What does it mean to bless one another? Is it an invitation to the divine? Is it an expression of good wishes? Is a blessing something we say or something we do—a religious ritual or a way of living our lives?
For years, blessings baffled me, and I think other people could tell.
Two decades ago I was one of an interfaith group of summer chaplain interns at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. One of the things I appreciated about our group was the effort everyone made to respect each other’s diverse religious paths—even my Unitarian Universalist humanism, about which I was a lot more defensive and absolutist at 23 than I am today. Then, one day, it happened.
Sister Antonia, the Franciscan nun in our group, automatically said, “Bless you!” and then she blanched. “Oh,” she said, “I mean, if that’s okay.” I told her I was happy to receive blessings in whatever theology anybody wanted to give them, and in that moment I made a commitment to myself to relax more about religious language. By the end of that summer, I had learned to pray with patients in the words they needed to hear. Appreciating the act of blessing became part of my growth in religion and ministry.
It’s such a simple thing to say. “Bless you.” But I used to think that outside of a sneeze, it was something only a priest might do, bestowing some kind of divine authority and intention that I
didn’t believe worked that way. Saying “Bless you” felt very awkward, until I came to learn how important the act of blessing can be, and that there doesn’t have to be anything magical about it.
When we bless children in our congregations as part of a dedication service, our blessing is both a prayer and a promise. We pray that they will grow healthy and wise and full of wonder, that they will know hope and peace in their lives, that they will be comfort-able within themselves. We promise to love them, to care for them, and to pay attention to their needs, not only as parents but as a community.
That is what a blessing should be—a prayer and a promise.
I believe that Unitarian Universalists are thirsty for blessing.
A blessing is food for the soul—a way of nurturing one another that goes beyond platitudes and becomes the way that we choose to live. We might not always use the word, but when we reach toward one another with an offering of care, support, or simply the presence of our hearts, we become blessings in each other’s lives.
I once served a congregation that made a point to send valentines to members who had been ill, or who were homebound or in nursing facilities. I will never forget the member who told me, with tears in her eyes, how much difference that simple act made in her life. “Thank you,” she said. “It was incredibly nice to be thought of.” She talked about how hard it is to be away from the community which means so much to her, and how the cards brought connection and hope. It was a blessing.
We are thirsty for blessings.
When we are grieving, when we are going through a difficult time, or wrestling with a hard decision, the blessings we find in community and the blessings we give to one another, bring us courage and give us hope, keeping us grounded in reality and in the goodness of life.
We are thirsty for blessings.
When we are filled with joy, there are few blessings greater than to be part of a community in which we can share the fullness of our hearts, knowing that there are people who care, and who walk with us in celebration as much as in sorrow.
We are thirsty for blessings, and so I ask of you this: Bless one another. Whatever form your blessing might take, whether you use the word or simply bless with your actions, be a blessing to the people around you.
Listen to them. Let your love and compassion come through. Stand with one another, a presence without judgment, a comfort and an encouragement. You don’t need to solve all of the problems or make everything better; that is probably beyond your power. Just bless one another. And mean it.
This is the simplest way that I know to live a spirit-filled life, and you may never know the impact of your simple blessing—your words, your patience, your moment of remembering and caring for another soul. Bless one another.