Most of us have probably heard the old Irish blessing at least a hundred times:
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
The words are a powerful reminder of how important a blessing can be in our lives. Unfortunately, in our culture today, we have become a nation of cursers, not blessers. Our movies, our music, our magazines, are crammed with four-letter words.
Drive down any highway and you will see people cursing each other with flying fingers and flailing fists. Visit any playground and you will not only hear cursing from the mouths of babes, but also witness the violent behavior that cursing calls forth. The act of cursing has become so prevalent in our society that we seem to be a people that has forgotten how to bless.
In the Bible, God sets an example by blessing all that he creates: "God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good." This goodness, and the desire for goodness, is the heart of what blessing is about.
Cursing is the opposite of blessing. To curse is to call evil or injury down on someone. It is to invoke or pray for evil. And so in life we find ourselves offered the choice: to bless or to curse, to call forth goodness or to call down evil.
As Christians, we need to understand the implications that accompany this choice. If we are to be a people of God, we need to relearn the forgotten art of blessing.
To offer a blessing is not a difficult task. In fact, a blessing can be so simple that all too often we take the act of blessing for granted. The priest, for example, blesses us at the end of each Mass (provided we haven't ducked out early). Whether we are aware of it or not, we bless ourselves each time we make the sign of the cross. Despite this inherent simplicity, the act of blessing can take on more meaning if we come to understand the three basic elements that make up a blessing, such as our Irish blessing.
The first element in a blessing is that there has to be a relationship with God. When we bless, when we ask for goodness, we ask from the source of all goodness, we ask God.. Relationship with and belief in God are essential to blessing.
Sascha T. Moore is the pseudonym of an author who writes essays and poems about theology and social justice.
The sense of touch, whether it is the wind at your back, the sun shining upon your face, or the firm hand of a priest blessing your forehead, can convey an enormous life-sustaining power. A blessing is the bridge between heaven and earth. The transfer of the divine that occurs when we bless is truly a sacred moment.
The third element of a blessing is the enhancement of the receiver, wherein we envision the goodness of the blessing. Even Jesus, when he pronounced the Beatitudes, envisioned a goodness that would give comfort and hope to millennia of believers. The power to bless is incredibly awesome. It is the vision of divine enhancement, of a people resting in the palm of God's hand, that is the hallmark of a blessing.
Our days are filled with endless opportunities to practice the art of blessing. The best place to start, however, is by personally calling down God's goodness by blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross. Morning after morning, we can begin our day by choosing that divine vision, not only for ourselves, but also for all who we might encounter in the course of a day.
We might also choose to use this opportunity to include a brief morning prayer. This self-blessing through gesture, touch and words can become an important ritual that will help us to spiritually center our day.
Our mealtimes provide yet another important opportunity for blessing. We know from our New Testament reading that Jesus would traditionally bless food, at the feeding of the multitudes and at the Last Supper. Why not take a moment at each meal to pause and bless the nourishment before us?
Our homes, the core place where we spend our lives, can also be blessed. Many priests are willing to visit and bless a home. In Christian homes a cross or crucifix can be prominently displayed as a sign of God's benevolent presence in the home. Similarly, in Jewish homes the mezuzah is placed on the doorpost. Part of the Jewish tradition is the touching of the mezuzah and the reciting of the wonderful blessing: "May God protect my going out and coming in, now and forever." Perhaps the most important blessing that we can bestow is the blessing of our children. It is crucial that our children taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Simple daily gestures--a hand on the forehead and a "God be with you"" as they head out for school in the morning. A tracing of the sign of the cross and a "God keep you" before they sleep.
Blessings, whether they're ancient or modern, are an important part of our faith life. We need to forget cursing. More than ever, we need to continue to bring the flow of the divine into our lives. Just as in Moses' time, our generation needs to learn the art of blessing: "The Lord said to Moses: 'Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!'"
Like Aaron and his sons, we hold that awesome power to bless. We just need to use it.