Last week's pictures Erik Hill took of Father Leo Walsh blessing a float plane flooded my mind with the many kinds of blessings we Alaskans are fortunate to have offered on our behalf, or things we consider important in our lives. This week I've been thinking about blessings, both those offered by clergy and the kind we bestow to others our lives may touch.
In my contact with churches and clergy recently, I've been touched by the blessings I've seen given, and saddened by missed blessing opportunities. Some time ago, when meeting with Father Leo Walsh of St. Benedict's Parish, I asked him about blessings. He said, with a twinkle in his eye, "We Catholics bless everything." Later, Father Leo offered this reflection.
"A blessing is a way of reminding us that God is present to every aspect of human existence. In the life of the Church we sanctify (?bless?) three things?:?
* people?, such as clergy, married couples, consecrated religious, etc.;
* time, holy hours, holy days, such as Sunday?s, Christmas, Easter (that's where the word "holiday" comes from);
* places, such as churches, shrines, cemeteries, and homes.?
?"In addition we bless various objects for prayerful devotion such as rosaries, crucifixes, medals of saints, holy water, etc. We also bless various items for daily use such as tools, boats and fishing gear, and of course, aircraft. When blessing an aircraft (or any means of transportation) the priest asks for God's protection on those who will use it.
"When a new family moves into the parish, I am often asked to bless the house they live in. This makes sense because the Church exists in its most basic form at home in the life of the family. Thus, it makes sense to bless the home as the sacred place where the domestic Church lives out its primary existence."
"A most touching blessing story happened a couple of years ago when I blessed Scott Janssen's dogs before he ran the Iditarod. You may recall that was the year when one of his dogs collapsed and he revived it with mouth to mouth resuscitation. Scott said that there was just something that would not let him give up on that dog. Perhaps the blessing at the start was part of the mix."
Recently, I've spent considerable time with Orthodox Christians in Alaska. As a result, I've come to respect their beliefs and traditions. I asked Father Marc Dunaway of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River for his perceptions about blessings. Here's his response:
"There are many blessings prayers in Orthodoxy. These are found in our 'Book of Needs' or in Greek, 'Euchologion.' The idea is that every part of a Christian life -- everything, every event, every deed -- is to be offered to God and filled with His grace. Special prayers of blessing can be requested by people according to what the people are used to. For example the beekeeper in our parish often asks one of our priests to bless the hives at the beginning of the season. At Transfiguration you saw the blessing of grapes, traditionally done on this day. But all Orthodox especially enjoy the Blessing of Homes following the Feast Day of Epiphany (or Theophany) which is celebrated on January 6. This Feast Day remembers Christ's Baptism. At this service Water is blessed and then the church building and the people are blessed with it. In the weeks following the priest brings this same water into every home of the Church and the family and the priest say and sing prayers together while they go from room to room sprinkling the holy water."
I grew up in a home where we followed the example of our parents and said a blessing before each meal, thanking God for the food and asking for his blessing upon it. Many Christian families have fallen away from this habit but it sets a powerful example for our children and is passed from generation to generation. Often, when eating in public, folks are embarrassed by doing so in an open manner, but why?
Pastor Bob Mather of Baxter Road Bible Church traditionally ends his services with the following blessing: "Lord, I want to pray a blessing over every person here, every man, woman and child. I pray Your grace would rest upon them, and that they would feel Your presence in their lives. Give them wisdom so that they can make good decisions and wise choices, keep them safe and bring them safely back to us. And in Your name I pray, amen." Mather notes if he doesn't pray this prayer, people tell him they really like this prayer of blessing and want him to continue.
St. John UMC choir has a beautiful tradition at the conclusion of each practice. Each member stands facing the rest of the group and sings: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace, and give you peace; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you, be gracious; the Lord be gracious, gracious unto you." It's sung a cappella and gives one shivers. It's based on Judeo-Christian blessings found in Numbers 6:24-26 (RSV).
Regardless of our individual religious traditions, blessings form an important glue in binding us to God and to one another. Every faith has them. Incorporate them in your life and you will be blessed.