Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 21, 2013
My office was pretty busy in the last week of 1999. I was working in New York City where anxiety was high, as folks wondered whether computer systems would crash at midnight on New Year’s Eve, Y2K. Remember that? It now seems silly how anxious were, but that week, a number of people came to my office to talk about where they were spiritually, in that momentous millennial shift.
One person, who had just starting poking his nose into the church, made an appointment, showed up at my office, and opened the conversation by saying: “I know this sounds dumb, but I was on the street the other day and I sneezed and a stranger said “God bless you.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what that means.” So we talked about blessings, blessings that come from God, blessings we give each other. All because of a sneeze. Go figure.
There are a number of ways you can translate the word blessing, but I like the literal meaning of benedicite. Break it down and it means to speak (dicere) well of (bene), to speak goodness. Of course that is anchored in the truth that before there was original sin there was original blessing. It’s no accident that of the two creation stories in the book of Genesis, the first one has God speaking creation into existence, punctuating the first five days with a note of approval, a blessing: “It was good.” The sixth day, when humanity emerges, gets even better. The divine review of that piece of work gets extra emphasis. God said: “It was very good.” Not a bad thing to remember on a Monday morning.
There is power in God’s blessing, God’s good intention, God’s grace, God’s embrace of each one of us. As we receive the power of that good news, we have the opportunity to pass it on. That power is something meant to flow from us, in all relationships. As we are blessed by God, we can bless back, joining with the psalmist who said: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name”. And we can relate to each other in a spirit of blessing. Just speaking words of blessing can be transformative. We can offer blessing even to those who have injured us, even to those who have caused resentment.
A book arrived in my mailbox last week, written by Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Pasadena, one of the liveliest churches in our denomination led by one of our livelier rectors. The book is called The 8 Habits of Love. I commend it to you, as a guide to the practice of our faith. It’s been a blessing to me. The first of these habits, generosity, finds its expression in a willingness to share blessings. Here’s how Ed describes a woman who mastered this spiritual practice: “She makes a point of complimenting one person every day, whether it is a stranger in the street or a friend at the office. She will tell a woman in the corner store that her shoes are wonderful or comment favorably to a man on the train about the book he is reading. Seeing the surprise on their faces, watching the transformation as the recipient acknowledges and absorbs the blessing is infinitely rewarding.”
One of my heroes and mentors was a priest named Craig Eder, who seemed to know God pretty well. I remember he was sometimes asked to say grace when we were in a public setting, when brevity would be appreciated by self-conscious Episcopalians. His table grace: May the blessed one bless. Carry that grace with you today. Remember the ways that you are blessed. It’s the way that you can be a blessing.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.