What does it mean to be blessed?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are you when…”
Blessedness is connected to holiness, so we read these Beatitudes/blessednesses today as we celebrate All Saints. The saints are the spiritual giants, the people who figure in our stained glass windows.
But, as I say every year when this day rolls around, we’re all meant to be saints; we’re all meant to be blessed. And we hear that in the epistle today: we are children of God, we are beloved. And as the reading from Leviticus last week said, we are to be holy as God is holy.
So what does it mean to be holy, to be beloved and blessed?
In his written reflections on the readings this week Michael Van Dusen imagines Jesus looking at various people as he walks among them, and giving them a personal blessing according to their circumstances and needs: You are beloved, you who are poor in spirit; you are beloved, you who mourn; you are beloved, you who are peacemakers. And these affirmations of belovedness come to us as the Beatitudes. Being blessed means hearing that you are beloved, you are worthy of a blessing, you are special and unique in God’s eyes.
I think that’s exactly right, and I think it’s also rare and hard to take in.
When did you last hear such a blessing of yourself? Such an affirmation of your holiness and belovedness? In many ways we hear the opposite: messages that we’re not good enough, not adequate, far from holy.
But the truth is, we are all holy, beloved and blessed. And we need to live into the truth of that, and see and affirm it in each other in community.
We have a long dark Covid winter ahead. And there’s fearfulness and dread in many hearts, about that and about other things: the deep divisions in the US with the presidential election just two days away; the atrocities in France committed wickedly in the name of Islam; the second wave of the pandemic overtaking countries like a tsunami. We know we’ll see more violence, more suffering. We know there will be loneliness and death in our seniors’ residences, on the streets, in over-crowded hospitals. These are hard times.
Now more than ever we need to hear words of blessing, and bring blessings to others.
We need, in other words, to stand facing the light, not the darkness.
We need to be people of blessedness.
Part of being ordained a priest in the Anglican tradition is that I am empowered to pronounce blessings – at the eucharist, at weddings and funerals, at baptisms, in homes, at the beds of the sick and dying. It’s a responsibility and privilege that I treasure. Yet there have been many, many occasions when I have been blessed by the people I serve – not liturgically, not formally, but in a very real way.
I remember some specific times:
- one parishioner whom I visit regularly as she journeys with terminal cancer always offers me a blessing before I leave, after we’ve shared communion together;
- someone staying behind after a service one day and offering to sit down in the empty church and pray for me, having sensed that I was weighed down with a concern;
- when I was baptizing my god-daughter Maddy, and I traced the sign of the cross on her forehead with holy oil, she reached out to me and made the sign on the cross on my forehead. It was a delightful surprise of holiness and blessing.
(I think children understand instinctively the reciprocity of blessing: I bless you, and you bless me.)
You don’t have to be a priest to share a blessing.
Sometimes we’re called or nudged to bless someone we’d rather not: a difficult colleague, a person we dislike or feel hurt by, a political opponent. And these blessings are vital, because if we can pray for someone’s wellbeing, for them to have more compassion or wisdom or whatever it is they lack, then we’re allowing our hearts to be open to them, and we’re standing facing the light not the darkness.
I would go so far as to say that blessing others is part of our Christian calling. It’s part of what it means to be holy, to be children of God. And I believe that the communion of saints, that “great cloud of witnesses,” the folks who have walked this path before us, are praying for us and blessing us.
Let me share a passage from a book of blessings that I’ve been enjoying lately, by John O’Donohue (a Roman Catholic priest), called To Bless the Space Between Us:
I imagine that one of the great storehouses of blessing is the invisible neighbourhood where the dead dwell. Our friends among the dead now live where time and space are transfigured. They behold us now in ways they never could have when they lived beside us on earth…
Perhaps one of the surprises of death will be a retrospective view of the lives we lived here and to see how our friends among the dead clothed us in weave after weave of blessing.
Imagine the truth of that: that you are clothed in weave after weave of blessing! You are unique and beloved, and a blessed child of God. And you have the privilege as I do of praying blessings for others. You can pray a blessing for your best friend or your worst enemy: the important thing is that you do it, often.
I’d like to close with a blessing for you from the same book:
May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul. May you realize that you are never alone, but your soul and its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe. May you have respect for your individuality and difference. May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the façade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening. May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment. Amen.