to the world. Knowing that you can’t do that alone – knowing, as you do now – that blessing the world requires attending to relationship, nurturing the situatedness that makes separability meaningful, then may you realize that other possibility, waiting – that possibility whose name is “together.” Your presence is a blessing to this community. It’s a help and a boon to us, and it reminds us of our place in the family of things – our place in community and as community. We come together to bring our blessings – the blessings of ourselves, that make this community what it is, and the blessings of our resources, that sustain this community.

We receive blessings from community, and the biggest blessing we receive is that here we are a blessing to others. Blessed be. Blessed be indeed.

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