Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Power of Blessing

In one of his books (it might have been Life of the Beloved) Henri Nouwen wrote about the power of blessing.

By blessing he meant saying a good word. He proposed that a benediction (the term means "good word") can counter negativity and raise people's spirits.

The Church offers blessings. In fact it has a whole book of them: blessings for people, blessings related to buildings and human activity, blessings for religious articles, blessings related to feasts and seasons, and blessings for various needs and occasions.

The priest-presider may offer several blessings during Mass: for holy water, the deacon, incense, and, of course, for the people before the dismissal. He blesses the body at a funeral, the rings at a wedding, and a baby at its Baptism.

We ask a blessing before we eat a meal. We have a benediction before an assembly or meeting. We bless ourselves with holy water when we enter a church.

Liturgical blessings are, next to the seven sacraments, the chief sacramental activity of the Church.

Some of the blessings are profound and soul-stirring; others sound as if the blesser is at a loss for words.

The blessing of the sick moves the soul: "Lord, you watch over your creatures with unfailing love; keep us in the safe embrace of your love. With your strong right hand raise up your servants...minister to them and heal their illnesses."

The blessing for airplanes is less inspired: "Grant that this airplane, built by human skill and talent, may make its flights in calm weather."

One frequently told story is about the atheist who insisted that the pope give him a blessing. Trying to come up with appropriate good words, the pontiff at last said (in Latin) the blessing for charcoal: "May you be blessed by Him in whose honor you shall be burned."

Nouwen, however, wasn't thinking of church or liturgical blessings; he was thinking of the kind words, good wishes, and thoughtful praises people can offer to one another.

Someone sneezes, and you say, "God bless you!" Someone does you a favor, and you respond, "Thanks! That was very kind." Someone is hurting or embarrassed, and you say,"It'll be OK."

Sometimes a gesture, like the wave of the hand or a smile on the face, speaks volumes of good words. A driver lets you change lanes, and you signal your gratitude.

In Nouwen's mind, the simple ritual of a blessing (using words and/or signs) makes heaven come down on earth and eases the pain of a broken world.

Every child and most adults like to hear, "Good job!" The affirmation allows the one so blessed to feel for at least a moment, "Hey, I'm OK."

"Thank you" to the cashier at Wal-Mart may over-turn the rudeness of a previous customer. "Good afternoon" may raise the spirits of a tired neighbor or a heart-broken passer-by.

Remarkable to say, a word of blessing to God must delight his loving heart: "Praise the Lord! Alleluia! Thank you, Jesus!"

And the season for freely given blessings is at hand. "Happy Holidays" to the next person you meet would be great, and "Merry Christmas" would be even greater.

My "Thanks" to you too for reading this blog.

And "God bless us everyone!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

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