“I am saying that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.”
- Barbara Brown Taylor
From where I sit in mid-coast Maine watching the sun rise pink and orange over the Atlantic at 5 am on a Sunday, it’s not hard to recognize holiness. This is where my husband’s great grandfather (a college professor back when professors actually had summers off) bought a little gray house in the 1930s to bring his kids on summer breaks, where Chris came with his dad each summer growing up, where our kids run free and eat sandwiches every day on the “picnic rock,” a giant flat gray rock among hundreds of giant rocks beneath the house and twenty feet from where the ocean roars into the land. Chris brought me here for the first time twelve years ago and it wasn’t long before I was convinced this might be the most glorious place on earth. Yesterday I actually saw a bald eagle fly past the yard twice. Twice.
Blessing has been on my mind lately. Not the kind of blessing that we church-goers like to toss around. Not a shallow belief that if things are good, God is blessing us, and if things are bad, God has backed away. I quit the word blessing years ago. Removed it from my spiritual vocabulary, done with assuming that God was blessing the rich guy and ignoring the poor guy. Done with trite spiritual benedictions in my emails.
But blessing has stayed with me, even as I’ve sought to rid myself of its banality. Even as I’ve struggled to understand what it might mean if God blesses me and chooses not to bless another. For three months I’ve fallen in love with . And somewhere else another baby was born without Down syndrome, despite the prenatal diagnosis. Did God “bless” that person? What does that even mean?
And still I use the word blessing every night when I make the sign of the cross on all three of my babies’ foreheads and recite from Numbers 6. I ask the Lord to bless them and keep them, to make his face to shine upon them and be gracious to them…
This summer I haven’t spent much time wondering about what God’s blessing means, when it’s given and when it’s not. I’ve had a different sort of blessing on my mind, the daily spiritual work of blessing the things around me, of taking something ordinary and pronouncing it remarkable, sacred. Barbara Brown Taylor says the act of blessing is not so much the work of conferring holiness as it is the task of recognizing, of acknowledging the holiness already there.
I want to be a priest. I want to pronounce blessing. I want to “share in God’s own audacity” as Taylor says. To hold my hand over too many things and call them good. I want to be liberal and excessive with the holy pronouncing. I want to believe that God’s love is ridiculously loud and outrageous. I want to live like it is.
Over and over scripture tells us to bless. Be the blessing. Bless and do not curse. We are a cursing sort of people, aren’t we? Pronouncing the failures of others first. Pronouncing blessing all for ourselves because it is easier to do so. Our natural stance is to turn our gaze inward, stare at our own longings. It is harder to search for the glory of God in the people, in the things already around us.
But what if that is the task of following Jesus? To learn to see the glory, not only to see it but to call it good, to cultivate a life of holy things. To touch foreheads and shoestrings, weeds and rocks, casseroles and glasses of wine—and call them holy. To bless and not to curse.
To cultivate blessing is to cultivate extravagance in the way of grace. Not extravagance for the sake of excess, but extravagance in the same way God gives love freely: believing that there is enough love to go around. There is enough goodness. We give ourselves permission to be astounded with the gifts in front of us.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m starting to understand why St. Francis preached to birds. Maybe he needed to believe that God’s blessing was big enough for all the creatures to perch beneath.
It is not that I am blessed because I have a special needs baby and we are the lucky ones. It is not that the woman whose baby was born healthy and typical is the one who was blessed. She and I are both/and. Blessed.
Blessing works from the other direction. It is not the ease of the gifts God pours out, but the stance I take toward them.
I am Adam, given permission to name the creatures, to say what I see. And I’m learning to see the holy, to name it.
And I will hold my hand out from the porch of this old gray house on the coast of Maine and call the sky and the ocean and the picnic rock and the bald eagle flying past the same word as I call my little boys in their beds at night: Blessed blessed blessed.
Extravagantly, excessively, overwhelmingly marked by God’s goodness.