Friday, July 25, 2008
Blessing is a spiritual act of recognising and affirming. It is a hope, a wish, a prayer, where we acknowledge and remind the ones who are blessed of the connection between them and the Divine. The Celtic tradition of Ireland, Scotland and Wales widely uses this. Many of its ways and beliefs have been incorporated into Celtic Christianity, which perceives eternity and this world as intertwined. Its prayers — so real, so funny even, that they bring a smile to your face — contain an awareness of God’s everyday, all-day presence. An old, still-popular Irish blessing goes: “May there always be work for your hands to do. May your purse always hold a coin or two. May the sun always shine upon your window-pane. May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain. May the hand of a friend always be near to you, and May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.” Often the brevity holds a sweet poetic reality: “May you have warm words on a cold evening, A full moon on a dark night, And the road downhill all the way to your door.” There is also gentle humour: “If God sends you down a stony path, may he give you strong shoes.” John O’Donohue, the Irish Catholic poet and theologian who connected deeply with this tradition, has written some of the most powerful and moving modern blessings. His writing is inspired by “the Celtic imagination”, which “represents a vision of the divine where no one or nothing is excluded”. In his last book — published before he died in January 2008 — To Bless the Space Between Us’, O’Donohue tells us a blessing is “a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen. ...when a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time.” His crafted blessings go beyond the usual ones for a new home, marriage or birth, and include blessings for parents of a criminal, for those who have lost a child, for those experiencing exile, solitude and failure, for those faced with a sudden, serious illness. It was his belief that the human heart always longs for a state of wholeness, that place where everything comes together, so to bless someone is to call some of that wholeness upon that person right now. As the ending of his blessing for solitude says: “May you learn to see your self, With the same delight, pride and expectation, with which God sees you in every moment”. From an earlier work, ‘Echoes of Memory’, O’Donohue’s poem ‘Beannacht’ (meaning Blessing), begins: “On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble, may the clay dance to balance you...” and ends with the words: “And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.” The true beauty of blessing is how it affects everything — by the fact that we live, we are blessed; we have the power to bless others and they reflect love back to us. In the very act of blessing we are blessed. You may confer a blessing with a silent prayer or a spoken or written wish. But there are other ways. When, with awareness, you honour another, express admiration or give a gift, you share a blessing. In a sincere greeting, when encouraging and complimenting someone, through small acts for the environment, you participate in the act of blessing. Like the Celts, learn to bless all of creation with deep awareness, so letting all of creation bless you.